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The Languages of Culture | Taste and Smell

March 10, 2022

Tom is a missionary serving with his wife in Cambodia. The specific culture in Cambodia in which they serve is not presented in order to protect the privacy of the people they serve.

Listen to Tom's story to hear firsthand about the important role that taste and smell played as he began to understand the people of Cambodia.

My name is Tom and I’m serving with my wife in Cambodia. We were first introduced to CultureBound through our initial training with our organization. We did a walkabout in Philadelphia utilizing all the languages of culture, and then spent a full month working with CultureBound in cultural training. That was a fantastic time where we had some of our team members together with us, and we really enjoyed bonding and developing as a group.

My primary ministry here in Southeast Asia is discipleship, and I serve in a relatively small city. The people group we serve are the Khmer, which is what they call themselves. It’s also their native language. I think one of the first things that I realized when I got to Cambodia was how tastes and smells really hit me.

I truly knew I had arrived the first morning that I got up, when I walked out the door and I could just smell Cambodia. There were wood fires burning from where people were cooking, and there was just a different smell in the air than what I was used to.

I often go down to the market to a woman who sells fruit, and at least once or twice a week I buy from her. Next to her is a woman selling flowers, and on the other side of her is a woman who sells bananas. So these are three ladies that I go and buy from, and they help me with my Khmer. I have developed a relationship with them over the last couple years because I’ve continually visited them.

One of the reasons I continue to go there is that I know that they will give me good products and good prices, because I’m such a frequent customer. I’ve been able to converse with them and even share Jesus with them, which is our primary reason for being here.

One day I walked up to their merchant stands, and next door to the banana lady is a place to change money from American dollars to Khmer riel. I went in to change money, and when I came back out, the fruit lady was standing there with two bouquets of flowers. I said, “What are those for?” She answers back, “They’re for you to buy.” Well, I wasn’t there to buy flowers. I was there to change money and buy the fruit that I needed.

After a moment of thought, I said I would take one of the bouquets. She asked: “Are you sure?” I wasn’t sure. “Well, maybe I’ll just take both bouquets,” I said.

She looked down at the banana lady and said, “I told you he would buy both bunches of flowers! And now he’s going to buy something from you.”

It was fascinating that she had gotten to know me enough through our conversations that she knew I would buy both bunches of flowers. She also knew that I would buy bananas from the banana lady and then still buy fruit from her. Because of our relationship, she has gotten to know me and understand me. She will often give me a piece of fruit and say, “Taste this—your wife will like it.” How does she know my wife would like it? She says it’s because I keep saying my wife likes certain tastes, so she has learned my wife’s favorite flavors and smells to the point that she can predict my wife’s preferences. As I keep going back to these ladies, I’ll continue to have good prices and good products from them because of our cross-cultural relationship.

"Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him." Psalm 34:8 NIV


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