How to tell Indonesian Time

Red Clock
Credits: Red Clock/ gfpeck (flickr)

For those who are not familiar with telling time in Indonesian or struggle to (there’s no shame in this), then this article is for you. Arguably, it’s a little more complicated than English because there is flexibility around the concept of time in Indonesia. Jam Karet or otherwise known as “rubber” or “elastic” time, implies that time is relative. In other words, an event or activity may not necessarily occur at an exact time. There is nothing wrong with this; it’s simply a cultural difference between Australia and Indonesia.

To get an insight into how Jam Karet might shape your experience in Indonesia, check out this post by Lotte Troost.

In Australia, punctuality is culturally acceptable whereas Indonesia, it’s culturally acceptable to start near a certain time or whenever Indonesians feel ready to begin. This is important for Australians of any age, to recognise. For those wanting to pursue professional opportunities in Indonesia, being familiar with Jam Karet and basics of time is practical. If you would like to know more about Jam Karet, one of Asia option’s contributors has written about it through their personal experience of visiting Indonesia.

Aside from this, establishing basic vocabulary for telling time is also helpful in understanding Indonesian time. For a start, the word time in Indonesian is waktu but saat can also be used to describe moments in time. The word jam is informal and has two meanings. The first meaning is hour. To ask for the time or when something is happening, you simply say Jam berapa? In a formal setting, you can replace jam with pukul. The second meaning loosely means o’clock. To provide a time, you would say jam (insert number of the hour).

Here is an example

Orang 1: Jam berapa sekarang?  What is the time now?
Orang 2: Jam satu.1 o’clock

Then, there is also menit meaning minute/s and detik meaning second/s. My previous article provides a basic guide on greetings. It’s contents is also relevant for this article as it outlines verbal and physical greetings for different times of the day.  You can adjust the greetings with whatever time it is.

Here are some further examples

Orang 1: Saya jarang bangun jam delapan pagi  I rarely wake up at 8am
Orang 2: Saya pikir jam tujuh malamI think it’s 7pm
Orang 3: Saya akan pergi ke toko besok jam sepuluh pagi.I will go to the store tomorrow at 10am.
Orang 4: Saya akan belajar di perpustakaan, kira-kira jam dua belas siang.I will study in the library, around 12pm.

Now, at this point, it gets a bit challenging wrapping your head around the concept. Nevertheless, to say 30 mins or half an hour, you would say jam setengah (insert the number). As easy as that sounds, the half is withdrawn from the following hour. This means that you would say jam setengah dua for 1:30 despite reading it as 2:30.

Here are some examples:

Jam setengah sembilan8:30
Jam setengah tiga2:30
Jam setengah dua belas11:30

For describing either quarter to or quarter past, you would add seperempat and then say lewat and or lebih for minutes leading up to 30 minutues and then say kurang for 30 minutes and onwards.

Here are some further examples:

Jam empat lebih seperempatQuarter past four
Jam dua kurang seperempatQuarter to two
Jam tujuh lewat seperempatQuarter past seven
Jam lima kurang sepuluh menitTen to five
Jam tiga kurang dua puluhTwenty to three

Now that basic vocabulary has been established, here is an example of a conversation that uses some of these terms.  

Orang 1: Aku punya ide. Ayo kami pergi ke restoran jam dua belas siang!

Orang 2 & 3: Ya!!!!

Orang 4: Tunggu! Bisakah kami bertemu di mal jam sebelas?

Orang 2 & 3: Kami tidak bisa bertemu waktu itu.

Orang 1: Bagaimana kalau kami bertemu jam sebelas kurang seperempat?

Orang 2 & 3: Kami bisa

Orang 4: Bagus

Orang 1: Baik, sampai jumpa lagi!

One more aspect in this topic to point out, is time zones. If you have ever been in contact with someone from overseas or been overseas yourself, then you would already be familiar with time differences. Indonesia has roughly three; Indonesia Western Standard Time (WIB) (UTC+7), Indonesia Central Standard Time (WITA) (UTC+8) and Indonesia Eastern Standard Time (WIT) (UTC+9). Similarly, Australia has three main time zones, the Australia Western Standard Time (AWST) (UTC+8), Australia Central Standard Time (ACST) (UTC+9.5) and Australia Eastern Standard Time (AEST) (UTC+10). Nowadays, you can calculate the time difference between Australia and Indonesia online. Although, daylight savings may alter the time difference slightly so that is something to keep in mind. Nevertheless, these details are practical to know when traveling or arranging online meetings as you can establish a time in which both parties are able to meet approximately.

All in all, this article has attempted to provide an outline on how to tell time in Indonesian. Remembering that the concept of time differs between Australia and Indonesia. Nevertheless, being familiar with this culture difference as well the basic vocabulary is helpful everyday activities and for readers of Asia Options, whom maybe seeking professional opportunities in Indonesia.

Looking for more local insights? Check out this handy post on Indonesian slang words by Diandra Priambodo!

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Katherine Durban

Indonesia Correspondent at Asia Options
Katherine is studying a Bachelor of International Relations and Diploma of Languages (Indonesian) at La Trobe University. She plans to study Honors later this year. Katherine has participated in a number of programs aimed at strengthening Australia-Indonesia relations including the virtual Indonesian Language Short Course and Campus Ambassador program run by the Australian Consortium for 'In-Country' Indonesian Studies (ACICIS). She aspires to work in international development and will continue searching for professional opportunities in Asia.