Class and Culture

Someone comes to check on my clock, and they have a cleaning staff member with them, so that they don’t have to take the clock off the wall to reset it themselves. (However, I had already reset my clock to the proper time, to there was no need for either individual.)

Taxi drivers open the taxi door for you. Unless you catch one on the street, either the taxi driver will get out of the taxi to open the door for you, or the taxi stand man will assign you a taxi and open the door for you.

There is a person in the elevator, and their job is to take you to whatever floor you want. Yes, it’s a security measure. But, since the security station is at the bottom of the lift, and there are security guards on every floor, there is an extra layer of service there.

Indonesia is a welcoming and helpful culture, but I continually feel uncomfortable with the level of service that is shown to me. Accommodating and smiling, people in department stores will follow you from section and department, taking the items you want to the counter to be wrapped and prepared for you before checkout. It is not uncommon in the states to wander from section to section without seeing an attendant. It’s what I have become used to, and what I have grown to appreciate. The transition, from being alone, to pretending to be alone, is awkward. Standing 10 feet away, almost blending in, I know they are watching me compare the prices of French Presses. Finally, I make a selection and acknowledge the girl who has been standing there for five minutes as I pondered my choices. Perhaps, if my grasp of Bahasa Indonesia was more developed, I could ask her questions. However, since our conversations would be nonsensical on both our parts, there is no point in attempting to dialogue.

At the end of every day, a man comes in to clean my classroom. He straightens up the chairs, sweeps the floor, empties my garbage can, and wipes down each desk. I always say “trima kasih!” when he is finished, but I wish I could say, “Thank you for keeping my room so perfectly clean. It looks great every day!” But this level of service is par for the course when you are part of the upper class of Indonesia.

I have a lot of thoughts about the lack of upward mobility in Indonesia, the treatment of the lower class, and how excessive service creates entitlement, those are topics for a different day. For the moment, I am just learning how to be comfortable with something that, in the states, would have made me even more uncomfortable that it does here. It is not part of my middle-class upbringing to be constantly waited upon, and it has been one of the more significant barriers to my adjustment here in Indonesia. I mean, what is normal anymore?


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