As a Balinese local, I’ve encountered countless visitors from around the world, immersing themselves in our island’s unique culture and serene beauty. Amidst these interactions, a cheeky word often comes up: “bule.”

Let’s dive into the meaning, usage and origins of this peculiar term that captures the island’s dynamic relationship with its foreign guests.

Bule is pronounced “booh lay”.

The ‘Bule’ Lowdown: What’s in a Word?

“Bule” is a slang term in Indonesian and Balinese languages that refers to foreigners, particularly those of Western or Caucasian descent. While its exact origins remain unclear, the word is thought to have evolved from the Dutch word “blauw,” which means “blue.” During the Dutch colonial era, Dutch soldiers wore blue uniforms, which might have inspired locals to nickname them “bule.”

Usage: A Term of Endearment or an Insult?

The word “bule” has evolved over time and can now be used both affectionately and pejoratively, depending on the context and tone. In some cases, it serves as a harmless descriptor, used by locals to refer to their foreign friends or spouses. In others, it can carry a more negative connotation, especially when used to emphasize cultural differences or to mock certain behaviors.

For example, when a foreigner gets sunburned on the beach, a local might tease them by saying, “Wah, bule merah!” (Wow, red bule!) Here, “bule” is used in a light-hearted, teasing manner. However, if a foreigner is perceived as rude or disrespectful, the term might be employed with a more disapproving tone.

A Sensitive Matter: Context is Key

As with many colloquial expressions, the use of “bule” can be a sensitive issue. Some foreigners might feel uncomfortable being labeled by their ethnicity or appearance. In an increasingly globalized world, it’s essential to be aware of the potential implications of using such terms and strive for mutual respect and understanding.

As Balinese locals, we take pride in our warm and welcoming nature, which is why we should always consider the feelings of those around us when using words like “bule.” It’s essential to be mindful of the context, tone, and the relationship we have with the person we’re addressing.

Embracing Our Colorful Island Community

While “bule” might have originated from historical encounters, it has since evolved into a more nuanced term that reflects the diverse nature of Bali’s vibrant community. As locals, we must continue to foster an environment that encourages open dialogue and understanding, so that the word “bule” remains a friendly and affectionate term that celebrates the cultural exchange that makes Bali such a unique paradise.


The Bali Guide