CommentaryExpat LifePhnom Penh

Grey Girls: Part 3: The Tentative Relationship between Grey and Black

Following on with more recent conversations with grey girls, I have come across a slightly intriguing trend.

Now, most of the grey girls that I know work in an assortment of bars; in fact, they cover the whole spectrum of bar types here in Phnom Penh. From pleasant little tourist bars near the river, to the more male orientated establishments.

The greys that work in some of the more male focused bars have a strange truce-like relationship with the more ?hardcore? girls in such establishments, the working girls, the Black girls on our spectrum.

The working girls seek to be almost protective over them, telling them to not go beyond what they are comfortable with, or indeed to not change their jobs to become what these girls are now.

This could be looking after them, or, the more cynical of us could claim, that they are trying to keep the competition down within an ever decreasing and more competitive marketplace; however, speaking over long periods of time with both subsets of girls it does seem to be one of genuine protection and affection, at least on the whole.

Or, at least within the more upmarket of those male orientated establishments.

Let me offer by way of example a true story involving both a grey girl and a working girl, both of whom I know independently.

One new grey girl upon starting in her first job in a bar was given advice and information from one of the ‘working girls’ on a constant, almost nightly basis, the bar owners having given her a uniform and a price list by way of staff training

While grey girls do not sleep with customers, they do tend to chat, flirt and drink with the customers. The working girl gave such advice as to, which customers were hunting for a bed mate, and which ones were just in for a couple of drinks, a flirt and would be off [having left a tip] without expecting the girl to leave with them.

The converse of this was also advised upon…”do not get chatting to ‘so and so’ as he is here to pick up a girl for the night.”

These girls are not stupid, they do this for a living, and they are very swift in sizing up guys’ reasons for being in the bar – even if he has not quite made his mind up yet.

The working girl in question also had the start [makings] of a bad yabba habit, something that she strongly advised the grey girl against, even going as far as to threaten the girl with violence should she ever catch her with any.

Of course, as such things go, the working girl ended up leaving the bar for fighting with one of the other girls (not the first time) by which time the grey girl had been working there a couple of months and was starting to know her way around. In fact, she was in a position to give advice and help to a new wave of grey girls that had just been employed by the bar.

And so the cycle continued. Even though all of these new grey girls have now left that particular bar, the legacy remains with a strange truce between the grey bar girls, and their colleagues. Pulling together to help each other in their hopeless roles, in a maligned industry in an impoverished part of the world.

Now, I do not know what is right and what is wrong with regards to the roles that these varying subsets have.

People argue long and hard with each other over the morals of what these girls do. All I will say on the subject is if more members of both the positive and negative camps spent more time talking to the girls, rather than shouting at each other and decrying each others positions; in words, in print, in policy proposals and in other countries, then perhaps somethings might change, or, perhaps nothing would change.

I friend of mine once said to me, ”the only person who I believe has a right to say that sex work is an evil and inhumane thing, is a sex worker.”

So whether you are a well funded anti trafficking international organisation, or whether you are a guy out on a Friday night looking for ‘companionship,’ just try one thing for me.

Talk to the girls, treat them like human beings. Act as if their thoughts and words and opinions matter.

Because they do. They really do.


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

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