Three years ago my wife and I moved to Bali for a mild climate and milder pace. What we didn’t expect were the cultural quirks. Every island has them. These five might ring true beyond our new borders.
The truth isn’t meant to hurt.
Whenever I return to Bali from a California holiday, local friends greet me with, “Oh, Mr. Nathan, look how fat you got.” Back in America, my scale wasn’t this honest. Neither were my friends. But here it’s actually a compliment. Like, “Great, you’re not starving!” You don’t see many StairMasters in third-world countries, particularly along the equator.
“Yes!” means “Maybe.”
Balinese hate to say no. Even the word is an ugly, cumbersome “Tidak,” while yes is a cheery, “Yah!” So they lie about your order. Drive around in circles. Eventually, you learn to rephrase questions: “What time do you think I’ll be paying the bill?”
Embrace the bribe.
I once paid a traffic ticket with a Bob Marley cassette. After I showed the officer my empty wallet, the cop got into my car and listened to a few tracks before accepting. My wife likes to pretend she speaks an alien jibberish language, and sometimes I claim to be a journalist investigating police corruption. But when I’m in a hurry, five bucks seems to be “the lucky price.”
Chess is a lost cause.
I used to consider myself a decent player. Now I have nightmares. Chess is like a national pastime in a lot of island countries – the highest form of doing nothing. Abandon all hope.
It’s one of my travel mantras, but in Bali the effect is tenfold. When I first moved here, people would scowl, and I’d think, “What am I doing wrong?” But I learned that when I flash a grin, people light up like a 1,000-watt bulb and then say something sweet like, “Gee! You look fat today!”