Why Balinese Ask Personal Questions: A Cultural Insight

3 min read
by Marlin
October 23, 2023

I frequently hear a common question from tourists visiting Bali regarding the Balinese's habit of asking personal questions to strangers they've just met.

And after searching the internet and not finding a single article that correctly answers this commonly asked question, I decided to write this article to share my knowledge as a local.

In short, asking personal questions is simply the Balinese way of breaking the ice with strangers. This is because they have a tendency to treat everyone as if they're a close friend, even if they're a total stranger.

Balinese man fixing shoes
Balinese fixing shoes

This may sound weird to a lot of people but it's important to remember that every culture is unique and different from one another. what may be considered normal in one place, like India, could be perceived as weird in other parts of the world.

As an example, a simple "thank you" may be enough in the US, but in Japan, failure to bow as a sign of respect can be viewed as impolite and can negatively impact the impression one makes.

Hi, what's your name?
My name is Stephanie, nice to meet you!
How old are you?
I'm 30
Where are your kids?
I'm not yet married
What? Why?

Being really personal to strangers doesn’t necessarily mean Balinese are rude or impolite they’re just trying to figure out a good topic to talk about.

Balinese security
Balinese security
Balinese parking attendant
Balinese parking attendant

It's a well-known fact that Balinese people are incredibly friendly. They believe that engaging in conversation with those around them is crucial in order to maintain positive relationships and avoid being perceived as distant or unfriendly.

You may be wondering why they go into such personal topics so quickly. Again, Balinese are very social and treat others like their close friends.

They believe that at the end of the day, it's the people you're kind to who will help you in any situation you might face in life.

It's a part of their social nature that has been passed down for generations and has now become a natural part of their interactions.

In the US, when you're in a domestic dispute with your spouse and feel threatened, you can call 911 and the cop will arrive quickly within 5 minutes.

However, in Bali, the police system operates differently, and you can't always expect a prompt response from law enforcement. Instead, you might turn to your neighbors for help.

In Bali, maintaining positive relationships with your neighbors is crucial for survival, which is why being friendly, saying hello, and keeping good relations is so important.

Neighborhood in Bali
Neighborhood in Bali

Being extremely friendly doesn't mean that the Balinese people don't understand boundaries. They are well aware of the line between what is appropriate and what is not, but only between the same Balinese.

For instance, if a couple is arguing because let’s say one of them is caught cheating, in this case, it’s clearly a personal problem and Balinese people will not typically interfere unless there is physical violence involved.

Also, not all Balinese people are unaware of cultural differences. Some may be more knowledgeable about the boundaries in different cultures, including those of foreigners.

Balinese with higher education and a broader knowledge of the world are aware of Western cultural norms and are less likely to ask questions that could be considered personal or even offensive.

If you're planning a trip to Bali in the near future, it's a good idea to have some responses ready when you interact with the Balinese people. Here are some common questions you might expect:

  • What’s your name?
  • How old are you?
  • Are you married?
  • Are you single?
  • Where you stay?
  • Where you from?
  • What’s your job?
  • How much you make?
  • Where you going?
  • How many kids you have?
  • Why haven’t you married yet?

I know most people are afraid of telling where they are staying, but remember, you only tell the address, not your specific hotel room number.

If you don't feel comfortable sharing personal information with them, you can always politely deflect or give a vague answer. Just avoid being rude or dismissive as this can hurt their feelings.

You should never say “None of your business" to Balinese.

Balinese selling dawet ice
Balinese selling Dawet ice

You may be wondering, how to tell if someone is just being friendly or has other intentions, like a romantic interest or something more sinister.

It’s simple, if someone is interested in you romantically, they will try to get your contact information after chatting with you.

And if someone tries to dig deep about things like for example your hotel address, your room number, or what type of scooter you use, where you park it, what’s the color of it. it's best to be cautious as they may have bad intentions.

In Bali, it's possible for strangers to become good friends after just a few minutes of talking. I've seen many people open up about their lives, families, and problems to someone they only met a few minutes prior.

For example, last time I took my mom to the hospital, she struck up a conversation with a lady her age sitting next to her.

Within just a few minutes, the woman was sharing how sad she felt because her daughter had just gotten married and moved away from Bali to live with her husband.

I was sitting behind them and I couldn't help but feel like I was watching an episode of Oprah Winfrey's talk show.

One last thing I want to say is that some Balinese fake their answers sometimes. They prefer to fake it rather than not answering at all because people may judge them as being cold and arrogant.

I hope this article has been helpful and provided insights into the fact that every culture is unique, and we cannot expect to find the same cultural practices in other countries as we do in our own.

To wrap it up, here's how Balinese people view foreigners:

  • Rich
  • Good looking
  • Celebrity
  • Cold
  • Paranoid
  • GTA San Andreas
  • Rambo

And also, because of historical reasons, some people (usually the elders) view white people as Dutch invaders.

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