It has been a wonderful year. I have been granted an opportunity to pursue graduate studies in Indonesia for two years, a much-needed break after spending six years doing journalism in the Philippines.

Malang City on the eastern part of Java has been my home for five months now. Its climate is cool year-round, with an average of 24.13 degrees. Many tourists come to this city as it is surrounded by a handful of attractions: the beaches on the south; and historic temples, and of course the Bromo Tengger Semeru National Spark, the only conservation area in Indonesia that has a sand sea across the ancient volcano. In contrast other places in Indonesia, Malang has a relatively higher Human Development Index (76.9 in 2013, while 68.4 country-wide). You can imagine how it’s beautiful to be where I live. I mean, look at all those pictures on Instagram.

#exploremalang photo today by @arungpatigeni2 taken at Cemoro Lawang #ngalamkipa

A photo posted by MALANG (@exploremalang) on

But of course, you know me. I refuse to get engrossed with the beautiful things. Maybe that’s why, until this day, I have never succumbed to making a travel blog. (Not to generalise all travel bloggers, but I have been jaded because many seem to write ‘positively’ and frame pictures in a way that they look glamorous online).

READ: Banyak Sampah, Jalur Pendakian ke Semeru Ditutup Sampai Maret

As much as I love Malang, there are things that I cannot stand at some points in my life as an expat here. Once, I have joked that Malang could beat Davao City in terms of its livability, but except that foreigners might disagree. Apart from its dangerous roads, foreigners might get stressed having to deal with the nosey locals.

There is a term for it, and it’s called kepo. Urban Dictionary defines kepo as:

Indonesian slang, which is comes from Hokkien language (usually used by some communities in Medan, Palembang, and Pekanbaru) and then become a loanwords in Singlish (Singaporean-English)
“Kaypoh” which means “really curious” defines a condition when a person is wanna know about everything.

A typical kepo local would do one of the following:

  • Glance at your mobile phone’s screen
  • Ask if he/she can borrow your phone and take a look at your gallery pictures
  • Throw a 20-question routine. (Where do you live? Have you been to Bali? Do you like Indonesia? Have you tried eating Bakso? Are you married? What is your religion? Where do you live? Do you like dangdut, etc.)

This is not to disparage Indonesians in general. But if you are a foreigner, especially those who have never been to an Asian country in your life (READ), some of the nosey locals might make you uncomfortable. Here are some of the tips on how to deal with them:

1. Stay away from places where locals gather by flocks

If you are uncomfortable with being barraged with many questions that require you to detail your personal life, then it might not be a good idea for you to go alone in places where locals gather for chit-chat, such as angkringan or on sidewalks inside gangs. Unless, of course, you are fine with it. Doing so does not really put you in danger, at least in Malang.

As we all know, people tend to act differently in a group. Good if you speak Indonesian, although in my experience, I notice that the locals switch to Javanese – that I no longer understand the things they talk about. I do sense that I become the centre of discussion when I’m around. I mean, you know, that happens in the Philippines too.

READ: Are Asians Too Nosy?

2. If you’re able to spend time to explain them that you’re not comfortable being shoved with lots of personal questions, then do it.

As it is what locals call kebiasaan (habit), it would be a good idea to explain why, as a foreigner, you find it uncomfortable from disclosing too many private details of your life. Say, for instance, an om asks what your religion is (agama masnya apa? Muslim atau non-Muslim), I would simply smile, bordering to pretending that I don’t understand the question. If they insist that you answer the question, I would say: “Maaf pak ya, tapi di negara saya, biasanya disana tidak ditanya apakah agama kita.” As they throw questions like this in good faith, answer them in the same manner. Somtimes, people just need a simple reminder that cultures vary.

3. Make nosey-ing a difficult task

You cannot spend your whole life overhauling the culture where you currently live in, but at least you can make bad habits a difficult thing to do. And thanks to mobile screen guards.

If you are often a target of nosey questions, try reverting back to English. It works for me in most cases. I revert to English to remind them that I come from a different culture.

There is an Indonesian term that I like to say when things get tough: “santai aja (just relax). For the meantime, I recommend that you watch Sacha Stevenson’s funny yet satirical videos that circle around living in Indonesia in the eyes of a bule. Santai aja.

Credit: kepo photo taken from this page

4 thoughts on “Sudah nikah belum? Agama apa? Nosey Indonesians and how to deal with them

  1. This is interesting post. As an Indonesian who have been away for almost two decades, I can see the keponess in the culture. In my opinion, the keponess might come from the desire to connect. Indonesian loves to connect with others in general, not all Indonesian are like that though.

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