Eating out with family members, hanging out with friends in shopping malls is part of the common lifestyle in Jakarta. In fact, they are not only built for shopaholics and branded good top spenders, but also for fulfilling some other necessities with the availability of supermarkets, hair salons, a fitness centre, banks, a post office, and more.
The more hours you spend in the mall, the more possibility you answer your nature calls there. Fear not, public toilets are abundant in every floor and free of charge. Yes, a free of charge public toilet is the luxury I hardly get in Europe unless I sneak in to the one inside a cinema building or a hotel.
Nonetheless, I experience a constant confusion every time I go to public toilets in the malls in Jakarta, in terms of the norm of lining up. This time, I focus on ladies public toilets in the malls, that usually comes with a room with multiple toilets inside.
Living in The Netherlands for years, I always line up on the side or the alley before the rows of toilet inside the (toilet) room. So do the rest of the Dutch and European people in general. And I do exactly the same way when I enter a public toilet in Jakarta.
After that, a woman behind me cuts my line to one of the rooms she thinks it will be vacant in a bit. It happens over and over again in different day and time. I piss off and keep asking myself why Indonesian women cannot maintain their manner to queue up patiently and obediently like Europeans.
Then I recall something. Actually, it’s been a custom in Indonesia that people queue up by the door, regardless how many (toilet) rooms available. It’s up to the people to pick which room will be the fastest to get empty for their turn, like queuing up for a supermarket cashier. It’s all about luck and everybody knows that.
I did that too, until I graduated from high school. I stopped doing that when I went abroad to pursue my study and adjusted with the local culture in The Netherlands for another 7 years. I forgot about it. Now when I return to my hometown for good, it becomes some kind of culture shock.
Thus, I remind myself that I only need to readjust with Indonesian culture that I previously had left behind.
I thought that’s enough. Until I witnessed my friend insinuating another young woman who walked straight to the door, ignoring the rest of them standing patiently on the side before the rooms.
“What a lady, cutting other people’s line just like that!” My friend said in a satirical way.
Seconds after my friend shut the door when her turn came, the young woman looked at me and asked, “Is there any certain guidelines to line up that I should know beforehand?”
I shrugged, avoiding potential conflicts that could happen in such situation.
And that’s not it.
Once I stood by a toilet door in the cinema. After a woman walked out of the room in front of me, I took my turn. I had to be quick, the movie was about to start. Then, I overheard a Caucasian woman who stood by the door next to mine complained to the cleaning lady that I simply cut her line, claiming that she came earlier although not by the same door as mine.
The cleaning lady justified my action, “The starting point of the queue is by the door, Ma’am.”
I felt bad, but if the norm of lining up is standing by the door, I did it right. I experience the same thing as that of the Caucasian woman repeatedly and I’m finally okay about it, knowing that it’s the common practice. Because I readjust with it already.
In a nutshell, how to line up for public toilets in Jakarta?
Some line up by the toilet door. Some others line up on the side before the toilet rooms.
Based on my observation and experience, anyone who comes first defines the norm. If anyone before you stand by the door, that means it’s today’s house rules. If anyone before you stand on the side before the rooms, that means it’s today’s house rules.
I believe there’s a shifting trend towards this issue and both manners stand side by side. With a growing amount of people studying abroad and return for good years later, they apply the (foreign) manner to their homeland before they know it, while the local manner is still well-maintained.
How about other cities or towns in Indonesia? From what I see, standing by the door remains the common practice.
Suppose you want to avoid lining up conflicts but feel too hassle to ask, do the same thing as anyone before you. Or ask the cleaning lady when she’s around or ask other guests in front of you.
Get used to it, and have a great travel!