I’m answering some FAQs about my life in Cambodia. They may be questions I’ve been asked or just ones I think are in the back of people’s minds.
This question seems to come in various iterations: what food/drink/clothes/place/whatever do you miss most from the UK? I’ve even been asked who do I miss the most a few times, as if I’m not going to give a socially acceptable answer to that one (I would say, “My family, especially my niece, and you of course.” Whether any of that is true, I’ll never tell).
I’ve actually answered this question before, but that was back in 2016, when I had pretty much first arrived. However, things have not changed since then. I still get the questions and I still answer the same thing. There is nothing material that I have missed in the UK.
I really enjoy my life in Cambodia. I like the food; I love the people here. There’s also such a wide range of Western foods or Asian food restaurants (and even Middle-Eastern food) available there’s nothing much to miss. I understand how there might be things you would miss, especially if you were in a different country or even area of the country that doesn’t cater for Western tastes so much or with so much variety available. However, that doesn’t seem like too much of a problem here.
I know that people do miss things from home. (I did a Facebook survey, and it was about 60/40 split of those that missed stuff and those that didn’t.) There have been fleeting moments when I miss something, usually when I am ill or tired or had a tough day. But it has never been more than a fleeting moment.
But, I still have a massive problem with answering that question, or perhaps I still have a problem with what I perceive to be everyone’s response to my answer. First, it’s a loaded question; it assumes already that I miss something. That makes my response to it already awkward and unnatural. But there also seems that the question is layered and that there are other implicit intentions behind the question. (Maybe this is the case or maybe I’m just making it into a problem when it isn’t.) However, when people ask me “What do you miss the most from the UK?” I feel like they are asking “What do you miss about your Britishness the most?” or “What about our shared past and identity do you miss the most?” The question is not simply about things: it’s about my heritage and my sense of belonging and the things and memories I shared with people back home.
By answering, “Actually, I don’t miss anything from the UK” its like saying, “I have turned my back on my Britishness” or “I reject my life at home.” Often, when I tell people that I don’t really miss anything I see a look in their eyes as if I suddenly lifted a sharp axe above my head and physically severed any connection that we once had. That that is not at all what it feel like to me or my intention.
First, all my colleagues and students at HOPE School will attest to my Britishness. I am definitely not rejecting my heritage. (I teach Dickens and Shakespeare, for goodness sake.) I often fill meetings and social interactions with awkwardness and the necessary unnecessary pleasantries. I stare silently to express my utter and explosive rage at something. I’m very British and it’s going to take a lot to knock it out of me. Sometimes, it’s softened a bit. I’m perhaps not as judgemental about perceived social faux-pas as I once was. Also, I’m learning to sometimes “put down” my Britishness, as if it were a hot cup of tea, ready to pick it back up when the moment is right. But I’m not rejecting Britain or my life at home.
It also doesn’t mean that I didn’t like things you sent me or you shouldn’t do it. I don’t put sentimental attachment onto things or foods, but I do like being thought of. For me, often the actual gift doesn’t matter; it is definitely a case of it’s the thought that counts. If you want to send me something, head to Poundland or somewhere silly. Dafter the better. I recently received a box of PG Tips in the post. When I opened it, I did not think. “Great, I’ve been dying for a proper brew.” I thought, “Someone went to the effort of wrapping, labelling and posting something so that I would feel remembered.” It’s the gesture that touched me.
So, don’t expect me to miss food or things. But that doesn’t mean I hate you and it doesn’t mean I want to be forgotten about, either.