Indonesian Women and Small Town Mentality

I’ve noticed that many Indonesian women, wherever they reside, still carry ‘small town mentality‘. I’ve noticed that:


Small town mentality is: family value.

It means that we are all a big happy family, that your friend is my friend. It’s very normal for an Indonesian to invite a person over to her house just after meeting her once. As a result, Indonesian women can hardly do things in a small scale. Every lunch, dinner, and gathering, will be attended by a lot of ladies. My non-Indonesian friends, especially Westerners, are normally amazed to hear my stories of luncheon with 5 to 10 ladies, and sometimes more, on almost weekly basis.

However, this also will create a bitter feeling when we decide to have a smaller, intimate gathering or meetup, and decide not to invite a certain person, who will take it so personally become very upset about it. Because for many people, being invited means they are included in the “family and friends circle” and by not being invited they think they are rejected by the society in general. Instead of asking why directly to the event creator (and might get a straight answer, i.e. I only invite those who have autistic children like mine because we are going to plan for a gala dinner, etc.), they think the worst, that the people don’t invite them to talk about them behind their backs, or decide to stop talking to everyone altogether, or to retaliate – create an event and invite everyone but the person who fails to invite them before.

Small town mentality is: everyone knows everyone, or everyone knows everyone who knows everyone.

On one side, it’s a good thing. We could move to the corner of the earth and easily find another Indonesian woman who turns out to be a friend of our friend’s and happily welcomes us and helps us settling down in the new city or country. On the other side, we cannot escape the fact that wherever we are, people will know about us, especially the bad things! There are two ladies who live in one of the countries in Europe and have been engaged in a fight which has been dragged to Indonesia and back, and I’ve been hearing about this news from 3 different friends. I don’t know these two ladies, but I hear about them regardless!

Small town mentality: a mindset that we look out for each other.

Indonesian society is famous for their generosity. When an incident happens to an Indonesian, we normally would move quickly to help as much as we can. Unfortunately it also means that we think we deserve to know what’s going on in everybody’s lives and anybody’s business is also our business.

This normally starts from a meet-up between ladies, and the conversation soon turns into other ladies who are not present. Soon the conversation will be carried forward by others who think that the rest of the world needs to know, and tell it to others, who will then add some spices and so on until the person of interest hears about it and – yes, guess what – goes mad, because it’s not true, or somewhat true but it’s not what she means, or partly true. Anyway, all hell breaks loose and everyone now is mad at each other.

Small town mentality is: reluctance to adapt.

I think the closer people to their home, the bigger is their resistance to adapt. I’m talking about food, which would be the hardest thing to compromise, for many Indonesians anyway. Back in UK, I noticed that because Asian spices are either limited or expensive, most of us have no choice but to compromise. Like substituting our favourite brands of spices or sauces with those which are available in the country. Or opting out eating chilli with every food available, for example. Last month when I had dinner with my friends back in Scotland in a Turkish restaurant, I noticed that none of us asked for chili, something that is very unusual for Indonesians! Either because we understand how to appreciate the food as it is, or because we have learned that not all food needs chili. But in Perth, Australia, where I live now, I hear that some still prefer to buy “Blue Band” margarine rather than getting the nice, real butter which is easily available everywhere. We also prefer to have Indonesian food on every single gathering rather than exploring food from different countries, that we will go all the way to buy the food that tastes like the original back home, that we will get others to send or bring the food over from Indonesia, even though it cost us an arm and a leg.


I’ve discussed this… phenomenon… with several other friends, and some wonder if those who carry small town mentality are indeed from small towns in Indonesia, and even though now they live abroad, they still have the mindset and the attitude. But I disagree. We don’t have to come from a small town to have a small town attitude. I’ve got friends who are not from Jakarta or other big cities in Indonesia and they are the wisest girls I’ve ever met. And I’ve met people who allegedly were born and bread in Jakarta and despite have been living abroad for years, they hardly change.

I wonder though if other societies have the same issues like us Indonesians?



  1. Why do I find myself nodding reading this? Because I’ve seen, I’ve heard, I’ve been there before! Hah! While it’s nice to have that ‘bond’ between other Indonesians abroad I cannot for the life of me stand the attitude that often comes with the territory. Hmm…no wonder I have very few friends these days lol. PS: I grew up in small towns too. Great thought provoking post, Anita! :)
    Maureen recently posted…Facing His FearsMy Profile

    • Yes, there are two sides of each unique characters of our beloved Indonesian society. The key is to know what suits us and who we make friends with. Also, I’ve learned – the hard way – that we must be really, really careful when we talk about someone! 😉

  2. Lovely post Anita. Great to hear that Indonesian women are so friendly and receive their friends with open-arms. Being Portuguese, I also think we are warm hearted and generous with our friends, something I miss in Australia. Thanks for visiting my blog and commenting too.

    • Thank you, Sami. I think Perthians are also a bunch happy chappy people, I mean if you compare them to Sydneysiders, whom I think are a lot like Londoners: grumpy, rude, and impatient! I wonder if you could find Portuguese community here in Perth?

  3. Though I’ve to live with two major setbacks (I’m not Indonesian and I’m not female), I bet the small town mentality is universal. Not even exclusively female.

    Gossip is a major pastime in Europe as well ( as you almost certainly know about). Maybe via gathering with less than scores of ladies present. And perhaps slightly more hesitant. But the flourishing yellow press ( Dutch magazine “Weekend”for instance) and comparable TV programs (Dutch RTL Boulevard for instance) prove there even is a meta small town mentality :).

    • Colson: you remind me of my Dutch guy friends in Indonesia. Yes, they are all such terrible gossipers! And nothing is off limits. I’ve got a (Dutch) friends who seems to have no censorship at all and he could talk about uhm… his private body parts just like talking about weather! British, of course, are much more reserved. That until you know them a lot better, or until they get drunk, and all hell break loose :)

  4. Couldn’t agree more on the intensity of the indonesian ladies’ circle, for the better or worse.
    It needs a certain manual to be in it, i think?!.. and I’m still not an expert, even after being an expat for almost 8 years… ^_^
    Love the laughter and the food on every meet up with the ladies. The not so good side.. cant comment much as I have not experienced anything bad… can be because i’ve been very lucky so far, or im not sensitive enough to recognize it… or maybe simply because i’m not around that much. 😀
    love the new blog look btw! clean, sweet and simple.. :)
    Nadia recently posted…Photos: Sensoji Temple at NightMy Profile

    • Nadia: Indeed we need a manual to navigate around the circle. I’m pretty sure that it’s almost the same on each society, but as you said, it’s rather intense on Indonesian ladies circle. Thanks about the blog new look comment, appreciate it! How are you doing in Japan?

  5. How true. I totally agree with you on this. If I might add, the habit of always getting along with your fellow countrymen affects the ability to learn how to speak the language of your host country properly. This is sad when those who don’t bother to do this even have difficulties communicating with their in laws.

    This small town mentality is not exclusively for Indonesians. It lives strongly in We – societies. In these societies there is a strong urge to share everything with everyone. On the other hand people at I societies tend to keep things private. When you don’t share the values of we societies there is a risk to be outcasted. I have lots of non Indonesian and non Dutch friends here. I have observed that this small town mentality is vividly present at the migrants of Moroccan, Suriname and Turkish origin. I recognize immediately the same stuffs you described above in their culture such as: the preference to eat their own food all the time, that it is a must to invite people even when you barely know them, the gossiping etc.

    One sad thing about this: when we Indonesians don’t play along with this mentality, other Indonesian ladies (mostly they are ladies not men) would label us as an arrogant bitch. Or worse they claim we forget where we come from (sigh!). After experiencing some irreconcilable differences with Indonesian ladies here I don’t give a damn anymore how they see me. I decided to choose my Indonesian friends carefully instead of hanging out with them.

  6. I have to say yes and no. Yes there is a big Asian ladies circle out here in Doha. Infamous of their ladies parties twice a week in certain hotels. Parties that is attended by ladies only. However, those ladies are not only Indonesian, but from many Asian nationalities, thus your theorem about Small Town Mentality of Indonesian women, is also applicable for other nationalities.
    Having said that, I think that depends on the individuals, as I have no such urge to be part of a big group of friends and no such urge of Indonesian food, or maybe because I am too busy doing my own thing???
    Nina recently posted…WinterMy Profile

  7. Hear hear.

    I can second what you write here Anita. Back in the days, we used to pay arms and legs for a cup of durian milkshake (2 hrs away driving included) and would nitip anyone who happens to be in the area too. haha.

    Been in Melb for 2 years-ish now and still haven’t found an Indonesian entourage of my own like I used to have in another country……

    I miss it at times (the rambunctious dinners, block-the-sidewalk strolls and adventures) but do sigh in relief some other times (the endless “bayar rent-nya berapa, gajinya berapa, kok belum nikah” from i-just-met-you-for-2-hours…)
    Everything comes with a price eh…

    Liking the new website setting, Anita!

    • @inifeli: recently there has been a big commotion in my friends’ circle about very-good-kerupuk-from-Tulungagung. Friends put an order to someone’s going back home and she will return with bags of kerupuk. I myself would never think about ordering kerupuk in the first place, let alone getting someone pick it up from Tulungagung!

      As you say, it comes with a price and I always find it amusing if people start asking me (too) private questions but as long as the food is good I’d just nod along and smile…:)
      Finally Woken recently posted…What Happens After 3 Years in Perth, AustraliaMy Profile

  8. im from big city and i got married and move to a small(er) city in east java.
    and this phenomenon really does happen… your analysis is soooo true! nod nod…

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