Although far less than Sihanoukville’s main Serendipity beach, Otres Beach is still home to a number of beach vendors who ply their trade every day selling everything from bracelets to BBQ skewers to sunglasses to pedicures.
Generally we politely declined their offers, being fully stocked on sunglasses and food, and found they were friendly and happy to take “no thanks” for an answer.
The Pedicure Ladies, however, were a different species. Clearly graduates of the BBC Apprentice School of Sales, saying “no thank you” simply wasn’t an option.
Any refusal was met with an “OK, maybe later?”.
I genuinely think I’d be more likely to sell my first born child rather than deal with any social awkwardness (a British thing, I think), so I found it easiest to agree “maybe later” – a short term approach as it turns out. At this point the Pedicure Ladies would insist on a Pinky Promise and an exchange of names to confirm that any future pedicure services would be procured through them and only them. At this point it’s a little awkward to then go “ah, well actually I was just trying to be nice… I don’t feel ready for the commitment of a Pinky Promise”, so you find yourself promising far more pedicures than you actually have feet. Within two days I had a veritable harem of Pedicure Ladies.
I took all this with a pinch of salt, assuming that the ratio of Pedicure Ladies to me (not to mention the contractual flimsiness of Pinky Promises) meant it was blindingly obvious I wouldn’t be able to patronise them all, on account of not being an octopus and only having two feet.
I was wrong.
By the end of our stay, my feet – hoof like at the best of times – were out of control and I was relaxing into a $5 beach pedicure with the last of my free cash when a furious Khmer lady whirled over.
“Katie – you promise me!!”.
I’d been caught pedicure-cheating red handed. The awkward-o-meter exploded.
“Sorry, I couldn’t find you” I said, face aflame.
“Sorry doesn’t help me make money” she spat “You not good person”
Unfortunately, I didn’t have enough cash to employ her for a manicure (or even just to fling at her to cover my shame) and so I sat, mortified, as she watched me get my pedicure. Every so often, another Pedicure Lady would pass and be filled in, loudly, on my treachery. I would have sold my first born, second born and frankly, probably Craig as well if it would have allowed me to escape. Did I mention I paid my last $5 for this experience as well?
There was a bit of a lesson in here though – it’s easy to underestimate your footprint as a visitor to a country, and how much your business can mean to local people trying to earn a living in a poor country. I’ll try and be a better traveller in future!