1. Mind your gestures
Using the left hand to pass food or eat is considered impolite in Indonesia. The main reason is that the Balinese traditionally use water to wash up in the bathroom and use their left hand to clean. That hand is therefore considered dirty, so try to use your right hand instead to eat, give or receive something – for example, to pass on food, give money or a business card.
In Bali, the head is considered a sacred part of the body that should not be touched. It is therefore better to avoid touching children or adults on the head. On the contrary, feet are considered unclean, which is why showing the sole of your foot to someone is seen as an insult. The same goes with stepping over someone as well as their food.
The okay sign is actually a sexual gesture in Bali and pointing at someone with the index finger is also rude.
Try to avoid doing one of these signs, but no worries if you forget: the Balinese are forgiving and polite people.
2. Don’t lose your temper
Like in various Asian cultures, in Bali raising your voice is considered vulgar. Being confrontational is perceived as offensive, while losing one’s temper is simply shameful.
The Balinese do not usually show anger or passion openly and find loudness and open emotions offensive in some contexts. For the same reason, they frown on public displays of affection.
3. Respect their religion
Religion is a very important part of Balinese life: religious processions occur quite regularly and take precedence on any trip, so if you are stuck behind a procession, do not honk your horn and remain calm.
Spirits are everywhere. Locals give them offerings (canang sari) first thing every morning. You will find these little packages made of woven palm leaf, flowers and herbs everywhere, even on sidewalks or stairs. Please watch where you step around in Bali to avoid stepping on canang saris as this would be deeply offensive to any Balinese witnessing the scene.
If you decide to visit a temple, you will be expected to dress as modestly as possible. Both men and women usually wear shirts covering their shoulders and part of their upper arms. Their legs should be covered with this mandatory clothing:
- a sarong (locally named “kain kamben”), a lower garment wrapped around the waist, and
- a temple scarf (or selendang), tied around the waist.
You can usually rent these items.
Always make a donation at any temple you visit. Sometimes it will be requested directly as an entry fee to access the temple, but sometimes there will be no official amount to give. In that case, you can give a contribution around IDR 5,000-10,000 per person.
Do take off your shoes before entering in a temple or a person’s house. This is a way to avoid bringing bad germs inside.
4. An interesting fact about Balinese people
To conclude, do not be surprised if you notice all Balinese people seem to be named the same way. This is actually one of the most fascinating aspects of Balinese culture: there are just four first names in Bali.
People know their babies’ names before they are born, as the names are based in order of the child’s birth: the first baby is named Wayan (“the eldest”), the second Made (“2nd eldest”), the third Nyoman and the fourth child Ketut. If a family has more than four children, the fifth one is called Wayan again, and the cycle repeats itself. Many people therefore go by their nickname to set themselves apart. Nicknames in Bali can be based on physical attributes (such as “fat Wayan”), character features (“peaceful Ketut”) or something a bit more original like “Wayan John” or “Made Mosquito.”