The courtesy principle


Having lived abroad for the past ten years allows me to look at Indonesia in a new light. Despite what people say about my country of origin, every time I return ‘home’, I gain a better understanding and a sense of pride of this country. I appreciate the people, the places, the cuisine, the hustle and bustle, the never-ending buzz of activities, and even its idiosyncrasies and idiocies.

I love the way that the locals would serve you to the best of their ability and knowledge, although you may say that it’s unsophisticated. I love the fact that people would sprung into action when you talk to them in stores or restaurants, although some would end up giving you scenes reminiscent of Fawlty Tower’s mismanagement and miscommunication. At least you normally wouldn’t get the disinterested look or the rude service that you receive in several eateries in Chinatown.

Today, I went to several places with Yani and I received great service in each one of them – my first stop was a bag-repair shop in Dharmawangsa Street. The store is very simple – it’s located in a busy intersection. Inside there are two old-style sewing machines manned by presumably mother and daughter. When I presented them with my broken Mandarina Duck sling bag, they looked at it as if it were an object from outerspace before the father came out and had a closer inspection. He said that he could help by finding replacement screws for the bag and then brought the bag in for servicing. After fifteen minutes of waiting, he came out with a born-again sling bag with only Rp 25,000 cost of servicing (AU$2.75). While waiting for father to come out, the mother suddenly struck a conversation with me – commenting on an earlier bag that they serviced and the piece that she was sewing. I thought to myself what would make her want to chat to a perfect stranger – a Chinese-Indonesian customer nevertheless, that the locals tend to keep their distance from. The answer would be revealed later.

The second shop that we visited was a tailor’s – so I could have the two pairs of jeans that I bought in Bandung shortened. The man who assisted us was very helpful and even went through the troubles of rummaging through several bags so he could find the right thread for each pair. He sheepishly apologised to me for making us wait longer. His workmanship is good and all I had to pay was Rp 10,000 (AU$1.10) for both pairs.

Then later on today as we looked for a place to eat for our dinner around the Pucang Market in Surabaya, we encountered very polite snack sellers and food sellers who smiled and greeted us sincerely and warmly. It’s a much welcome change to the patronising and well-rehearsed courtesy that we sometimes receive in Adelaide.

On the way home, I wondered whether such warm courtesy was caused by the level of courtesy that Yani and I showed in the first place. We smiled and greeted them politely rather than asking for service in a business-like or even condescending manner. This is something that we learn from our years in Australia – living in a more egalitarian country makes me realise that each one of us are in a chain of service receiving and giving; none of us is beyond or below each other: Being a lawyer doesn’t make you a better man compared to a bricklayer or a cleaner. However, what is refreshing is that, again, rather than receiving the fake, disinterested smile – when we apply that courtesy principle here in Indonesia, we are repaid with kindness and the most sincere of smiles that will blow any corporate service matrix off their charts. It’s an example of “Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you” that is detailed in Matthew 7:12. It certainly works.



Published by fuzz

I've finally relented to the lures of blogging - and for those who care, well, I'm a self-confessed geek who's a wanderer at heart, who thinks and analyses too much, and who's trying hard to hold on to his 7-year old inner persona.

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