...from an essay written by a European working for an international organisation in Cambodia for more than 3 years
 
     
  It is often said, that you cannot generalise when you talk about an entire nation. But in some cases it may be easier than in others. If one imagines the notion of personality as a circle, part of which is what we call the "national character" while the rest is a person's individual traits, the border between these two parts is not the same in all cultures. In Cambodia, national character is all pervasive and leaves extremely little space for individual variation. It is as if all Cambodians had an identical "software" installed in their minds. How else can you explain that 10 million Cambodians unexceptionably consider plain white rice (without even salt) as the quintessence of all cuisine (1) ? If people were allowed to freely develop their own minds, this would be unnatural, for 10 million people could not possibly have exactly the same taste! - Rizomania is only one example. The Software tells everybody what and how to eat (2), how to hold a knife when he peels the onions, how exactly to stretch his legs or his arms, what time to go to bed, what time to get up, what to like and what to dislike, when and how to get married, what exactly to say in a conversation, and many other things. Such natural differences among people as being introvert or extrovert, choleric or phlegmatic, early sleeper or early riser, are totally eliminated by the software! If you meet one Cambodian, you met them all! The only real variation is found in people's looks (you still find long and short, fat and thin, beautiful and ugly Cambodians...), in their capacities (varying degrees of IQ etc.), and, to some extent, in their moral qualities (not in their values, though).  
   
` I am inclined to think that the vehicle of this and any other mass-software is the language. Far from merely being a means of communication, language, embodies values, thinking, wisdom, and "tunes" the minds of the people with a number of "commands," which are automatically activated whenever necessary. The Greeks, who recognised this already in ancient times, went so far as to define their own identity not on the basis of origin, religion, geography, or political/administrative bonds, but on the basis of their language and its special characteristics as a vehicle of civilisation, a sort of human "software."  
   
  Taking these assumptions for granted, I would attempt to commit the politically incorrect offence of formulating some generalisations about the Khmer psyche. I would then describe the Cambodians as very gentle and sensuous people, friendly, shy, polite, and accommodating. They would never raise their voice. Their answer to everything is a "yes" and a smile. Never opinionated. They are too eager not to loose face in public, and they consider anger as a synonymous to madness. Cambodians would appear to most Westerners as genuine conformists, who are not interested in ideas or in challenging things but only concerned about their survival. They give the impression that they only care about the security that money offers and only cherish wealth and power. Other values of life, such as love, friendship, Justice, fairness, honour, or dignity, are very low rated and matter very little.  
   
  Cambodian minds are tuned to stoically accept all the pressures of a strictly hierarchical society: like in most developing countries, social stratification in the form of a pyramid is the most important social structure. If you are placed at the bottom of the pyramid, the Software tells you that you are nobody (3). You are not supposed to express your feelings or thoughts in public, let alone to ventilate your frustration: the Software offers you no legitimate outlet. But if you are on the top of the pyramid, you are considered ipso facto as more handsome, more intelligent, and more capable than others, you have better rights than others, and you are even allowed to be a person and to express your feelings, including your anger...  
   
  For those who believe that Buddhism is a philosophical religion, Cambodia could be a disappointment. Popular belief among Khmers is a mixture of ghost stories, superstition and "magic". One Judge told me, that in case I was attacked by a robber, I should recite a ritual phrase seven times, after which, as he insisted, the robber would run away (4). This approach to life seriously competes with rational thinking, which is slowly being introduced in Cambodia today. People turn to superstition and irrationality to find easy answers, instead of doing some thinking.  
   
  Religion, or rather superstition, along with hierarchy and collectivism are in my opinion the three most important "command.coms" of the Cambodian Software, which is installed in the minds of everyone and defines all his functions in detail. Thus, like many other cultures in the World, especially in the 3rd World, Cambodian is a mass-culture with no room for individual personality. The paradigm is that of the flock of sheep, which are all the same, all white, and follow each other blindly. Black sheep are not tolerated in the flock and must be chased away.  
   
  A lot of debate is going on these days on cloning. My experience of Cambodians is that their cultural indoctrination is so thorough, profound, and efficient, that they can be considered as (mentally) cloned for all practical purposes (unless it is a case of very advanced collective telepathy)... I have until now met hundreds, if not thousands of Cambodians, and in 100% of the cases exactly the same conversation is repeated, perfectly predictable each single time.  
   
  Lack of individuality may be a typical 3rd World trait, but in Cambodia it is enormously aggravated by the astonishing fact that Cambodians never read books. Thus, their exposure to the World of ideas and choices is minimal. Instead, Cambodians are ruled by the rigid oral traditions of a rural society, which are embodied in the language and simply require every-body to conform and to comply rather than to think and to question. As long as Cambodia remains the place where there are hardly any bookshops (not even in the capital!) and where the sight of a man holding a book in his hands and reading it is unknown, mental cloning will be there for a long time to come and Cambodia will not be a society of ideas and quality of life.  
   
  As a corollary of the above, there is very little scope for privacy in Cambodian society. You notice people searching each other's bags and pockets, and if you happen to talk to somebody in the street, several others approach to overhear the conversation (in a very indis-crete manner!). If you ask them to go away they fail to understand why, and they just stay on, which can be very irritating.  
   
  The said lack of interest in the written speech is also a very disappointing trait of Khmer culture. There is very little literature in Khmer. The total lack of interest for writing books, and even keeping historical records, resulted in an unprecedented loss of memory: unbelievable as it may sound, the Khmers had forgotten the very existence of Angkor Wat, until the French discovered it last century and made it famous! (5)  
   
  Occasionally you will see somebody reading a newspaper, and then you will notice that he reads loudly, as all semi-illiterate people usually do. Well, it is not easy to be very literate in Khmer anyway: the script seems to have been intentionally designed in such a way, that only the elite could possibly master it. When you read a Khmer text you do not actually read, you decipher. Now, add the extra difficulty of joining all words together (no space in between), and you will get the picture... It would not surprise me, if a specialist in linguistic psychology would suggest some connection between the erratic Khmer script and the equally erratic Khmer psyche.  
   
  Nevertheless, Khmer psyche is not always erratic. On some points it is very consistent, and one such point is its profound fixation to wealth and power. Khmer thinking is power- rather than justice-oriented. Equality of Law, for example, is a very low rated value, and it is considered as perfectly normal that "the bold and the beautiful" enjoy more rights than others, and that they can buy not only cars, houses, wives, or sex, but also justice with their money.  
   
  Where does the greatness of the Angkorian civilisation fit in? Well, Angkor was certainly a great civilisation, but a Pharaohnic one. A civilisation based on the absolute power of the God-King over the anonymous masses. It was nothing like the ancient civilisations of Europe, which freed the individual. When Pythagoras visited Egypt and saw the pyramids, he wanted to know who had built them, but got no answer to his query: the Egyptians could not care less about who had created the pyramids. Some people made them, it doesn't matter who, the credit goes to the Pharaoh anyway... The same applies to Angkor and its magnificent edifices.  
   
  Notes:  
 

(1) A Cambodian will invariably feed himself with huge quantities of plain rice, and only tiny quantities of other food items. - Even if the alternative of fried rice is offered at the table, he will hardly touch it... (Fried rice is considered as just a snack).
(2) The Khmer word for eating (for commoners: nyambay) means "to eat rice." In other words, the Software dictates that eating potatoes, for example, instead of rice, is not real eating.
(3)Khmer has several ways of saying "you", all of them hierarchical, depending on the position, age etc. of the per-son you address. Similarly, many important verbs in Khmer (to go, to eat, etc.) occur in duplicate forms: one for common people and one for high class, such as clergy, nobility or royalty.
(4) "Poto patang nak nak tang arahang poto". The language is supposed to be Pali. - Another Judge insisted that it is possible to "prove" that an accused is guilty from the "radiation" of his eyes. I wonder how the reasoning of his judgement would be formulated in such a case...
(5) The ruins of the ancient capital, including all the temples, had been encircled by jungle and nobody knew that they existed!

 
   
   
             
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