If you live in an orphanage in Malaysia, you have to be grateful. The idea is that you live off charity, so you should be jolly well abasing yourself. This culture can make communication very difficult.
There are a bunch of us who pool our money to buy one of our local orphanages groceries, trips to the beach, plus a birthday cake and present for each kid.I was volunteered to be the buyer/organiser/accountant.
As the kids are so drilled into "be grateful", you get the answer, "anything, Auntie Ellen" when you ask them what they'd like for their birthday (they're the only people who are allowed to call me Auntie; more about that some other time).
I tell them, "Don't be grateful please. It gives all of us at the Fun Club a lot of pleasure to see you happy, so it should be us who are grateful to you."
That's subversive talk to it gets me a grin.
Then I say, "And I'll be buggered if I go shopping for a pink top only to find out later your favourite colour is blue!"
That get's them laughing and then they open up a bit more but usually it's still pretty much like pulling teeth.
To my surprise today the two girls whose birthdays are coming up were quite happy to chat without being prompted. One wants a blouse, pink with short sleeves, and the other wants an adventure/mystery novel.
As we were talking, one of the new boys listing in whispered, "Ayoh so rude! Just say anything, lah!" to which the older girl replied, "I am not rude! This is polite mat salleh way!" (Mat salleh being an affectionate term for white people.)
Isn't that cute? I bet those two will be CEOs of multinational companies by the time they're 35. Plus, I've got them birthday presents they're going to adore.