Grey Girls Part 5: Grey and White [and The Family]February 18, 2005
White: Khmer good girls, virgin girls who will be virgins on their wedding nights
Black: Working girls, Sex workers, ‘prostitutes’, ‘hookers’, taxi-girls, bar-girls, et cetera
Grey: Girls who have [sometimes through no fault of their own] ‘lost’ their ‘White girl’ status, but do not want to be ‘working girls.’
Grey girl’s and their interaction with white girls
This is the one time when I generally see a lot of grey girls acting as if they are truly inferior to someone. Especially when we are talking about girls their own age, or ones who know the ‘status’ of the grey girl in question.
A large proportion of my friends here have Khmer girlfriends and Khmer wives, we meet up various bars and restaurants and each others houses around the city, as ex-pats do.
During ex-pat social functions there can be a mixture of White, Grey and the occasional Black girls present and at one such luncheon back in December I saw a grey girl that I knew to be bubbly, lively and upbeat, sitting quietly and demurely at the table because she was sat next to a Khmer girl who was the wife of a barang, where as, she was merely a girlfriend. She deferred to the girl, served her with things from the table and passed things to her – after she had served her boyfriend of course.
The message was clear, you are socially superior to me. Had the grey girl not behaved so, the wife would never have known the social status of the grey girl, but it seemed to just be culturally ingrained into the grey girl to behave like this.
When pure black girls are at these functions, or out in bars generally [but not working] they tend to hide in the corner and not talk or interact with anyone if they can help it.
Grey girls and their interactions with their own family
Those grey girls that have family in Phnom Penh seem to spend very little time with them, often just long enough to; sleep, grab a bowl of rice, hand over some cash to granny than back out the door again. As if they are trying to make up for the stain and shame they have bought on the family by working as hard as possible and by being extra respectful to the family that they have.
[By contrast to this, some of the black girls that I know have absolutely nothing to do with their families at all, or indeed, have no family in Phnom Penh.]
A typical grey girl’s day might look something like this:
06:30 Get up
07:30 English lessons start
10:30 English class finishes
11:00 Shop for food
11:30 Start cooking lunch for boyfriend – [or the family]
12:00 eat lunch with ones beau – [or with the family]
13:00 Washing up, throw the broom around, followed by a small snooze
16:00 Head home to see family , shower, change into work clothes, et cetera
18:00 Start work during which they will have a couple of breaks, a couple of bowls of rice, assorted fruit and possibly a drink or two
02:00 Finish work and head home
Grey girls interacting with the general public
There are two general reactions to Khmer girls being seen out in public with a western gentleman. They are either assumed to be i) the wife of the barang, or; ii) they are working girls.
By way of an example, I personally go to various markets around the city over most weekends to buy all of the usual household things one has to buy. I go with a friend of mine who is Khmer and female. She has the cash for my purchases and she does the buying and negotiating – she also does all of my cooking so it helps on that score too.
We regularly to the same stalls in the same markets for certain things, where they tend to remember us. As well as this, we invariably stop off for an iced coffee during the course of a shopping trip, again stopping at the same stall as always.
Last week, the prehistoric Chinese woman whom runs the stall looked me up and down and told my companion [in Khmer] that ‘her husband was looking very handsome today.’
The poor old dear was somewhat flustered when I answered her, thanking her for saying it, but then asking, did I not look handsome every week? At least she was flustered until she realised that I was joking and we all had a laugh and some more iced jasmine tea.
Of course, the flip side of these assumptions is a tale I have told before.
I was dining in a very well know expat establishment with 2 Khmer young women; we were laughing and joking and I was struggling in pigeon Khmer – and them with pigeon English – to try and explain what-toad-in-the-hole is; all very harmless and quite hilarious. When, upon them exiting, one of the women dining at a table opposite made a comment to her friend about ‘those sorts of men, and those sorts of girls’ while glaring at me. Now I did not realise until it was too late that she had just called me a whoremonger and my dining companions whores.
Now it was a very good job for the woman in question that my companions did not understand the implication of her words. They were in from the family home in the provinces looking at a couple of different universities here, their uncle, my friend, the deputy director here at the Ministry had asked me to take them out for a western meal as he had been delayed in meeting up with them and they wanted to try western food for the first time.
For those of you who know me personally, none of the girls mentioned above are anyone that you know, or have seen out socially with me at any time; since writing this article all of them have moved on from the particular bar where they worked to other bars, hence me feeling comfortable in publishing this.