Cultural Differences

The different ways different cultures do things always intrigues me. Sometimes it’s the little variations in practices or appearances that stay with me more than the famous touristy scenes from a country. But I also am always a bit reluctant to talk about the differences lest it seem I am deprecating a country or denigrating its culture. There are just different ways of doing things and one is not right and the other wrong. Their ways are just different from my ways and are not wrong. Here are some cultural characteristics I encountered this past week staying at a hotel in Koh Kong in southern Cambodia during our staff meeting.

One cultural difference I find aggravating is the lack of adequate lighting in hotel rooms here. This room had these two small lights and another over the desk–and each contained a fifteen watt bulb. I hear them referred to as the “sex lights.” That was the main lighting outside the bathroom. Maybe most visitors only want to watch television, but if someone wants to read, you need to go into the toilet. Our interpreter coordinator needed to contact deaf people by video calls on her phone, but her room was so dark she couldn’t do it until she borrowed the bright photographic lights on tripods that I brought with us.
These are flip-flops every hotel provides to use in the bathroom. Cambodian bathrooms generally have the toilet and shower all in the same space, with no shower stall or tub, and the floor gets wet so you wear the flip-flops to keep your feet dry when you go to the toilet. The flip-flops are cut with notches so that if a person takes them, everyone will know that they are stolen from a hotel
This hotel was a little more upscale than most and so it had bathtub with a shower curtain. That meant the floor doesn’t get wet. Culture demands, though, that a mat for drying your feet when you leave the wet toilet floor must be placed OUTSIDE the bathroom–even if the bathroom floor is dry. I would put the mat next to the tub to use for a bath mat, and dutifully every day the housecleaner would move it back outside the door. And because the floor stayed dry, I didn’t need to use the flip-flops they provided.
Note there is no toilet paper in the holder. There was none in the bathroom.
Note the toilet paper is on the tray over the little refrigerator, with tea, cups, and drinking water. Culturally that’s where it’s supposed to be, to be used as a paper towel if needed.
Then there are the larger cultural issues. Aesthetics are not an important value in Cambodian culture. Through all the years of warfare and rebuilding after the Khmer Rouge, the people have focused on surviving and getting by, and not making things look nice. This is a picture of an air conditioner drain pipe for the unit mounted on the other side of the wall in the bedroom. It didn’t quite fit so it’s just left exposed. No problem.

Like most hotels, this hotel had a peephole in the door to allow the guest to see who is outside the door. In this room, though, it was plugged with toilet paper. Was it broken? Was it allowing an annoying light to come in? Who knows. If it was broken, it wasn’t worth spending money to fix it.