A typical conversation with a local person in Indonesia sounds more or less like the following:
Most often they start by saying: ‘Hello, Miss!’. Even in Lombok, a much less touristy island than Bali, in a small fishing village not visited by tourists at all — in fact we got a bit lost there, having been confused with false information on Google maps (happens a lot in Indonesia) — children were coming to the road where my travel companion and I were riding, saying ‘Hello, Mister! Hello, Miss!’.
Some of the kids continue the small talk and say ‘give me money’, reaching out their hands. The other day, in a shop, a bunch of children came to me asking if I could buy them ice cream. When I replied in English, they would not understand, probably because they could articulate only that which brings them benefit. My first thought was that they must be very cunning, the little sneaky monsters. But then I realised that I use Bahasa Indonesia in the same way as those kids. I can only greet, order food and bargain – all I need to survive the following months here.
I normally reply to the locals with selamat pagi or selamat siang or selamat sore or selamat malam (depending on time of the day, but I still haven’t fully figured out when one ends and another begins). And then it starts. Siang! Ahhh, bisa kamu Bahasa Indonesia? They just speak Indonesian to me. I listen with my eyes wide-open, and then say ‘I can only say a few words in Bahasa ‘, trying not to say aloud what comes to my mind at that moment, which is the Spanish phrase un poquito.
It seems that I have a few boxes in my mind dedicated to languages. One box is for Polish, another is for English (two languages that I can more or less express myself in and don’t mix up), and the last box is for Spanish, Russian and now also Indonesian, together. I don’t normally mix up languages that belong to different boxes. For example, when I speak English, Spanish words don’t come to mind. But I mix the languages from the last box. It happened when I was in Ukraine: whenever I tried to say something with my broken Russian, I only recalled Spanish expressions.
So I am having a mental fight with Spanish words, and I continue the conversation saying that I can only say a few words in Bahasa. Then they ALWAYS ask:
– Ahhh. Dari mana? (‘Where from?’)
– Dari Polandia. – I reply, fighting with: ‘De Polonia‘.
– Ahhh, Po-lan-di-a!!! – They always look impressed, so I ask:
– Do you know where it is?
– Ahhh, Europe. I have a friend in Polandia.
– Oh, really?
– Yes. LEWANDOWSKI!
So it’s official – the era of Wałęsa, or John Paul II, is over. Now it’s only Lewandowski that matters. Not Skłodowska Curie, not Copernicus, not even Chopin!
Some time ago, after a hundred talks with a similar level of superficiality, not being able to speak to anyone about anything deeper, I had a little crisis. But now, when I met a few really nice people here, I am much better. And also, thank God for Skype. I don’t know if there is a Nobel Prize in Psychology, but if there is it should go to Mr Skype.
What Indonesians know about Poland is at least a bit more optimistic than what I heard a few months ago from an Australian guy about what he knows about Poland. Firstly, he’d heard that the public media is controlled by a very conservative government. Secondly, that we invaded Czechoslovakia with tanks in ’68. We don’t have a very good PR in Australia, I am afraid.
But my trip to Australia was so different from living in Indonesia. Back then, I was impressed with the detailed knowledge of the Australian man, although what he knew was not very flattering for my country. Here the problem is the opposite. Indonesians have in general positive associations with Poland, but we are unable to go any further than where I come from, or how long I will stay in Bali.
The latest update on the Aussies’ knowledge about Poland – an Australian guy whom I met in Nusa Penida island watched a few films by Kieślowski. He was impressed with “The Double Life Of Veronique”. This time I was embarrassed by not having seen it and not being able to have a deeper conversation about the masterpieces of Polish cinema. Another thing which I have in common with Indonesians.