So there I was at my furniture lady’s shop describing the dimensions for the cross we wanted made for our Holy Week services, when she says: “Are you going to hang someone on this cross???”

Some backstory: we have a wood shop who we go to for all our wooden furniture. This shop owner is a very kind lady who makes excellent quality furniture and we go to this shop because it’s a local shop that keeps Cambodians in business through their handicraft. We’ve had many furniture pieces made here and we know this lady quite well (at least as far as a relationship between a repeat customer and shop owner goes). So I came here to have a sturdy wooden cross made as quality wood is not only hard to come by in Cambodia, but it’s very expensive. I told her that I want to have a cross made and she replied that she did not know what a cross was. As I showed her a picture she showed a glint of familiarity in her eyes: “oh you want this for your church right?” Hooray! We’re getting somewhere. So I began to tell her the dimensions, 210 meters tall (7 feet) with 10x10cm thickness (about a 4×4 in the US) and she exclaimed, “wow, this is huge! Why do you need this to be so big?” I began to tell her that it needed to be big because in the bible, a man was hung on one of these. She replied, “but why do you want it to be so thick?”. I told her that to be hung on this, large nails had to be put through a mans wrists to hold him there and if the wood was too thin or the nails too small, the cross would break! She looks a little worried and somewhat hesitantly asked: “So are you going to hang someone on this cross?”

I burst into laughter and assured her no, that of course we would not crucify someone today. She let out a sigh of relief as I explained to her that the reason we want it to be big is for the symbolism and to see what it would have been like then. Sadly, this type of behavior isn’t all too uncommon to see in Cambodia where something so outlandish and crazy might happen. But in this instance, I was able to very limitedly explain that this cross would go in a church and people would see it and remember what a man did for us.

Here in Cambodia, we have many interactions like this both in English and in Khmer (the local language) where we get mixed up with what the other person means or is thinking. Most often these are funny stories that help foreigner and locals bond and become friends. I hope you have enjoyed this small insight into what it’s like to speak to a different culture!

-Anthony Pelloni