Notions of love and marriage are dancing around in my head after having spent all of last week comparing Indonesian and American dating customs in my Cross Cultural Understanding classes and then attending my third Indonesian wedding of the month last Saturday (photo below). Let me share some highlights.
For starters, “monkey love” or cinta monyet is the Indonesian equivalent of “puppy love” – or an adolescent crush. My students explained that this is because monkeys are cute, funny, shy and small. My Indonesian Idioms and Expressions book gives further clarification, “Indonesians think monkeys are as foolish as starry-eyed lovers.”
Popular dates for local teenagers, who tend not to start dating until they’re at least 17, include going to the beach, studying together, going to concerts, and riding around on motorcycles. In fact, riding around on motorcycles in the evening, especially going out to the beach to look at the stars, is known here as jalan jalan sore, which is roughly the equivalent of “lovers’ lane”.
Jalan jalan is an Indonesian term that I actually really like. Jalan means to walk and jalan jalan means to stroll around leisurely for fun. Sore means evening. People who remain indoors during the heat of the day suddenly pour out into the streets around 5 pm when the sun starts to set. For teenagers and young adults, jalan jalan sore takes on an extra meaning when done with that special someone. And because Indonesians are so fond of acronyms, jalan jalan sore is usually referred to as JJS.
Many aspects of dating in Indonesia are actually quite similar to customs in the U.S. People are free to choose their own dates (although family approval plays a much stronger role here than it does in individualist cultures in general), blind dates are common, men and women sometimes share expenses on a date, people of different social, economic, ethnic and religious backgrounds can date, and girls or guys can do the asking. Now let’s talk about some of the surprises.
Quite a number of my students were surprised to learn that many young Americans move out of the parental home at around age 18 to live at college or in their own apartments. Here, young adults tend to live at home until they marry, which might not be until their mid to late twenties. Even more surprising for my students was the fact that many American couples live together without being married, a practice that is virtually non-existent here because of the strong taboo against pre-marital sex. (One student charmingly asked if couples are at least “betrothed” before living together).
This taboo also led most of my students to answer the following question incorrectly on a little quiz I gave them on dating situations in America (which I found in a book the head of the English Department at UNG lent me):
You are a young woman on a date. Your date says, “Let’s go back to my place.” What does this usually mean?
a. He wants you to go to his apartment and have sex with him.
b. He wants you to meet his parents.
c. He is very proud of his apartment and wants to show it to you.
The correct answer, in case you were in doubt, is "a". Most of my students, bless their hearts, when I asked for a show of hands, picked "b" or "c" as the answer and were SHOCKED to find out that it was "a". I hope I'm not corrupting their innocent minds, but at the same time, I also think this is important to know if they ever date an American over the age of 18 who no longer lives at home with his parents. Otherwise, they'll be in for an even bigger shock once they get back to his place. Although, hopefully, they can find men to date who are culturally sensitive enough to know that good Muslim women do not have sex before marriage.
Last but not least, the purpose of getting married, for Muslims, is to have children. I had falsely assumed that the purpose was to have legitimatized sex after years of waiting. So, in hushed whispers during the wedding reception for Ibu Noni's brother, I asked Tia for more details about Muslim marriages. What shocked me was that a Muslim woman has to start trying to get pregnant as soon as she is married because otherwise people will wonder why she isn't being a "good wife" and giving her husband children. Couples aren't allowed to use birth control until AFTER they have finished having children. But what if you don't want to have children right away? This was mind boggling to me. What if you want to gain work experience first or study for a second or third degree? Or just enjoy being married and finally out of your parents' house?? To my modern American mindset, unless you feel your biological clock is ticking, what's the rush in having children? Live your own life first. Ahh...individualism.