If all the other Cambodians jumped off a cliff, would you too?
June 2, 2009
So, there are a few habits I may have developed in Cambodia that are apparently unacceptable by my home culture. Of course, I didn’t realize I had possibly (I’m sure everyone’s exaggerating) picked them up until I got home.
The first one is smacking my food. I do vaguely remember one, or both, of my parents telling me at a young age “Now, Elizabeth, chew with your mouth closed. Not everyone wants to see what your food looks like all mushed up.” In my 4 year old wisdom, I decided not to take them too seriously at first, cause afterall, they mushed up Andrea’s (my younger sister’s) food and put it on a plate for all to see. So, you tell me, who’s the gross one?
But anyway, when I first came to Cambodia, I do remember being surprised by the volume of noise produced by eating–not talking and eating–just eating! One Cambodian friend in particular, who shall remain nameless, chewed his food so loudly that I had a hard time making it through a meal without choke-laughing on my food. But, enough repetition turned something amusing into something ordinary. And, I learned in a college class once, that repetition is vital for special learners to acquire skills. Yes, I am putting myself in that category… because while learning the Cambodian way of life and culture, I was a kid on the “short bus” or bike or moto…
But yeah, since years of politeness training apparently was lost on me, my mom has tried a more subtle approach than when I was 4. “Elizabeth, do people eat really obnoxiously, distgustingly loudly in Cambodia?” Me: “Well, yes mom. Why?” Mom: “Oh, no reason…” (definitely thinking ‘if Elizabeth can’t figure out why, we have bigger problems on our hands than smacking food.’)
Another bad habit is picking my nose. I hope my unashamed confession is enough to get you to think twice about our cultural perceptions (possible misperceptions) of this healthy practice. Cambodians will pick their noses mid conversation. Which was startling at first. I almost turned my face as if to save them from embarrassment, but I realized if they are popping their fingers in their noses while making eye contact with me, there’s little shame on their end!
So, I confess, I might not be quite as bold, but as I bike or drive, I definitely get the hard boogers out of my nose the easy way. (No tissues if you get my drift… and NO I don’t EAT them!) Combination thumb and first finger is my usual tactic. I tell ya. Try it! Pick your nose! It may change your life and the way you are perceived! But really, all who gawk are just jealous. And deep down inside, you know EVERYONE wants to do it.
So, I have to say I made out OK when I think of all the habits I could have picked up from Cambodia. I mean, I don’t eat infestacious insects, spray my food with insecticide, or pee on the street. Not yet…