Short sighted

There’s something I’m getting used to in Cambodia, perhaps because I’m noticing it more. This is eye contact, or rather, the lack of it. In the West, you generally maintain eye contact for the majority of a conversation, this is not the case in Cambodia. I have had whole conversations when the other person has obviously put a lot of effort into avoiding my gaze (by staring at something else, for instance). I’ve also been aware of others seemingly blanking me.

However, this is all a part of Cambodia courtesy. You generally avoid eye contact with people, especially if you deem them to be your social superior. This can be seen even in the Cambodian greeting. When you greet someone, you raise your hands to your chin (as if you’re praying) and bow your head slightly. The bowing of the head causes a break in eye-contact. The more respect you show, the lower you bow; the less eye contact you make.

While we see a lack of eye contact as being disinterested or even dishonest, here it is polite. But I keep wondering what’s happening behind me.

This is something I’m having to get used to and I’m going to have to train myself to look at something else while talking to people. This does not mean that Cambodians have conversations with their backs turned to one another. It just means that the amount of time people look at each other is less than in the UK.

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