Oost-Indisch Doof


Oost-Indisch Doof can be loosely translated as Indonesian Deafness, well this is a very old saying or terms in dutch which means that. Before being named “Indonesia” the dutch government and its people called Indonesia as “Oost-Indisch” and as for the rest of the world, we were “Dutch East Indies.” Hence the term came from. What is it exactly? It certainly has nothing to do with actual deafness, which means a hearing impairment or any actual physical deficiencies. The meaning is almost an exact description of what Indonesian people usually do. We always considered that it is polite not to talk when you’re not being talked to, not to listen whatever it is that is not related to you, and not to interrupt people you don’t know. Basically we believe that we are being polite by minding our own business. We learn to keep our thoughts for ourselves or probably several people around us whom we trust. I don’t know whether that is a bad habit or not, but that is how we are raised and we valued that as a good mannerism.

Cut to the story, I was in a room with several colleagues where they talked (in dutch) about their studies and their EK (euro cup) pool, and several stuff which I had no interest on listening. At first we all do the talking and sharing stories about our lives but then I lost interest and also I don’t know much about the thing they are talking about. So I decided to stop listening and do my work (I have so little interest in talking about their studies which is about management or so). Suddenly one of my colleagues said something and all the others are quiet. Apparently he was talking to me. I didn’t take cue immediately as I was thinking that he is still in conversation with my other colleagues. He then called my name and asked why didn’t I respond to his question? I was sort of “ooh, sorry, I do not realize you are talking to me” like. Then he blurted something about oost-indische doof and the others agreed. So I ask him back what it supposed to mean and he just described it back to me. The thing is I did not know, to this day, whether it was supposed to be a negative or positive comment coming from him. But I decided to play innocent and believe whatever he said. It helps when dealing with cultural differences: put an innocent face, ask question, and nod along.

So, about the deafness thing, I think it is a product of cultural differences. The other think that it is polite to keep all things to ourselves and do not bother much with other people’s life, while the other culture think that it is basically impolite or ignorant to not noticing or part taking in conversation around us. I will not change myself just for this small matters but I try every now and then to participate more.


2 thoughts on “Oost-Indisch Doof

  1. The term Oost Indies doof in the Netherlands is often used to describe little children who choose to hear only what they want to hear
    In English this is known as selective hearing.
    It was interesting to read the cultural background on this and I’m sure that this cultural trait was much more ingrained in to the norms of Indonesian people and culture when the Dutch colonized Indonesia.

    As to whether it was an insult or not in would think of it as a half-hearted attempt to be humorous albeit rather insensitive given that you are Indonesian

    • Oh, thank you so much for the clarification! I was taken a little back when I heard this, but everybody seemed to be cool about it and I did not hear it much often said. Perhaps it is due of my presence around 😀 Also the fact that I have tried to be more involved in things around me and decide for myself when to take part or not. I learned that when someone walks into the room, whether they are looking for me or not, it is better to take my eyes off my work, lean back on my seat and give about 5 minutes to talk/listen before making decision. Even when they already called the other colleague right through the door

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