Indonesian: When English Falls Short – Part 1 | GALAU.

Language is complicated…so complicated it’s unlikely that last sentence could be translated into every tongue on the planet. But oftentimes what seems a radically new and philosophical / phenomenological take on an every-day thing is just a way of being banal that hadn’t yet occurred to you. Of course, my linking the every day and the banal probably relates to Western paradigms (today was not another dollar for me – not even in the idiomatic sense). In Bahasa Indonesia, the language of Indonesia, there are many clever little ways to make your every day into a great big, black comedy. Luckily for the 350 million people of my dear old water country, the national language really can make the best out of commonplace, hopeless situations. Here are just a few shibboleths of the uniquely Indonesian tragi-comedy.

Want to make a local laugh? Say galau. Aptly while stuck in a Jakartan traffic jam or on the dance floor, you’d probably see all of their teeth, tongues, and maybe some tonsils. The English dictionary is the largest you’ll find, but there are no spot-on equivalents for this one. To be galau is to be heartbroken, bored, sedentary, lost, entranced, distracted, watching low-res videos of kittens on YouTube, in a malaise (nothing to do with being Malaysian), blank, grey, distant, lifeless, lovelorn, hopeless – but not specifically. All of that…and hilarious at the same time?  And how? Well, Mie Galau Malang is a popular chain restaurant offering galau noodles – or at least promises of an unimportant and unmemorable dining experience. So! Not only has English yet to cover galau’s murky territory – differing greatly from the turf of household boredom – but we have yet to go very far out on a marketing limb that boasts of being unexceptional and anti-climactic.

Picture-perfect impression of 'galau' - at 'galau' noodles.

Here’s a great impression of what it means to be ‘galau’. This happy customer’s been through the local system. She can pull it off pretty well.


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