In January 2009, soon after President Obama was sworn in, we had our first video evidence of his conversational skills in Indonesian, based on an exchange he had with a State Department staffer. (See "Obama's Indonesian pleasantries: the video.") As I said at the time, his experience of living in Indonesia from age six to ten had left him "if not bilingual, at least bi-courteous." Now Obama is on his long-delayed state visit to Indonesia, and he's been breaking out some more Indonesian pleasantries and showing off basic food-related etiquette.
Obama first used an Indonesian phrase when he began speaking at a joint press conference with Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono ("SBY" for short), greeting the assembled reporters with selamat sore, or "Good afternoon." He then shifted back into English for his remarks, until the very end:
I believe that our two nations have only begun to forge the cooperation that’s possible. And I say that not simply as someone who knows firsthand what Indonesia can offer the world. I say it as President — a President who knows what Indonesia and the United States can offer the world together if we work together in a spirit of mutual interest and mutual respect. So, terima kasih dan assalamualaikum [thank you and peace be upon you].
Terima kasih means "thank you," dan means "and," and assalamualaikum is the standard Arabic greeting of "peace be upon you," which has become a conventional formula in Indonesian oratory, not just in Islamic contexts. (The official White House transcript misspells terima kasih as terimah kasih.)
Later in the evening, Obama gave a toast at the state dinner that SBY held in his honor at the Presidential Palace. They made sure that some of Obama's favorite foods from his childhood were served for the occasion. (As I mentioned in January 2009, Obama had reminisced about Indonesian food when he first spoke to SBY by phone when he was still president-elect.) I haven't seen video of the toast, so I'm going by the White House transcript for this:
Now, I’m going to have the opportunity to speak tomorrow and so I will try to keep my remarks brief. First of all, thank you for the bakso. (Laughter.) The nasi goreng. (Applause.) The emping. (Laughter.) The kerupuk. (Laughter.) Semuanya enak. (Laughter.) Thank you very much. (Applause.)
Bakso (meatballs), nasi goreng (fried rice), emping (melinjo fritters), and k(e)rupuk (tapioca fritters) are all common Indonesian foods that Obama would likely have encountered on the streets of Jakarta 40 years ago. (I've corrected the official transcript, which misspells goreng "fried" as goring.) As he lists the food, he injects the Indonesian words for them into his English speech (using the English determiner the), but then ends with a complete Indonesian sentence: Semuanya enak, "All of it is delicious." (Local Indonesian reports gave versions of the toast that were slightly different from the official transcript, generally converting the entire expression of thanks into Indonesian.)
As Obama mentioned, he'll have another opportunity to speak tomorrow, when he delivers an address at the University of Indonesia. He will no doubt work some more Indonesian into that speech, but it remains to be seen whether he will have a memorable Ich bin ein Berliner moment, as John McWhorter and I speculated in our Bloggingheads conversation a couple of months ago. Stay tuned.
[Update, Nov. 10: See my followup post for an analysis of Obama's speech at the University of Indonesia.]