One slightly ridiculous step in the process of buying a dance costume

I spend days agonizing over the text, worrying about which vowels to leave out and how many periods to put in my ellipses. It’s my friend’s fault, really. She told this man who I’ve yet to meet that I wanted to order a dance costume from him and she told me how to contact him. Then she added, “I didn’t tell him you’re a foreigner.”

Of course she didn’t.

At this point, I’m conditioned to hide my foreigness for as long as possible. At times it’s just a game, at other times it’s because I want to pay normal prices, and usually it’s because I don’t want people to look at me twice if they don’t have to. I want to blend in. I like to disappear.

So of course I have to take days composing a text so that it will sound simultaneously respectful, fluent, and thoroughly unremarkable. And I need to do it in Indonesian, because there is no way I’ll be able to convey information in Javanese that even verges on the respectful. Strike one against me in the ‘respect’ category before I even start.

After I send the text, the costume man doesn’t reply and doesn’t reply until I finally put my phone down and forget about it in favor of lunch and work and iced tea.

My phone buzzes at midnight while I’m already dozing. I groan and glance at the screen. He’s finally replied, but I close the message without reading it. It can wait until daylight.

In the morning, I read the text and immediately collapse in a fit of hysterical laughter, dropping my phone on the bed. He replied in Javanese. Formal Javanese. Formal Javanese that I actually pretty much understand.

It takes me an hour to reply and when I do it’s painfully short. But some of it is in Javanese.


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