They, whoever “they” are, have dubbed Cambodia variations of the “land of a million smiles.”
In a nation currently beset by grim political protests and bedeviled by widespread poverty, malnutrition and corruption, perhaps it is odd to be writing about smiles. But I have been struck by their prevalence here.
I cannot walk a block without encountering a countenance that smiles back with my merest suggestion of a friendly nod. Even omnipresent tuk-tuk drivers, who ceaselessly hale potential fares, smile back when refused with barely a polite gesture.
The contrast to many New York City taxi drivers, U.S. Postal Service employees and other service personnel in a range of businesses is striking to the extreme.
Children smile, vendors smile, everyone smiles at the slightest encouragement or sometimes no encouragement at all. The smallest child with only a fledgling’s vocabulary often takes me aback with a volunteered “hello” in English in addition to that infectious smile.
I have two theories for the phenomenon.