Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Bo Pen Nyang!

This is one of the most common phrases used in Laos- I hear it numerous times each day. It means "No Worries", "Never mind", "Forget it", "Oh, well it can't be helped", etc. It's interesting how sometimes you don't feel like saying it, but must! Or sometimes when you say this- it makes you and/or the other person feel better about the situation. It's especially helpful since most of the time- showing emotion is not appropriate in Lao culture.

Three Examples:

1) The first weekend I was here, I joined with a gang of people from our organization (Lao & "Filang" or "Foreigners") to drive an hour or two to visit a waterfall. On the drive back, I was the only foreigner in the vehicle. A cute little white dog with a brown/black spot on its' eye darted in front of our vehicle, and next I heard and felt a THUD. I quickly looked behind me, and there was Fido lying lifeless on the road. I gasped and covered my mouth with my hand- my initial shock "Oh, no!" reaction. However, I observed everyone else in the car quickly said, "Bo Pen Nyang" to the driver- many times they repeated this phrase and I could tell she definitely felt better when they said that. We continued as if nothing had happened- and my new Lao friends who'd seen my horror asked me if I was aware that many people eat dog here :)

2) The other day I was using the internet at a nearby hotel. The internet unexpectedly stopped working. I told the gal working at the front desk, and she found another employee to help her. After about 10 minutes, it was clear that they were not having success. I said, "Bo Pen Nyang" with a smile and calmly left... realizing this was the first time I felt a real need to use the phrase, and I really meant it. I could use the internet another time- no biggie. And it definitely made them feel relief- otherwise what were they going to do with this foreign girl waiting for internet that wasn't working?!

3) Yesterday I was walking down the street of our school, and was carrying a coffee maker/pot in one arm and my motorbike helmet in the other. I was right in front of the office where I was delivering the cofee pot when I stepped on a downward slope and watched helplessly (in what felt like slow motion) as the glass pot fell to the concrete where it shattered with a loud noise into many tiny pieces. There were a lot of construction workers standing very close by, and as I stood there in shock looking around, no one flinched- and just continued working! Then I went inside the office and explained very apologetically about what had happened- and everyone re-assured me, "Bo Pen Nyang!" At that moment, I was extremely thankful for this phrase and attitude of Lao people.

As you can see- it goes both ways... you need to give the grace of "Bo Pen Nyang" to others (even when maybe you don't feel like it at all), and then other times you will receive the kindness of "Bo Pen Nyang" from others. It definitely makes potentially awkward or emotion-packed situations quite calm. I still have a LOT to learn about how deeply this idea impacts culture- it's HUGE here. However, I am learning from culture, and seeking to see how it reflects aspects of the Father's character.

(Sorry- I tried to upload 1 picture for over an hour- no success with photos today).


Anonymous said...

Great blog Mag...language and culture are so entwined and you'll see that more and more as you're studying. Remember some of those lectures from Lonna at Wheaton? She would love this blog. And we love YOU! :) momma

Maren said...

Suz, I completely understand what you are talking about. do you feel this is even more important than "khong sau"? I love how you write and I'm taking notes for my newsletters.. :) love you!