When A Stranger Asks “Dari Mana?”

When A Stranger Asks

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.


To Be in Indonesian

To Be in Indonesian

When people learn Indonesian for the first time, they might encounter a simple yet significant fact that Indonesian language is simple because it has no “to be”. Or does it? As a person progresses with his study, he will find that Indonesian does have “to be”. It is not as important as it is in English but it exists, nonetheless.

In English, “to be” is distinguished based on what the subject is (plural/singular). However, Indonesian “to be” is distinguished based on the function. Let’s see the explanations below.


Saya adalah guru.” (I am a teacher)

Adalah is to be used with nouns. As you see from the example above, adalah is followed by a noun (guru). Adalah can be omitted from a sentence without changing the meaning of the sentence. It is not important. In fact, putting adalah will make a sentence sound a little bit formal. So instead of saying “saya adalah guru”, you can say “saya guru”.

This word can actually be used to define something and thus make this word become pretty much needed, especially when to be in the question is ‘itu’ (see below).


Mereka ada di Bali.” (They are in Bali)

Ada originally means ‘to exist’. This word is to be used with locations; meaning, it should be followed with preposition di and place/location. Just like adalah, this word is not important. You can always say “mereka di Bali” and it’s perfectly fine. You can use ada to emphasize their existence/position.


Nothing? What does that mean? Well, so far you know the two words representing ‘to be’ in Indonesian and both are not important that we can omit them in spoken or written language. You must be wondering, what’s the difference between those two ‘nothing’ (because they’re unnecessary) with this ‘nothing’? This ‘nothing’ means that you really have no word for it.

Dia baik sekali.” (She is very nice)

When to be is followed by an adjective (describing word), you don’t translate the ‘to be’. This is not because it’s unnecessary like the previous two words, but because it doesn’t exist at all. As a matter of fact, putting something (adalah/ada) in that kind of sentence would render it wrong. Or is it?


This is interesting because not many people might agree with my opinion that this demonstrative word can actually play a role as a ‘to be’, while they actually say it (and sometimes write it). Itu as a ‘to be’ can be seen in questions with apa (asking for a definition), like:

Apa itu cinta?” (What is love?)

The question asks for the definition of cinta (love) while the affirmative sentence below gives a simple description of cinta using an adjective or clause. However, please mind that this pattern is often used to give descriptions, and tend to have more poetic/artistic sense.

Cinta itu buta. Cinta itu indah. Cinta itu sesuatu yang membuat kita melihat dunia sebagai tempat yang lebih baik.” (Love is blind. Love is beautiful. Love is something that makes us see the world as a better place)


This last one is very formal and tend to be used when you are describing something and is usually followed by a phrase or a clause.

Uang merupakan masalah semua orang.” (Money is everyone’s problem)

Dia merupakan orang yang dipercaya bisa membawa perusahaannya keluar dari masalah.” (He is someone believed to be able to bring the company out of the problem)

FYI, ‘Besok’ Doesn’t Always Mean ‘Tomorrow’


One day, you need help with something and you ask your Indonesian friend. He seems busy at the time but you ask, nonetheless, in Indonesian. He says, “Oke. Saya kerjakan besok, ya.” The next when you meet him, he hasn’t done it. You’re confused and a little bit frustrated.

Lexically speaking [in any Indonesian-English dictionaries you read], “tomorrow” means “besok”, but why when an Indonesian says “besok” it doesn’t always mean “tomorrow”. Why?

From the perspective of an Indonesian (me), Indonesians have a vague concept of time; well, at least with this word. This vagueness can be seen in our so-called “ngaret” or “jam karet”, the habit of coming up late. Young people nowadays make jokes, saying that “otw [on the way] means you’re still in your bed, trying to get up”. One of my students, a German who worked for her social year in Nias Island, told me a story when she was invited to a youth meeting in a church in South Nias. She came at the exact hour she was told to but, much to her surprise, the others showed up two hours later. She was pissed off, but she learned one important lesson; to come up two hours after any appointed time.

For many Indonesians, aside from “tomorrow”, “besok” can mean sometime in the future. It’s a word that, to some extent, can be seen as nonspecific and ambiguous. I’m not trying to discourage you from your learning, but whenever an Indonesian says “besok” to you, don’t hesitate to ask “besok,’besok’ atau besok kapan-kapan?”

PS: This happens with the words “nanti” and “kemarin” as well. “Nanti” can mean “later (on the same day)” or just like besok (some time in the future). “Kemarin”, on the other hand, can mean “yesterday” or “sometime in the past”.

Do you have similar experiences? Share it in the comment section below!

The Two Indonesian “we”

The Two Indonesian WeFor some people, this topic is a very basic topic covered in their first few meetings of Indonesian lessons, but for some, this is something they haven’t thought before. For those who have learned this, this article is a good reminder of how unique Indonesian “we” is, so keep reading this. Perhaps you’ll find something new. 😉

When a person says “we will go there tomorrow”, you can’t really tell whether you’re in that “we”, and we have to ask for clarification. Is the person talking about himself and other people or with you included? In Indonesian, there are two specific ‘we’s. Let’s take a look at both words.


When we say KITA, we include the person we talking to; KITA includes ‘you’. That’s why KITA is also known as we-inclusive. When someone says to you “kita akan pergi ke sana besok”, you know exactly that you are included. When you talk to a person “kita sudah tahu berita itu”, the person you’re talking to knows that he/she knows the news as well.


KAMI is the exclusive we, meaning ‘we’ that excludes the person you’re talking to. Using the same English example, when a person says “kami akan pergi ke sana besok”, you know that you won’t go there with the person saying this to you. That person will go with some other people. The same goes when you say this to a person; you don’t include the person you’re talking to.

Kami vs. Kita

For practicality reason, a lot of Indonesians nowadays prefer to use KITA only as ‘we’ (first person plural); KITA is more popular in usage and KAMI is losing its place as KITA’s counterpart. Whenever I use KAMI in a sentence (written or spoken), some of my friends say that I’m being very formal. In fact, I read an Indonesian language article on the internet saying that KAMI is the formal form of KITA!

Of course, on the bright side, English speakers no longer have to think which one to say whenever they want to say ‘we’; however, KITA and KAMI are two of many words that render Indonesian unique. If we lose KAMI, we’re losing what makes Indonesian pronouns special.

Thanks for reading, and tell me what you think in the comment section below.

Richard Ariefiandy

(Indonesian) Sentences Without A Subject

Sentences Without A SubjectHello fellow readers! The post today will discuss Indonesian sentences that often occur without subjects. Have you ever faced difficulty understanding what a native Indonesian says because they often omit the subject when talking? Or perhaps you have been in Indonesia for quite a while that you’re accustomed to how they talk. Nonetheless, I hope this post helps you figure out why this happens and in what situations you may find this, and if you’re a student of Indonesian and have been studying Indonesian, you can share your experience here.

English sentences

In English, whether you realize it or not, sentence construction is always Subject + Verb. Even if you don’t really want to talk about an action, you still put TO BE as the substitute of the verb. “You are beautiful” doesn’t contain any action, and you can’t say “you beautiful”, since beautiful is not a verb, so you need to put are.

Indonesian sentences don’t require a TO BE

In Indonesian, sentences usually contain a subject and a verb. This is true if we’re talking about an activity. Let’s say we want to say “I took a cab last night”, which is “tadi malam saya naik taksi” in Indonesian, and the verb is naik. But if we want to describe a condition, let’s say “this place was cold”, it translates into “tempat ini dingin”. As you can see, was is not translated and not needed.

Subject is understood

Besides not translating (not needing) a TO BE, often there is no subject in an Indonesian sentence. This happens mostly because the subject is understood. For example, you talk to a person and say “mau makan sekarang?”, you will say that “do you want to eat now?” in English. Indonesians refrain from saying Anda (you) because it’s understood in the context. Sometimes people don’t really say you to avoid being too direct.

Impersonal it

Indonesian sentences don’t use subject because the subject itself doesn’t exist. In “It’s impossible to go out tonight. It’s too cold.”, what does the word it refer to? This impersonal it exists because a sentence must contain a subject. In Indonesian, this it doesn’t translate. In Indonesian, the sentence above is translated as “Tidak mungkin untuk pergi ke luar malam ini. Terlalu dingin.

Any comments and questions? Wanna give some more examples from what you encountered in real life? Please write in the comment section below, or send an email to richard.ariefiandy@gmail.com.


Richard Ariefiandy