A Change of Guard

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Friday 31 December 2010

The Three Cultural Crushes

By Albeiro Rodas -- cambodia1.wordpress.com 'I See Cambodia'

I call the three cultural crushes to the process of adaptation of Westerns in Cambodia. The first one is the enchantment, the second is the disenchantment and the third is the true adaptation.

The enchantment is the honey moon and this one is lived by the short time Western tourists. They come to Cambodia and feel admiration and love for the country and its people. They find Cambodians beautiful, humble, easygoing and always smiling. They feel pity of their recent pass of wars and the Khmer Rouge regime when they know the museum of the genocide. They get in love with the wonders of the Angkorean temples. They leave the country and always let behind a good friend, normally the motorbike or tuk-tuk driver who brought them through the places. Then… they promise to come.

This first step of enchantment is very important for the development of Cambodia as international tourist destination. In this phase, it is important that Cambodia keeps those values of friendship, welcoming attitude, simplicity and smile. These values can be threaten by a general intention of certain tourist agencies, hotels and others to imitate Western customs. Those who do so, think that preparing Western environments to tourists will make Cambodia more attractive to international visitors. Far from that. Westerns who come to Cambodia are not often looking for more Western environments. Maybe they would be grateful with certain comfort, but they want to see an exotic and oriental culture. They want to enjoy the traditional markets, the Cambodian customs, the language and the originality of the Cambodian people. It is why they travel from their far Western countries.

The disenchantment is a second step and it is passed by those Westerns who intend to settle in the country for a long. It is the height of the cultural crush. They start to see the limits and obstacles of communication with the Cambodians. To overcome this step, you need to be mature and tolerant. It is different to live in a hotel designed for Westerns than living in a Khmer village where people behave as they are. You have to remember that Cambodia is not a Western culture. It is an Asian culture and something more, it is a millenarian culture.

In the disenchantment phase, the Western discovers for example that the everlasting smiling is really everlasting and that even in a big discussion Cambodians smile. Then the Western starts to suspect that smiling has a deeper meaning than simple a kind attitude for tourism. It has to see with the culture of harmony and to keep the face of the other.

The Western discovers that he is very often misunderstood and that he misunderstand the Cambodians most of the time. That ‘yes’ does not mean necessary a positive answer. That Cambodians say ‘yes’ to most of the things. That they say yes to a negative question, as in Khmer: - Don’t you like coffee? – Yes (meaning that yes, I don´t like coffee). This particular fact of the affirmation of a negation brings alone several daily misunderstandings in Cambodia between locals and Westerns.

The Westerns discover for example that Cambodians follow a strict protocol that takes time. If a Cambodia has to tell you something, he will take time waiting for the right occasion to speak out. Cambodians do not shout. They do not show anger easily. They can keep their feelings until the right time. If you ask them an opinion, he will measure his words in order to keep your face, rather than speaking frankly.

The adaptation is the third stage and it takes time and several crushes. It is the time when the Western accepts Cambodians like they are. After all, it is you who are living in their country. It is you who are expected to follow the Cambodian customs. It is you who have to speak Khmer language, to eat Khmer food, to listen Khmer music. In that moment, the communication with them will be easy and happier. In that moment you start to be a little Cambodian.

By Albeiro Rodas -- cambodia1.wordpress.com 'I See Cambodia'

Are you a Western living in Cambodia? Tell us your cultural crushes in the country.

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