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Waduh! Come Up with the Perfect Indonesian Compliments


Indonesia is a beautiful place filled with wonderful people.

If you’ve ever been, you’ve probably felt the same way. But have you told them so?

Foreigners aren’t expected to make any effort to learn Indonesian, particularly not in international hotspots like Jakarta and Bali. However, learning just enough of the language to complete everyday interactions and compliment your hosts is a very doable goal that will make your time in Indonesia much more special.

Further than that, though, you also need to learn about the culture of Indonesian compliments. How do things work? What might be considered going too far, and what might be expected of you in various interactions?

Learning this information and using it well will not only grease the wheels of your social interactions—motorcycle rental prices will go down, extra fried bananas will appear on your plate, and so on—but it will also make you fit in more during longer stays, so much so that people will feel comfortable with you and treat you as a social equal, not an “other.”

If that sounds like a good goal to you, follow along!

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Table of Contents

  1. Complimenting Looks
  2. Complimenting in the Office
  3. Complimenting Achievements
  4. Complimenting Skills
  5. Sincere Compliments and Responses
  6. Conclusion

1. Complimenting Looks

Positive Feelings

The first thing you probably think of complimenting is a person’s looks. In the United States, people compliment each other’s looks all the time.

One huge cultural difference is that men complimenting women, or vice-versa, can actually be seen in Indonesia as far more forward than it is in the United States.

Men and women who want to avoid flirting accidentally should keep their Indonesian compliments simple and away from appearance.

  • Mantap bro!
    “Keep it up, man!”

The word bro has fully entered the Indonesian language. People know it’s slangy and English, but where it may bring to mind frat boys on college campuses for English speakers, it simply means “man” in Indonesian.

But let’s say you do want to be forward. Something as crude as catcalling is strongly frowned upon in Indonesia, but outright flirting, of course, still happens among younger people.

  • Kamu kelihatan bugar!
    “Looking fit!”

In Indonesia, men and women don’t normally wear tight-fitting clothes or show off their bodies. If you say this to someone, it means that you’re paying attention to what’s normally kept hidden.

  • Cantik sekali!
    “Beautiful!” (to a woman)
  • Kamu lucu! (or just Lucu!)
    “You’re cute!”

Note that this one is rather ambiguous and it’s quite possible for it to simply mean “funny.” “Cute” in English has a bit of a flirty connotation, but around most of Asia, that connotation isn’t always attached.

  • Aku merasa aman ketika bersamamu.
    “I feel safe when I’m with you.” (to a man)

Men in Indonesia are expected to be providers for and protectors of women, and so when a woman says that she feels safe, it means he’s doing the right thing.

2. Complimenting in the Office

Office Workers

Not too many Indonesian companies hire foreign staff, but it might very well transpire that your company from overseas opens up an office or a partnership with an office in Indonesia.

Lots of Indonesians in international companies speak English relatively well, at least in Jakarta. But whether you have another shared language or not, complimenting the work of your Indonesian coworkers in Indonesian will be a very welcome surprise.

When it comes to the workplace, you could start by simply saying that you’re pleased with the results of the work.

  • Semuanya berhasil dengan sempurna.
    “Everything worked out perfectly.”
  • Proyek ini sudah baik sekali.
    “This project is already very good.”

However, another aspect of Indonesian culture is the desire, at least professionally, to never rest on one’s laurels. Therefore, it’s a good idea to show that you’re satisfied with the work by encouraging new work of the same standard in the future.

  • Tetaplah membuat kemajuan!
    “Keep making progress!”
  • Kerja bagus, maju terus dengan kliennya!
    “Good job, keep making progress with the client!”
  • Luar biasa, semangat terus!
    “Outstanding, keep the pace strong!”

Some of these Indonesian compliments are easier than others to break down! The root maju means “progress.” In the first phrase, it came with the affixes ke…an to specifically mean the noun form. In the second one, the root was left bare.

That’s a very typical colloquial shortening, and you can seem more down-to-earth with colleagues in the same organizational level if you leave off some affixes like that.

The word terus is also very useful, as it means “straight ahead” or “continue.” As you can imagine, it’s also quite useful when giving directions in Indonesian.

3. Complimenting Achievements

Smiling Woman Holding Plaque and Trophy

Much like the last section, the overall sentiment for achievements is “Keep it up!”

You can also use the word semoga (“hope for” ) to outline a specific outcome, fitting for the situation. Suppose someone had a good job interview?

  • Luar biasa! Semoga kamu mendapatkan pekerjaannya.
    “Outstanding! I hope you get the job.”

Congratulations may also be in order if we’re talking about a major life event.

  • Selamat atas pernikahanmu.
    “Congratulations on your wedding.”

Here’s another chance to bust out specific vocabulary so that you can say what, in particular, you liked about something.

  • Bunga-bunganya indah sekali!
    “The flowers were gorgeous!”

And finally, in order to compliment someone who’s working very hard at school, you can return to the word semangat.

  • Kamu pintar banget! Semangat!
    “You’re super smart! Keep it up!”

Semangat is hard to translate in a Western context, but it makes perfect sense to people from Eastern cultures. It’s an all-purpose “Let’s go!” “Keep it up!” “Yeah!” kind of encouraging word, meant to give energy and spirit to whoever’s on the receiving end.

4. Complimenting Skills

Man Playing Guitar

If you ever walk around a university town or near a university campus in Indonesia in the evening, you might notice that lots of people are singing or playing music out in public with their friends. This seems to happen more in Indonesia than it does in the West.

Your high-quality Indonesian skills will almost certainly land you in a music circle at some point, though of course, there will be no pressure to play. Here’s the perfect place for a well-timed compliment about the music.

  • Saya mau bermain gitar dengan sebaik kamu.
    “I want to play the guitar as well as you.”

Is someone a good conversationalist over dinner? Compliment their knowledge.

  • Kamu tahu banyak tentang ….
    “You know a lot about…”

Let’s now say that you’ve stopped into a warung and gotten a plate of nasi goreng telur (“fried rice with egg” ) that was so good you want to write home about it. Compliments to the chef are unexpected yet very warmly appreciated in Indonesia. Here’s a phrase you can use to offer the chef a compliment in Indonesian.

  • Wah, ini enak banget!
    “Wow, this is super-tasty!”

Here, we’re using wah as a way to say “wow,” but the waduh in the title of this article works just as well. These little nuances are very important for coming across as authentic!

The word banget here is another intensifier just like sangat or sekali. It’s rather informal, though, so using this phrase in a fancy restaurant to impress the waiter might make them stifle a chuckle. Save it for the warung.

5. Sincere Compliments and Responses

Indonesian Oxtail Soup

One thing that we can’t stress enough here is to be genuine when you give compliments to others. This is true for every culture, but particularly so for Indonesian.

Indonesian communication relies a great deal on what’s unsaid. Failing to give expected compliments is one thing, but when the situation doesn’t match what you’re saying, a compliment can fall flat.

Imagine you’re back in that host family’s house and you’re trying to choke down something bony and gristly. Obviously, they’ll be able to tell you don’t like it, and you’re not expected to immediately love every bit of Indonesian cuisine.

If you say something like…

  • Makanan ini terbaik di Indonesia, Bu.
    “This meal is the best in all of Indonesia.”

…then it’s painfully obvious that you’re lying.

All you need to do is be honest and say “I’m not quite used to it yet.”

  • Saya belum terbiasa dengan makanan Indonesia.
    “I’m not yet used to Indonesian food.”

Direct and clear, shifting the responsibility on yourself and making yourself humble in front of your guests. Perfect!


6. Conclusion

How great would it feel to get complimented in Indonesian by native speakers?

To be honest, you’ll probably hear one last compliment all the time:

  • Bahasa Indonesiamu sudah lancar!
    “Your Indonesian is already fluent!”

Some people can start hearing beautiful words like that after just a couple of months. Others give up and never get there.

You’re probably already aware of how easy it can be to learn Indonesian through lots of examples. Did you know that with, you can get lessons in Indonesian with transcripts in both Indonesian and English?

By listening to the lesson, studying the transcript, and listening again a few more times, you’ll build that base of vocabulary and grammar that you need to be a comfortable, confident speaker of Indonesian.

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