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Greg Rodgers

Selamat Siang

By July 29, 2012

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Hello in Indonesian

Photo by Greg Rodgers

I learned an interesting lesson a few years ago.

I had only been on the ground in Indonesia for a few days; my first visit to this huge, diverse country. Prior travel experience taught me that learning just a few of the basics in the local language greatly enhances your trip and your daily interactions, so I read up on some basic Indonesian greetings while on the plane.

As a minimum, I try to at least start with knowing how to say hello, thank you, goodbye, then move on to the numbers, negotiating, etc. You can save a surprising amount of money by being able to negotiate prices in the local language.

And so for three naive days I greeted random people proudly with selamat siang (good day) . The problem was that having learned from a book, I was mispronouncing the siang (correctly pronounced as 'see-ahng') as 'sigh-ahng' with the 'i' as a long vowel sound.

It made sense at the time, however, I began to wonder when I received shocked and/or nervous expressions from everyone. Shouldn't they smile and be glad that I had tried my hand at a little bahasa Indonesian?

Much to my horror, I found out that my innocent mispronunciation sounded a lot like sayang -- the Indonesian term of endearment for sweetheart, dear, or darling. For three days I had been calling my taxi drivers, staff at my hotel, and men bringing me food 'sweetheart'!


Don't make the same mistake that I made -- know the right way to say hello in Indonesian.

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