Recently, my family and I went out to eat with some of the young men in the church. We had a wonderful time of fellowship at Lucky Burger, the closest thing to McDonald's here in Cambodia. In the course of our conversation, we started talking about the fact that Khmer people for the most part are vertically challenged (short), and foreigners (white guys in this context) tend to be a little taller. As an example, one of the guys brought up a missionary here in Cambodia that we all know and love. This guy is about 6'5, which is exceptionally tall in Cambodia. As the guys speculated about this man's height, I felt led to say, "Yeah, he is a big guy, and he has a big heart also!" In Khmer, that goes something like this, "Baat....go-aht tom mairn, howy go-aht mee-un jut tom dye."
In English, it is a good thing to have a big heart. That implies a heart that is full of love and goodness. But that is not what the Khmer men heard. When I said the words "Go-aht mee-un jut tom"- "He has a big heart"- this is what they heard: "He is a prideful, hard-headed jerk." I knew something was wrong when I saw the expressions on their faces. I said, "What? Is that a bad thing?" "Yes, Teacher, that is a very bad thing," they responded, then they explained to me what the words "big heart" mean in Khmer. Of course, I immediately corrected my statement and explained to them that this man is the complete opposite of a prideful, hard-headed jerk. But that incorrect use of an idiom sure made an idiot out of me!