All Smiles in Cambodia

21 10 2011

Last night, as I was closing the shutters and turning off the lights before heading to bed, I realized something unusual. My face hurt. (Yes, yes, I know.. Insert lame joke here.) But really, my face literally hurt. And it hurt from smiling so much. I have made it pretty clear that I’m happy here, right? Well, I am. Very, very happy… but happy enough that my face hurt from smiling so much? That seemed like overkill to me– until I thought about all of the different kinds of smiles that come over my face in the course of a day. When I thought about the different reasons I smile here, it started to make more sense.

Allow me to explain.

The most common smile of all is probably the “I know you’re talking about me, but have no idea what you’re saying” smile. I find myself with this smile everywhere– in the market, at the health center, while I’m going for a run. For some reason unbeknownst to me, Cambodians in our town love to talk about us, especially in front of us. And it’s nearly certain they are either saying something sweet or making fun of me. Both warrant a smile so this one reaction covers all of my bases.

Similarly, there is the plain ol’ “I have no idea what you’re saying” smile, when the speaker is talking about something other than how pretty my nose is or the fact that I speak Khmer.

One of my favorites is the “I desperately want friends” smile. When walking or riding my bike around town, I always have a huge smile plastered on my face. I want people to think that I’m friendly, approachable and happy. I want them to want to talk to me. And I want them to think highly of me. So I grin so big that I end up swallowing big gulps of dust from the road and have to stop my bike while I try to survive my mini-coughing fit. I really know how to impress, huh?

At least once a day, I find myself in a situation where I just don’t have the vocabulary to adequately express my gratitude toward someone. In these cases, I flash my “I wish I could properly thank you but I only speak Khmer tech tech (a little)” smile. Lately, the midwife at the health center has been the one receiving this smile but our host mom, Khmer tutor and random ladies in the market have also seen this smile on occasion.

Last, but certainly not least, is the “I’m so happy here I could burst” smile. This one comes over me when exploring a new village, ending a successful conversation with a stranger, spotting a cute little kid, finding my favorite bag of spicy chips, learning a new word in Khmer or simply relaxing on our porch watching the sun set over the palm trees. This is the only smile on the list that’s a result of feeling truly joyful, but it is powerful in a way that the others simply are not.

So Cambodia brings a lot of different kind of smiles that all mean different things. Maybe only one of them is a “real” smile, but heck, I’m happy to smiling at all.

Katie

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3 responses

21 10 2011
kbergen

People talk about something besides how beautiful your nose is?

Also, consider yourselves judged for the Teriyaki Beef Jerky :D

21 10 2011
timkatstravels

Rarely. It’s the hot topic in town. Mothers often tell their daughters that they would be more beautiful if they had my nose. Disgusting, right?

2 11 2011
Emily

Ahhh, yes, the “I don’t know what you’re saying smile.” The students and I often use that one with each other…

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