Delightful Cambodian Girlfriend 10 – A Joke About Khmer Men
"In Thailand, I heard a funny joke about Cambodia", I say to Norah, my Khmer lover, over a good noodle soup in her favorite Phnom Penh noodle soup restaurant opposite the main post office. "Would you like to hear it?"
Usually I am very careful with jokes about countries. Norah and her family of business people know exactly what a grotty country they were born in. There's no need to emphasize it. But like religion, a certain low key (or high key) nationalism may be a natural human need and I am the last to preach against that. Really.
But I can't withhold on that joke I heard from Dr. Laurence, the Thai manager on Thailand's Ko Libong Nature Resort. He had told it to a group of western tourists.
So I ask Norah: "If I tell the joke, you will not be angry about me? You promise?"
I may go ahead, and I recite the joke:
"A Japanese, an American and a Cambodian man discuss how they treat their wives – "
"And no Thai men in there?", asks my suspecting Khmer lady, her face already darkened by half an f-stop.
She knows like me that Khmers are despised (or feared) by Thais. A Thai's joke with a US, a Japanese and a Khmer won't end up in Cambodia's favor. She doesn't like Khmer men a lot (fortunately); still this joke is already going the wrong way for her.
"Sorry, he didn't tell it with a Thai guy."
And I go on: "According to the joke, the Japanese man says that his wife must always walk behind him, to show respect."
"The American contradicts", I go on: "He has the wife walking next to him, because they are equal partners!"
Now for the Khmer guy. Dr. Laurence had finished the joke like that: "The Khmer man says, not for us. I always make my wife walk in front."
At that point Dr. Laurence had paused and our group of tourists had looked puzzled: "The joke ends here, really", we'd ask? Also Norah doesn't see a punch line.
Dr. Laurence had to explain the joke to us, and after ordering another hot black coffee with a can of "fresh" Nestlé milk on the side, I explain it to Norah: "The Khmer husband makes his wife walk ahead because they have all the landmines there, hahaha!"
Guess what, Norah doesn't laugh at all. Instead, her face darkens by another half f-stop. She lays down her chopsticks. She doesn't look at the monkey that now crosses road 13 by balancing over a dangling power line.
I am worried. Why did I ever tell this stupid Thai joke at the expense of Cambodians? Am I really so insensitive?
"This joke is wrong", Norah says firmly!
"Yes, sure", I go: "I already told him that landmines have been cleared in most areas and in Veal Veng we've even seen family homes next to landmines warnings."
"No, not about this", says Norah, "that's not the point."
"Then what's wrong with the joke?"
"You know, Khmer men work very hard – and they work different things from their wives, be it on the farm or as business people. And in the night they go out for a drink, without their wives."
"So what", I ask?
"The joke has no point. A Khmer man can't send his wife out front – because mostly he goes out alone."
Hehehe, the local “logic” makes me laugh every time!