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Dealing with Balinese 1  

by on Thursday, 27 September 2007No Comment | 1,315 views

In general the Balinese are very frank in actions that would be out of question among us, such as clearing the throat, spitting, and so forth. These are perfectly normal actions no one needs to conceal. (Covarrubias)


Humor is one of the most difficult aspects of culture for an outsider to appreciate. Much Balinese humor is rather direct and unsubtle. Bawdy jokes and allusion are part of daily conversations. But one must be an insider to appreciate such humor as is involved with my baldness. It is not unusual for a Balinese, upon seeing my shining pate, to say: “bung ujan” – “the rain has been cancelled”. Or he might say “sing meli TV” – “I don’t want to buy a TV”. The first of these gems compare a bald head to a clear sky, the second refers to smooth face of a TV tube. (Eiseman, Jr)

In Bali, to be teased is to be accepted. It was the turning point so far as our relationship to the community was concerned, and we were quite literally “in.” (Clifford Geertz)

Though Westerners have been coming to Bali in ever-increasing numbers for nearly 400 years, the island’s inhabitants seem not to have become bored with their visitors. Tourism in Bali is a two-way street; we look at their culture, they look at ours. The Balinese are relentlessly curious about our lives and customs and brutally frank in their assessments of us. Every chat was like an inquisition:

”Where are you from?” ”America.” ”Where is your husband?”
I’m not accustomed to coming up with a quick answer for that one. In a difficult-to-explain marital transition, I gave a coward’s answer. ”He’s in America.” ”How many children do you have?” ”None.”

Their reaction was always the same, as exaggerated as those of the colorful characters in the local Ramayana dances. The eyes widened in shock; the mouth fell open and, in a a tone that suggested I’d just admitted to being a serial killer, they asked, ”WHY?”
Well, I’m not so sure myself, and this, too, is not a question I’m used to answering for strangers on short notice. I responded with another cop-out. ”In America, there are many people who have no children.” (Bonnie Boyle)

The Balinese are constantly paying visits to one another, but no one would dream of making a formal visit without bringing a along a gift of some sort: fruit, rice, eggs, or chickens, given casually and received without a word of thanks. It is taken for granted that the present is appreciated by acceptance of it. (Covarrubias)

When you give a gift to someone or receive a gift from someone, he or you must never open it in front of the giver. This avoid the problem that result from the gift being rather modest, which embarrasses the giver. (Eiseman, Jr)

It is obligatory (for Balinese) to offer guest refreshments, no matter how casual the visit. One must never push a guest to eat and guest must never refuse food. (Eiseman, Jr)

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