Taxi drivers have been one of my most common conversation partners for practicing the Indonesian language. Our talk is usually me-centered (where I’m from, how long I’ve been in Indonesia, why I’m here, etc.) which is great for a beginner-level speaker like me. I’ve gotten really good at these predictable topics, although my conversational ability drops sharply whenever a new or unexpected subject comes up. Often the drivers are excited to be able to talk to a foreigner so they don’t seem to mind my language limitations too much, or keep speaking to me regardless. This recent conversation is fairly typical of a taxi chat:
(roughly translated from the original Indonesian, with my commentary in parenthesis)
DRIVER: What country are you from? The Netherlands? (They usually guess I’m Dutch first and Australian second, very rarely do they guess I’m American.)
DRIVER: Oh, America. You speak Indonesian?
ME: Yes, a little.
DRIVER: America likes soccer.
ME: Oh, really? (This was kind of news to me, as I think Americans are not really soccer fanatics when compared to other countries.)
DRIVER: Yes. They will go to South Africa.
ME: Oh, really? (I have not been following the World Cup AT ALL.)
DRIVER: Yes. And also Mexico will go to South Africa. Very good.
ME: How about Indonesia?
DRIVER: Ahhhhh! (He then clutched both hands to his head to express his disgust at how awful the Indonesian team is. I kind of wanted him to put at least one hand back on the steering wheel, but I didn’t know how to say this in Indonesian.) Indonesia is not good! They are horrible!
DRIVER: Horrible! Elek! That is “horrible” in Javanese.
DRIVER: Do you also speak Javanese?
ME: Not yet (said in Javanese. Indonesians LOOOOVE it when I throw in a couple words in Javanese. They absolutely LOVE it.)
DRIVER: Ahhhh! You are already fluent! (He then proceeded to say something in Javanese.)
DRIVER: (speaking more Javanese)
ME: I only know a couple words in Javanese. “Not yet” and “how are you.” I don’t speak Javanese. I speak Indonesian a little bit.
DRIVER: Oh. “Horrible” in Javanese is elek.
DRIVER: Yes, elek. I can teach you Javanese.
ME: Oh, Javanese is very difficult.
DRIVER: Yes. It has the normal form and the polite form.
ME: Yes, very difficult.
DRIVER: Ha ha ha, difficult. What do you study here?
ME: I’m a university lecturer.
DRIVER: Oh, where?
ME: Diponegoro University.
DRIVER: What department?
ME: The English department.
DRIVER: Oh. Do people in America speak American?
ME: (I’m never sure how to answer this question, and yes, I have been asked this question before.) Uh, they speak English in America.
DRIVER: Oh, is that so.
ME: So I am an English teacher and you are a Javanese teacher.
DRIVER: Ha ha ha, yes. When you need a ride home, you call me. I can teach you more Javanese.
ME: Oh, okay (I never actually do this even though taxi drivers sometimes want me as a repeat customer.)
DRIVER: Yes, ask for car 227.
ME: Oh, okay.
DRIVER: Do you live alone? (This is a really common question and not nearly as creepy as it sounds.)
DRIVER: What? No friends? No roommates?
ME: Yes. This is normal for Americans. I know it is not normal for Indonesians.
DRIVER: You live alone? Alone?
ME: Well, I have friends nearby.
DRIVER: Oh good. If you are sick it is not good to be alone. You need friends.
DRIVER: (upon arriving at my destination) Ok, when you go home you call and ask for taxi 227. I will teach you more Javanese.
ME: Oh, okay. Thank you (said in Javanese, cuz I knew he would like that).
DRIVER: Ha ha, same to you (said in Javanese).