5 Great Ways [Not] To Be Cambodian

By Brooke Hartman

1.  How [not] to attend your first village funeral

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The symbol for marriage in Cambodia? Two thumbs next to each other out in front. Simple. A giant tent in the middle of the road? That’s a wedding. Easy.

It would make sense, then, if we were walking through the neighborhood and saw a giant tent in the middle of the road plus a group of people preparing a feast, that we might stop, hold our two thumbs together and say, “Wedding?!”

Jeff and I did this. Proudly. (We are clever, you know.)

Imagine our surprise when they all looked at each other with confusion, looked back at our smiling faces, looked back at each other and then said, “No. Died!”

Note to self: tents in roads can also mean funerals.

2.  How [not] to order a snack

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I have discovered that peanuts are usually served with drinks here, so on a recent bike ride to a local picnic spot, we ordered a couple of Cokes and waited for our peanuts. When they didn’t arrive, we asked for some. The lady looked confused. We tried to act out peanuts, and when that didn’t work, we said “Snack!” A look of recognition crossed her face, and she said, “You need snake?”

We exchanged glances as she walked away, horror dawning on our faces. Our fears were justified when this came out. Not peanuts. Potentially snake.

I’ll tell you what, nothing goes down better with an ice cold Coke than a plate full of raw viper flesh. Or maybe not so much.

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3. How [not] to make an entire village late for church

Intern Anna asked her host sister, Sara, what time they would leave for church in the morning. “7:00am,” Sara said. Anna set her alarm clock for 6:30am, giving her time to shower and eat before leaving.

The next morning at 6:30am, Anna woke up and stepped out of her bedroom to find Sara, dressed, showered and ready to go. “Let’s go, Anna!” she said. The village is waiting for you. Confused, Anna said, “but I thought we were leaving at 7:00?”

“I know,” Sara answered, “But the sun came up early today.”

Silly Anna.  Don’t you know the sun comes up half-an-hour earlier sometimes?

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4. How [not] to have a conversation about trafficking

One morning, our friend began a discussion of different issues in Cambodia – skin tones and gender-based violence, for example. She also told us they have a big problem with trafficking. Here we go, I thought. Straight to the issue.

She continued to talk with a look of concern, said a bunch of things we had a hard time following, made the motion of two fists banging into each other, and then said, “Yeah. Trafficking is a big problem. The cars and the motos crash into each other and sometimes they crash into a tuk-tuk. They drive too fast.”

Traffic. They have a big traffic problem.

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5.  How [not] to become the owner of clown pants

After watching locals run around in these lightweight, elastic, knee-length, wide-leg pants in varying patterns, I asked Pisei, one of the Imprint project girls, where to get them. She offered to make me a pair at the shop and asked what kind of fabric I’d like. She has awesome style, and every adorable thing she wears, she has made herself, so I said, “Whatever you think is cute! I trust you.”

The next evening when the girls returned home from the shop, they gathered around as Pisei produced these beauts: bright yellow polka-dot elastic balloon pants. Not exactly what I had in mind.