Certainly, it is downright foolish to generalize about any class — not race, nationality, sexual orientation or religion, among many other examples. In my view, such judgments are not always incorrect but also immoral.
Still, it is rare to walk more than a block or two without seeing Cambodians fast asleep on some of the unlikeliest of beds. An onlooker might be deluded into thinking that those somnolent Cambodians as well as those who move slowly are lazy.
When it comes to sleep, I have the strong belief that they catch what shuteye they can for two reasons.
Many of them simply don’t get enough conventional sleep, working multiple jobs or having accommodations, if any under a fixed roof, that would horrify those of us from the First World. They grab rest when they can, and, in the case of folks on wheels, passengers usually are few and far between during long hours along the streets.
As for employees at, say, construction sites or even in retail businesses, slow movement may well correlate with some combination of fatigue, hard labor and low pay. In addition, going slow has an additional benefit: The longer the job lasts, the more they can be assured of income.
In addition, outdoor work sensibly ceases or markedly slows during the hottest few hours of the day, and the pace of progress could easily be mistaken for sloth. To underline my point, such a perception generally would be false.
The overwhelmingly large population of the disadvantaged, who undoubtedly are undernourished and overburdened, is simply exhausted. That some are lazy is undeniable. That many are just worn out is true as well. That most Cambodians are aware how easily they can be replaced suggests that most are far from lazy.
However, however, when I mentioned my speculations to a sophisticated Cambodian who is a bright young gym buddy of mine, he told me I couldn’t be more wrong. The Cambodians with whom expats generally interact are, in fact, different from most everyone else, according to him.
It is his view that the majority of Cambodians want more money without deserving it. He says the level of their productivity in offices and shops does not normally correlate with their aspirations for higher wages.
Moreover, this guy maintains that many employees are not well motivated to work hard. They know that managers won’t fire them, the reason being that employers have little reason to expect better performance from replacements than with the current staff.
I have no way of knowing whether my friend is correct, and I remain unalterably opposed to stereotyping (as I imagine he does in his fashion). But I feel duty-bound to report his take on the matter.
And the truth is that my heart breaks when I see desperately poor women from the provinces shoveling and lugging wet dirt, when I learn how little pay the eager waiter/students at my favored coffee shop earn monthly without sitting down during daylong shifts and when I note how tirelessly the handymen in my building go about their chores.
I confess to having published this post, drafted months ago, with some trepidation arising from the negative comments it could prompt. But what, after all, is one better reason for blogging than to cause debate?
I’ll leave to others whether to describe as lazy many of those employed Cambodians I don’t come across. Whether it is all of them I rather doubt.