I walked in to my boss’ office today and my immediate thought was ‘oh, poor Sophea’ as he greeted me with his inane grin with abject terror shining bright from his eyes.  This is his standard reaction to me, regardless of whether I meet him in the corridor and say a cheery hello or enter his office, notebook in hand for a pre-arranged meeting.


And it got me thinking about the reactions I elicit as I go about my daily life here in Phnom Penh.


Broadly speaking I experience 4 standard reactions on a daily basis.  They are:



Generally, this reaction is expressed by children when they first encounter me and it soon turns into a smile when I grin at them and, if they’re old enough to understand, speak to them in pigeon Khmer.   However, this reaction is also exhibited, as previously noted, by poor Sophea and is sadly, not so easily appeased.



There’s a tuktuk driver at the gates to my work who thinks I’m hilarious.  Whether I smile, speak, ignore him or get in a tuktuk his response is the same – he grins, he sniggers and then he corpses.  If only he knew what I was thinking he may not be quite so happy!!!


Varying degrees of this behaviour are also displayed by other tuktuk and motodop drivers around the city, bizarrely when I reply with what I think is a perfectly reasonable ‘no thankyou’ in response to their standard ‘Hello Madam Tuktuk?’ question.


Absolute adoration

Huong the security guard at work and my landlady greet me like some long lost daughter just back from years at war every time I am in their presence.


Huong, is extremely flamboyant in his greetings, Sampeahing (the praying hands respect thing) and waving wildly when I arrive or depart from the building and grinning from ear to ear.


My landlady is much more demure, waving and bowing slightly, gently touching my hands, checking I’m ok and like the plants, my flat, the street and anything else she thinks she can get me to understand and hanging around smiling long after our stilted conversation has reached its natural conclusion.



I’m starting to build a bank of regular acquaintances as I go about living my life here.  The tuktuk drivers on my lane, shop staff in Fair Market (my corner shop), security guards at various buildings on my route to and from work, the lady who sells petrol in coke bottles at my regular crossing, the coffee and sandwich girls to name but a few are all demonstrating genuine friendliness, either greeting me with a friendly ‘hello, how are you’ when I appear or quickly responding in kind when I greet them first.

Friendliness isn’t confined to those people I know though.  Strangers at work and out in the city are all to keen to smile and say hello with no agenda in mind, just a genuine from the heart friendliness which gives me a warm fuzzy glow and makes me glad I chose to make Phnom Penh (and Cambodia in general) my home for now.


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