One of the biggest obstacles facing expats in Jakarta is coping with the local language. It isn't the most difficult language to learn and I will shamelessly admit that my Bahasa Indonesia is decent. Over the years, my pronunciation, as well as local people's ability to understand me, has improved dramatically. When I was a newbie, I'd repeat words over and over and get upset when people didn't understand me. Over time, I've learned how to intonate properly in order to be understood. Nowadays, I get compliments from Indonesians that my Bahasa is quite good. I don't think it's that good but maybe that's because I want to improve.
Once one learns the language, one has to deal with some people's inability to listen. I have learned the hard way that some people, once they see that you are not Indonesian, automatically assume that they will not be able to understand a word you say since they don't speak English. When this happens, their ears fill up with wax, their brains go into hibernation mode and their comprehension skills go out the window. It is quite frustrating when this happens.
Some days, I will converse in Bahasa with a dozen people who will have no problem understanding me. Then comes number 13, they just look at me like I am speaking gibberish. They can't understand a thing that I say. Correction, they DON'T EVEN LISTEN to word I say and therefore get confused. If this happened with the majority of people that I speak with, I would consider it to be a fault of my own. Since it doesn't happen most of the time, I feel vindicated.
Here are a few examples:
1) Sometimes, I will be in a taxi with my lady. We will be coming up to a street where we need to turn. I will say "Pak, belok kiri" (elder man/sir, turn left) "Pak, belok kiri" "Pak Pak......Belok kiri" "BELOK KIRI PAK!!!!!". The driver does not even acknowledge that he hears me or that I am speaking. My lady will then say (in the EXACT same intonation as me) "Pak, belok kiri" and the driver will immediately say "Oke" and then turn left. Every time this happens to me, I am absolutely dumbfounded.
2) I am filling my motorbike up with gas. The attendant will ask how much I want. I say "lima belas" (fifteen) He will respond with "Berapa?" (how much). I will repeat myself "lima belas" He will then reply with "sepuluh?" (ten, which sounds NOTHING like fifteen). I slowly repeat myself "liiiima bellaaaaaas". He then replies with "sembilan belas?" (nineteen). I then retort with (whilst counting with my fingers) "satu, dua, tiga, empat, lima belas" (one, two, three, four, five....teen). Blank stare, no response. I regroup and try again whilst pointing at my hand showing 5 digits. "Mendengarkan aku......lima......belas" (listen to me....fifteen). Finally, a response and a shy grin "oooh lima belas, mister"
This is a clear cut case of the attendant seeing my face and losing all composure to the point where he resorted to guessing. If he would have confused tiga (three) with lima (five), I could understand since they sound very similar but the numbers he was guessing did not even sound remotely close to what I was saying.
3) (on the phone, my personal favorite) I call Domino's pizza. "selemat sore, Domino's pizza" (good afternoon, Domino's pizza) "Hello, aku mau pesan pizza" (hello, I want order pizza) "oh, ya, sebentar ya, mister" (wait, ya mister). I get put on hold and eventually another voice comes on the line "Yes, hello mister, you like eating pizza?" (translated into English, this means: Yes, hello, mister, may I take your order). I humor them and switch to English "Hi, I'd like to order pizza" They respond with "Yes, mister........uuuh you eat order pizza? What......you...like? Can Please I have........ number phone" I reply very slowly with "zero......eight.....one". By this point, I switch back to Bahasa as I can tell the guy is totally lost "kosong.......delepan......satu.....tiga" (zero eight one three). After 3 or 4 times of going through the numbers of my phone number and them not being able to find me in their database, the guy puts me on hold again. It is much easier to give them the correct number as opposed to trying to spend 20 minutes explaining my address and exactly where I live. Been there, done that, not easy. Eventually, another voice comes on the line "yes mister, nomor telephonenya?" (yes mister, number telephone you?). I repeat my phone number quickly in Bahasa and the guy gets it correct the first time, no problem. I then place my order and within 30 seconds, everything is accomplished and I hang up. This after being on the line for nearly 10 minutes.
I've played out this situation on numerous occasions. There have been many instances where I "Press one for English" only to have an operator eventually hang up on me because they can't understand me.
A while back, I felt that if I honed my Bahasa Indonesia skills that these instances would cease. It is now abundantly obvious to me that they will never stop, only happen less frequently. The next time I call Domino's, I'm going to ask for the guy who listens well to get on the line.