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Bah Bah Bah

March 8, 2010

Typically, most questions asked in Cambodia are met with the same answer, “Bah bah bah.” Or, “yes yes yes.”

I’ll ask a tuk-tuk or moto driver, “do you know where [insert name of place] is?” Always, “Yes yes yes.” Great. I hop on or in and we’re off.

I’ll ask a weaver, “Can you make 8 sarongs in a month?” The weavers answer with a resounding, “Yes yes yes.” Perfect, I will order 8 sarongs from you.

Within minutes or days, things quickly begin to unfold. I’m in a tuk-tuk randomly circling pub street and thinking, “why am I here?” The tuk-tuk driver kindly explains that all of the restaurants are here (as if I don’t know that after living here for three months). That’s great, but I asked to go to the golden banana because I would like to go swimming. The golden banana is not a restaurant but a hotel + guesthouse. It is by Wat Damn Ak. You know, the pagoda? So, here I am stopped in traffic and nowhere near where I’m heading, giving the tuk-tuk directions. Why wouldn’t he clarify my destination prior to departing? Because he didn’t want to lose the sale. He didn’t want to admit he didn’t know where I was going lest I decide to take a different moto or tuk-tuk.

And so it goes in the village. Whether or not a weaver can make what I ask for in a given period of time, (for the most part) he or she will say yes. There was one exception who understood the value of saying no, but he is a rarity. So my task was to make my managers and weavers understand when they should say no and why.

I told them, “In the U.S. you lose face by saying yes to an agreement then not delivering. People don’t respect you and won’t want to keep working with you. However, if I ask if you can make 30 sarongs in a month and you say, ‘No, but I can make 20 in a month,” then you save face. People will respect that you said no if you tell them what can actually be done – what you can say yes to.”

My new tactic is to go to the weaver and ask, “How many sarongs can you make in one month?” This forces the weaver to think about how long the process takes then measure that against a calendar. Each weaver comes up with an individual answer based on their personal process. Now, there’s no standard order as each order is based on the unique capacity of each weaver. This causes more paperwork, but I feel more comfortable that I’ll actually be receiving what was promised. On April 20th (when orders are due), I’ll let you know if this new tactic works!

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Delia permalink
    March 8, 2010 8:55 pm

    You are learning so much and I am so proud of you! The cultural lessons, I think, are really valuable and totally translatable to problem solving in the west as well.

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