Indonesian are very cultural people. I will not argue that, it is a slap fact in the face. My only problem is which culture? Well, admit it, if you are an Indonesian, suddenly being very cultural is not sound so great anymore.

Indonesian are proud for their rich cultures. They boasted hundreds of different cultures living under the same roof in harmony… er, sort of harmony. They said each culture enriched the ‘Indonesian culture’, whatever that is.

The Truth

The truth is not all ‘Indonesian Cultures’ are good. Of course, it also happened to all cultures in the world but there are some particular Indonesian cultures that preserved while it should be out of the window now. The problem was those cultures were embedded so tight into the mindset of Indonesian and to make things worse, most of Indonesian are not aware of them.

Sparked by entries from Mr. Budi Rahardjo and Uncle Tyo (both are in Indonesian language) about ‘services’, I will try to emphasize why I think ‘services’ was not and never be a part of Indonesian culture and hopefully, since I bring this fact into the table, we – as Indonesian – will realize this and start to build a better culture.


‘Services’ came from the word ‘Serve’ and to be blunt, ‘serve’ in Indonesian language is quite derogatory (Although referring to the original Latin servitium means slavery and from servus means slave so I guess Indonesian are never pass this level of understanding somehow). The translation for ‘serve’ in Indonesia is ‘layan’ and the person who do the job is called ‘pelayan’ (servant). Now, for Indonesian – what first comes into your mind when I said the word ‘pelayan’? Not a very good job or position, eh? Let’s try the more mild word for ‘serve’ then, what about ‘help’? Then we have ‘helper’ which translate into… ‘pembantu’ (English has an exact word for this profession, ‘maid’). Now, it’s getting worse, right? Even for the mildest version of ‘serve’, we came up with the derogatory word and profession. There is something wrong here.

King and Commoner mentality

There are no culture of services in Indonesian culture. There, I said it loud and clear. We were farmers then traders. The logical evolution would be service providers and yet, the culture stops at traders level (I will write something about how this affected Indonesian way of doing business later). But there was a special level of profession exist in Indonesia and tragically, that level is still exist until today – that level is ‘King or Royalty level‘. That level is a level beyond belief, it’s a parasitic level that depend on luck. Luck, just because you were born within the royal family then you had the right to rule. That concept was more absurd than the concept of the sun revolving the earth. Being a king was always the dream for the commoner and in the old times, it took a lot of things to become one. Remember the history about Ken Arok? He was a thief and robber once, then he became a king. His descendant became the founder of one of the greatest kingdom on the history, Majapahit. If you aware of that, the great Kingdom most Indonesian are feel proud of were pre-built by a thief and robber. That sounds cool, right?

Today it is easier to become sort of King. Just win a local election or even better a national election. It still work the same way before. You need to gather people who believe that you are the only one who could solve the problem (or had enough money to buy votes – this is the most recommended way anyway beside had enough power to scare the hell out of people who didn’t want to vote for you) and then you competed and won – then you became King. The irony is the term for government official is ‘public servant’. When the ‘public servant’ is the King, imagine what happened then.

Bluntly speaking, most Indonesian are not growing up in the ‘service oriented’ environment. The aim of most Indonesian is to become ‘King’ or at least to act like one. Servicing others is a shameful and derogatory act. One famous proverb in Indonesia is “If things could be made very difficult, why make it easier?” and that proverb shows the lack of understanding of ‘good service’.


The world nowadays is a service based world. Everything is ‘service oriented’. We have Customer Relation Management concept nowadays, which I found as a great concept but difficult to implement. Even the most successful website is those who offered Web Services. So practically, we need to be a servant, a good one. How will we going to achieve that, considering that we didn’t have it running natively in our culture?

Time to evolve the culture! Time to realize our culture is not perfect. We should still proud of it but never get blind and thought that our culture doesn’t need adjustment. We have to accept that flaw and move on. It will be very hard since it means we have to root out our perception about ‘service’.

Recommendation action would be: start teaching about service culture in the family and at school, informally and formally. Teach kids to respect the maid and teach them that the maid is not slave – they are there to help and not to do every single house chores available including tying the kids shoelaces or cleaning the kids’ room. Teach kids not to follow Saudi Arabian or Malaysian way of beating the hell out maid just because they made mistakes. At school, teach them about ‘service oriented work’.

If the younger generation understand the importance of ‘service’, I believe one day, the ‘service’ culture will become our most valuable Indonesian culture. For us, it is important that we are aware of this problem and do our best to change our mindset about ‘service’ culture and of course practice ‘good service’ behavior. Remember, Yoda once said, Do or do not, there is no try.