For a lot of foreigners the question “dari mana?” is considered a personal question. Many of them who come to Indonesia are taken aback when a stranger (Indonesian) asks this question casually on the street. I know this because my students were. If it’s your first time coming to Indonesia, it is easy to feel intimidated. “What does this person want to know where I’m from?” You might think.
If you are startled, it’s a normal reaction. Actually, the issue is more about what you should respond correctly. Students of Indonesian should see that behind this seemingly invasive approach, those people basically want to say “hi”. It is a part of the local hospitality. A weird way of saying “hi”, I know.
What most foreigners do not realize is that even though this question is a generic question to ask origin, it has other functions as well.
Imagine a situation where you have an appointment with an Indonesian friend, and he is late. Of course, besides saying “why are you late?” (“Kenapa kamu terlambat?”) you can also say “kamu dari mana?” (it literally means “where are you from?” as in “where were you before you came here that made you come late?”).
In another situation where you are with a friend in a party but she excuses herself to go somewhere (she does not say where). Suddenly you see a famous person in the party, but he quickly goes somewhere else. When your friend returns, you will probably say “where have you been?” that can go with “kamu dari mana?”
In a different situation, imagine you are with your friend, and you excuse yourself to the restroom. When you come back, your friend is not there. When he returns you can say “kamu dari mana?” as in “where were you? Where did you go?”
Okay, enough with imaginations. Those are some examples where you can actually use “dari mana?” in different situations. So when someone, especially a person who knows you personally, asks “dari mana?” immediately think that they ask where you are before you meet him, not where (which country) you originally come from.
Now, let us go back to the stranger on the street.
When a stranger asks you “dari mana?” especially a middle aged woman sweeping the floor or a group of nice cute giggling children, don’t feel intimidated. Believe me, they care less of what you are doing. They do not really want to know. They are trying to say “hi” to you.
Even though “dari mana?” is a form of greeting, answering it with “baik” does not sound correct. In fact, it sounds weird. When a stranger asks “dari mana?” a vague answer like “dari sana” (from there) always works. You can also answer with “dari jalan-jalan” (from walking/strolling), or “dari toko” (from a shop).
If you notice, instead of asking “dari mana?” some people might ask “ke mana?” (where are you going?). This is basically the same as “dari mana”, and you need to answer properly by saying “ke” followed with anywhere you are going to. You do not need to go into details and explain where you are going exactly, and no, they are not going to stalk.
After that, it is always a nice thing to close this short encounter with “mari, pak/bu”, smile, bow a little bit (just a little bit!), and then go. The middle aged woman who is sweeping the floor might answer it the same way with a big smile on her face. Congratulations! You are one step closer to become an Indonesian.
PS: You do not have to do the same to the children. After answering the question, just smile and go.