Cross cultural communication can often be a lot of fun. These days I continue to learn new lessons on the phrase''saving face.'' Recently I wrote a blog about this and since then I have found myself in circumstances here whereby I have to speak the truth to a Khmer person but, I am trying to figure out how to do it in a way that does not embarrass or humiliate them in any way. This is a whole new experience for me, despite being Asian, the nature of my education and my business profession and training was always about being direct and getting to the point. But here, I am learning a whole new level of communication which involves consulting missionaries and Khmer friends before I actually proceed with a conversation that needs to happen.
A case in point, we recently hired a driver for the Ratanak car as in the next month we will be quite busy with our accountant from Canada visiting various partners with our other newly hired Finance & Admin manager. But on top of that, we will begin to look for a place to rent for the RAP (Ratanak Achievement Program) community home and when we start our staff training it will likely be held in the community home. Our new driver who I shall call ''S'' has worked with a mission organization that I have connected with for a long time. He is a young man with a wife and 2 kids and who for several years was mentored, studied English and became a Christian through the missionaries at the other organization. I have known him for a few years myself so I'm grateful that he is joining us. However on one of his visits to our office, we discovered that he really has bad body odor. So what to do? Its hard enough in our own culture to tell some one that they have bad BO but here in Cambodia, people are not used to speaking directly to others on such personal matters. So when I find myself in a bind, I consult with those ''in the know''---I did a small survey asking missionaries who have lived here for years as well as my Khmer friends. It was interesting to hear their responses. One said, 'just tell him he needs to wear perfume, he'll get the hint. Another said, ''no be direct, tell him he needs to take a shower every day and use deodorant.'' Yet another said, ''when you go over his employment letter, highlight the section about professionalism, cleanliness and appearance as it would be more natural to bring it up in that context.'' Then another said, ''its better if a Khmer person tells him than you because you are the boss and it would be more embarrassing to him.'' Then another said ''well get a Khmer male person to tell him. Its less embarrassing'' . Still another said, ''why don't you buy a welcoming gift and put inside, body spray, deodorant, toothbrush and toothpaste. He will surely get the hint from that! Now you can understand why things take so long to get done here as one has to navigate through many cultural hoops to ensure that we don't cause embarrassment and to be culturally sensitive!
So after taking into consideration all of this advice, Beth and Stephen went on a mini shopping spree to get the welcoming orientation gift for the driver and I recruited a Khmer female who is older than I am. There is a respect for older people in Cambodia and since our other male staff hire will not start to work for another 2 weeks, I looked for the next best alternative---an older Khmer lady! As she is working with us as a consultant at the moment, I got her to sit with him and go through the entire employment offer in Khmer which included proper clothing attire, cleanliness and hygiene. We then presented him a neatly packed bag of "hygiene goodies'' for his personal use. We will see if he really gets the hint and if this strategy works when he arrives on his first day in two weeks time. We are hoping it does, otherwise our staff accountant Faith from Canada is going to have some interesting times sitting in the car for those 2 hour drives to visit one of our partner projects! If all else fails, I guess we will have to resort to Plan B---be direct! Ode the joys of cross cultural communication!