From shallots to religious peace

I hate how my fellow Indonesians represent their country to foreigners. They don’t seem to understand it even on the most basic level.

I will start ranting from the most trivial thing and ends on the least trivial.

For many Indonesians, the English word onion refers to not only actual onions, but also shallots. It is understandable if the Indonesian language calls them by the same name.

But, it doesn’t!

Shallot is called bawang merah and onion is bawang bombay! Not only we have different names for them, we know how to distinguish them just by looking at them!

I don’t know how we continue making this error. But, I do know it creates a misconception among some foreigners.

One time, SortedFood -a British cooking Youtube channel- made a video about rendang… and instead of using shallots as the recipe calls, they use fucking red onion!

Of course, shallots might not be available in shops near them and they needed a substitute. But, in this case, it clearly wasn’t the case. If it was, they would have mentioned the word shallot and yet, they didn’t mention it, not even once!

That makes me wonder if there are many more foreigners have made the same mistake when cooking Indonesian dishes.

I notice some Indonesians try to translate soto as soup… and that is incorrect. Soto is a type of soup traditional to Indonesia; we have words for soup: it is either sup or sop.

Maybe they feel obligated to translate every single word. But, the thing is, if the words have no direct translations and they are names of foods, don’t translate them! Just keep using the original words! I mean, languages like English have lots of foreign words in them; using soto in an English sentence is not a sin!

Oh, and I hate how we mindlessly call many of our dishes “curry” when -with rare exceptions- we almost never refer to them as such, even the ones with obvious South Asian influences!

Yes, it is easier this way if we want to explain Indonesian cuisines to uninformed foreigners. But, we also have to be explicit about the fact we rarely call our foods “kari”.

Still on foods, I am also annoyed that we never showcase the diversity of our cuisines. We love presenting the dishes as if they are of the same cultural backgrounds, even though they clearly aren’t. We literally have hundreds of ethnic groups here and yet, we love to represent ourselves as one cultural monolith.

To this day, I still don’t know why many Indonesians -the ones I have encountered, at least- never brag about our cultural diversity to foreigners. They also never realise that we have a relatively wonderful inter-ethnic relations.

Ethnicity almost never determine whom we befriend or have romantic relations with. While there are indeed ethnic conflicts, they mostly occur among people of rural backgrounds who grew up unexposed to other groups; they almost never occur among most people who grew in diverse urban areas.

I initially thought we were like fish who don’t realise they are in water. Probably because many of us had multicultural upbringings, we may be unaware of the existence of cultural diversity. But, I doubt that is the case.

In celebrations like the independence day, we love showcasing the contrasting styles of our traditional attires. We love making fun of other regional accents. We can be picky with certain cuisines because other regions’ taste buds may not suit ours. We even love stereotyping each other.

Basically, we do know how culturally diverse our country is. But, inexplicably, we never use that fact to positively boost our image on the world stage.

To make it even more confusing, we prefer to brag about our supposed religious peace instead.

One thing for sure, Indonesia is indeed way better than Iran and Saudi Arabia. We are not a theocracy which commands every citizen to live a strictly Islamic lifestyle.

But, at the same time, Muslims are clearly the most privileged religious group in the country and non-Muslims in predominantly-Muslim provinces have to adjust to life which benefits Muslims the most. Religious conflicts also happen far from rarely; while their occurrence is not regular, it is frequent enough to worry anyone whose heads are not on cloud nine.

And we are not even that religiously diverse.

With ethnicity, the biggest and second biggest groups comprise about forty and twenty percent of the population, respectively. With religion, the biggest one -obviously, Islam- comprises eighty percent.

Christians are the most visible religious minority and, for many Indonesian Muslims, they are the only non-Muslims we have interacted with. We are also exposed to Buddhism and Chinese religions, but only if we live in places with visible population of Chinese-Indonesians who still embrace their ancestral heritage (the ones who don’t are Christians). Hinduism is extremely rare outside Bali. Animism is rare in urban areas and it is not even seen as a religion. Judaism and anything Jewish are seen as bad as atheism; Indonesian Jews are practically non-existent. Oh and, it is much easier to find Hindus than it is to find non-Sunni Muslims.

Basically, many Indonesian Muslims still live a religious bubble. With that in mind, the existence of religious tensions -especially when Muslims are the bigoted ones- in Indonesia is anything but unexpected.

I don’t know exactly why we always brag about our religious pluralism instead of the ethnic one. Maybe it is our inferiority complex; we are seen as a model country in the Muslim world (for some goddamn reasons) and we rarely get any ego boosts on the world stage.

My point is we should be careful on how we present our country to foreigners.

If you improperly translate the words you use, you may end up giving them misinformation which is trivial but infuriating nonetheless.

If you are driven by feelgood, blinding nationalistic sentiment, you may end up sugarcoating your country’s image and burying the actual dirt underneath.

If the foreigners are gullible, they would be fed with factual inaccuracies and end up perceiving the world inaccurately, thanks to you. If they already have negative preconceived beliefs, they would accuse you and your fellow countrymen of whitewashing the problems in our country, inadvertently exacerbating its already-negative image.

Oh, and it can be a missed opportunity. Because you are too focused on exaggerating the positivity of some aspects of your country, you end up ignoring ones which are genuinely good.

Yes, I am also far from perfect. I still have surface-level knowledge about my own home country and I may have unknowingly given wrong info.

But, I am confident about something: I am not stupid enough to translate bawang merah as onion and soto as soup….. and I am certainly not dishonest enough to think Indonesia is an entirely heavenly place for non-Sunni Muslims.

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Author: The Stammering Dunce

I write blogs. I love to act smarter than I really am and I pretend that my opinions are of any significance. Support me on Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/user?u=9674796

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