Saturday, August 6, 2011

Adjustments Part Six- The Cultural Difference in Conversations

Being raised by parents who hailed from Arkansas and Mississippi, and growing up mostly in Georgia, I am by nature a Southerner. My Southern culture is a key influence that shaped my view of what is and what is not acceptable in casual conversations. It is, as I have always believed, completely acceptable to ask questions such as the following when getting to know someone:

"So, how is it that you came here to live and work?"

"What are your long-term plans?"

"What are some important life-lessons you have learned thus far?"

"Who has had the greatest influence on your life?"

"What kind of family situation did you grow up in?"

As I have attempted to establish friendships with various Cambodian people over the last few months, these are some of the questions I have asked. The thing is, these questions are hardly ever asked or considered in Khmer culture. Perhaps amongst close friends these questions are asked, but certainly not in casual conversation. My wife has been with me when I asked some of these questions, and she has told me several times, "We just don't talk about that stuff, especially with white people we hardly know!" Often these questions are seen as rather forward, and certainly odd. It's actually funny when you think about the fact that they ask some questions that are in my estimation completely uncalled for- such as, "If someone wanted your children, would you give them away?" (see
Bro. Benefield has told me, "It is extremely rare for a Cambodian to open up and just tell you about themselves." I have found this to be true. I have also found this to be one of the greatest challenges in establishing sincere friendships with Cambodians. It is extremely frustrating when your long-standing, successful method of getting to know people is rendered null and void.

So, what is the solution to this conflict? One word: adjust. Actually, another word should be added: patience. I must patiently adjust to the way the Khmer people go about entering friendships. This is not to say that I must wait until we are good friends to give and present the Gospel to them. But in order for true discipleship to take place, a reasonably open friendship must first exist. In Cambodia, this simply takes time; and if I try to bypass the time that is required in this culture by forcing upon them questions they are not ready to answer, more harm will be done than good. 

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