When traveling in Bali it is not hard to see how complicated the Balinese society is. Their daily lives are intertwined with religion, making it a society with many rules of conduct.
As a traveler it is hard to know what you can do and what might be offensive. Luckily the Balinese are familiar with travelers visiting their island, so they are very forgiving if you do something that would otherwise be rude.
Anyway, it is always polite to at least try to understand the differences. So here is quick guide on the do’s and don’ts in Bali. You will probably get more approving smiles if you try to stick to them…
1. Meeting with the Balinese – Time is not a big issue as it might be in other countries. If you are meeting up with a Balinese, don’t be upset if he or she arrives about half an hour late. This is normal in Bali and he or she probably expects that same from you.
2. When you enter a Balinese house, don’t forget to take off your shoes. And once seated, don’t touch someone with your feet or point them towards someone. This is considered very offensive.
3. Additionally don’t use your left hand when offering or taking something from someone. The left hand is considered ‘unclean’ as this is the hand that is used to clean oneself on the toilet. Don’t be surprised either if there is no toilet paper in the toilet. Indonesians do not use toilet paper when going to the toilet. Instead they use water, which is often located next to the toilet in a bucket. So don’t forget to bring your own if you need it.
4. If you are having dinner with Balinese friends expect to eat more than one serving. It is polite to show the host that the food is good by taking a second serving. It is also appropriate to leave some food behind when finished. This is can be seen as an offering for the gods, but it also tells the host that you have had enough. Otherwise the host will probably serve another spoon of rice on your plate…
5. Avoid conversations about religion and politics. The Balinese do not discuss these topics openly. However they are more interested in your personal life such as your age, if you are married and how many children you have. In other countries this will be too personal, but in Bali this is quite normal even if you have just met somebody in a bus. …
6. Affection in public – While it is common to see a man and a woman walking hand in hand in other countries, in Bali this is inappropriate. The Balinese do not show affection between the sexes in public. But on the other hand, it is very normal in Bali to see to men walking together hand in hand, or with one man’s arm over the shoulder of another. This is nothing sexual, but a sign of friendship. Foreigners should not do this though.
7. But most of all remember not to touch the head of others, for example the head of children. In other countries people regularly touch the head of children in a friendly way. But the Balinese consider the head the most sacred of the human body and by touching them you will create a very uncomfortable situation.
8. Discussions – An important aspect of the daily life in Bali is not ‘losing-face’. Conflicts and discussions are always avoided in the Balinese society, especially in public. If not than the dignity and pride of one person might be at stake, which is very inappropriate. So instead of winning a discussion, it is wiser to just let it be and finish it off with a joke so everybody can laugh about it.
Matt Verbaan loves to give you practical travel insights and tips on traveling to every corner of the beautiful island Bali. All his travel experiences and information about where to stay, what to do and where to eat can be found on his website http://www.bali-travel-life.com