In many ways the Indonesian perspective of jam karet is a small reminder that we a living in a country with many different customs, habits, norms and values than those of home. It should be noted that there is no real normal when discussing Indonesian culture due to the vast number of cultures within Indonesian society itself!
Time is flexible in Indonesia. This cultural norm of life and time being flexible has been something I have grappled with during our time in Indonesia. In the western world, being late to appointments or even simple catch ups with friends or family is considered tardy or rude – not so here. Many times, people are late for appointments or do not show up at all (other times they may show up early) and the reasons given can be quite amusing – tired, hungry, traffic, rain, flat tyre, whatever. These excuses are deemed acceptable and it is rude to take issue with the person who is ‘late’ which is difficult for expats to deal with.
To cope, we have taken the approach that we wait for an hour or so for repairmen or deliveries and if we need to head out, we do. Arrangements will be made for besok (tomorrow or thereafter) and the job will get done – eventually. Fortunately employing a pembantu helps greatly, as she can liaise with these people should they show up in our absence. No stress, no problem (tidak apa apa).
Jam karet is also about building and maintaining relationships. Life’s hiccups allow people to stop and connect with others. If it’s raining why not stop and share a story over coffee with a stranger? Most homes and shopfronts have chairs out front where people sit and chat to pass the time. Time and patience are a way of life and there’s a beauty to the mindset that we are all connected. Not such a familiar concept in the West these days.
The idea of time being elastic brings with it a lovely approach in many ways to dealing with life in general. Why not just go with the flow and make life easy? Let it go and let it be. Whilst I will continue to be punctual, my take away from this experience is to not sweat the small stuff and that has to be a valuable life lesson.