Solving Problems with Laughter

“No, you need to give me more money!”

It’s not always easy to negotiate prices with someone who speaks an entirely different language. If the prices are in thousands, and all you can show are the numbers of your fingers, confusion is almost a given. Are we talking about Rp. 5,000 ($0.50) or Rp. 50,000 ($5). As a foreigner, you assume the lower price because it’s more logical. As a local, you hope for the higher. Because all tourists are rich, right?

In Indonesia, discussions always end with a laugh. The rickshaw driver laughs, because he wants more money. You laugh, because a short ride on a bicycle taxi can impossibly cost more than a New York City cab. You are left with two options. One – you give them more money. Or two – you walk away, knowing that what you have given is enough. No matter what you do, the laughs are guaranteed, and the “cheated” rickshaw driver will still greet you just as heartily when he sees you the next morning.

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Maybe it’s the sugar they overdose on, adding it to anything from avocado salads to potato chips. Just like their foods, the Indonesians are incredibly sweet. Rarely does anyone raise their voice, and almost never does anyone get angry. Instead, laughter is everywhere. If they don’t understand English, they laugh. If they don’t have what you want to buy, they laugh. If they think you’re a moron, they laugh. And when they try to con you, they also laugh. If you’re smart, you’ll laugh, too, because it’s the only way you can possibly win an argument.

It’s difficult to imagine anywhere more pleasant and easy. For such an overwhelmingly Muslim country, it’s refreshing to see the how free and happy everyone is. Muslim girls either wear a headscarf, or they don’t. Many of them have christian boyfriends, and they all hang out together, dancing and singing in Karaoke bars until late at night. Faith is a choice, not a life sentence. And if they want to study abroad, no one is stopping them. Women even have a higher value, because when a couple gets married, the groom has to pay a reasonable sum for his wife.

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After a few weeks in Indonesia, you’ll find yourself laughing just as much as they do.

“You’re charging me a dollar for a 10 cent bag of snacks?”

What’s not to laugh about?

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