Addressing People in Indonesian

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Addressing People in Indonesian

In Indonesian culture, people prefer to address each other with their names. It is to respect other people. But sometimes in informal situation, e.g with classmates, Indonesians can address others with ‘kamu’.

When addressing older people, Indonesians NEVER use ‘kamu’, but Indonesians also seldom address with Anda. Indonesians usually address with ‘Bapak’ or ‘Ibu’ or ‘Saudara/i’. Sometimes it is followed with the person’s name. For example, Bapak Ahmad.

Do NOT address these people with ‘kamu’:

– Any member of your family. I mean, ANY. Even your little sister.

– Your teachers, even if they are younger than you.

– Your schoolmates that are in grades higher than you, e.g. you’re in Grade 10th, so you shouldn’t address the 11th Graders with ‘kamu’.

– Your colleagues

– Any persons in your business life.

– Any elder people you know or you meet.

– Strangers.

You should address these people with ‘Bapak’ or ‘Ibu’ (can be followed with their names):

– Your teachers

– Any persons in your business life.

– Any elder people you know or you meet.

Note on addressing in family:

Indonesians prefer to address their family members with their status, example:

Bapak / Ayah / Papa father

Ibu / Bunda / Mama mother

Kakak elder sister/brother

Adik younger sister/brother

Nenek grandmother

Kakek grandfather

Paman/Om your parents’ brother

Bibi/Tante your parents’ sister


When addressing cousins, Indonesians tend to use ‘kamu’ or their names instead.

A similar rule applies to the first person pronoun (saya and aku).

The rule is pretty simple, just call yourselves with ‘saya’ when talking to elderly people, at work/school, business, in public, when talking to strangers, and some other formal situations.

Call yourselves with ‘aku’ when talking to your friends, younger persons, and some other informal situations.

Important note:

– Old people, married people, business men/women, etc always call themselves ‘saya’ instead of ‘aku’ due to politeness. They also NEVER address people with ‘kamu’. They always address with Bapak, Ibu, Saudara/i, and can be followed by the persons’ names.

– Young people can call themselves with ‘saya’ or ‘aku’, while the rules of politeness apply, as mentioned above.

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Dr. Jennifer Wagner

PhD in Applied Linguistics, ESL/French teacher, author of two French books, and helping others to learn languages online at