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Three Ways to Say Yes

With the beginning of the new year a spate of numeric solutions to the world’s problems inevitably emerge in the news. No doubt you’ve seen “10 Ways to Lose 10 Pounds” or “The 7 Habits of Highly Annoying People” or “The One Thing Your Doctor Does Not Want You To Know.” (Just why are doctors so cagey?) Since I am sauntering into my sixth month as a Peace Corps Volunteer I can offer the brilliance of hindsight with Three Ways to Say Yes.

1. When a Cambodian asks you a question recast it as a statement.

A fellow PCV teacher headed out the door to school one day wearing the Peace Corps approved uniform of khaki pants and button down shirt. His host father said, “Why you not wear a belt?” To which my friend replied, “Oh, these pants don’t need a belt.” Then, remembering the Cambodian style of indirect communication, he recast the question as a statement: “You need to wear a belt. Please do not bring shame upon the family by going to school without a belt.” He took the hint said yes, good idea I will wear a belt. He lived in peace and harmony for the rest of the day.

2. Don’t let old preferences keep you from new experiences.

My teenaged host sister asked if I liked to watch TV. I replied honestly that I hadn’t had a TV since I left home at 17. Too late I realized she was asking if I’d like to hang out and watch TV with her. I knee-capped that opportunity by being too quick to answer from my old perspective. Actually, yes, I would like to hang out with her, and I am curious about Cambodian television. The real answer is yes.

3. When offered something new, try it!

New songs, new dances, new food. Trying new food, particularly consuming a new species, is challenging for me. But if I had never tried prahoc (fermented fish paste) I would never know how much I loathe it. (Imagine fish cheese. Salty, pungent, lingering in your mouth—forever.) Now I know. I even tried snails once, and found them about as much fun as chewing a rubber band. But I did try them. Once.

These three small adjustments occurred to me after numerous blunders. Thankfully most Cambodians have a sense of humor and my direct, forthright, blunt American style is just one of the cultural differences I bring to town that they find amusing. This year I will try to say yes, please! more often than no thanks.

“A mind that is stretched by a new experience can never go back

to its old dimensions.” – Oliver Wendell Holmes


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