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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Social dilemma for local "beer girls"

Social dilemma for local "beer girls"

Y OUNG Khmer girls employed by local and foreign breweries are throwing away

their inhibitions, and some say culture, to sell beer in restaurants and

bars.

Money is the key motivator in a country where good paying jobs are

scarce.

Earning anywhere upwards of $60 a month, the girls are often in

conflict with their parents who believe they are promoting a "taxi girl" image,

despite the pay packets they bring home.

Among the girls, opinions are

divided.

Ny, a single parent working for Victoria Beer admits she has

little choice having to support her baby and her family. "As I am the main

breadwinner my parents have no right to complain," she says.

Yet, she

admits she will continue to be a beer girl until her fate changes.

The

girls earn money and shame for taking such employment.

For some, the

money is vital. As in the case of Lek, her husband is a soldier and she has to

fend by herself when he is posted outside Phnom Penh.

Girls from the

provinces come to the capital searching for well paying jobs and for Iem, an

Angkor girl from Kompong Thom, the money is more important than the shame. As

the only member of her family with full time employment she sends $30 of her $50

salary to her parents every month.

Wa, who has been working with

Carlsberg for over a year, defends her job. "I like the job and the clothes. I

feel more modern wearing this uniform but my parents are ashamed, as my skirt is

cut above the knee."

Dang Chan, an 18-year-old "Tiger girl" complains

that "the clothes are too sexy. It is no wonder we are treated like taxi

girls."

Such is the pressure she received from her parents and friends

that she plans to quit her work.

However, Cambrew, brewers of Angkor

Beer, takes a more traditional approach to promoting beer. The girls wear the

national dress, blouse and sarong.

Jaime Fong, Cambrew's General Manager

stresses the importance of the long skirt. "Since we are promoting the national

beer it seems logical that we promote the national costume. Our girls prefer it

that way," he says.

Neary, an Angkor supervisor for three years in charge

of 65 girls, judges her job on the quality of training and work code over the

nationality of beer.

"The regulations are very important to us all," she

says. "That it is why the Angkor girls are the best. Some companies encourage

their girls to drink or sit with their customers to increase beer sales."

Cambrew takes a dim view of such behavior. "We are promoting national culture

and not taxi girl culture," stresses Jaime Fong.

Customers approve of the

service provided by beer girls. Setha, a government employee, is an avid beer

drinker frequenting a variety of drinking establishments to see his favorite

girls, but says that he is not encouraging the "taxi-girl" image.

"I come

here with my friends to chat and eat food. Sometimes I chat with the girls but

that is as far as it goes. Occasionally a girl will flirt with me, but I always

tell them I am a faithful husband."

Zhang Liangjun, a businessman from

Senyang in China, is a frequent visitor to the beer girl

restaurants.

"The Cambodian girls are very soft and they are all my

friends. I only wish beer girls were allowed in China. Unfortunately the police

take a dim view of such things!"

Most of the girls admit that they are

not improving their chances in the marriage stakes. They will not admit to a

prospective boy friend that they are a beer girl.

"That would ruin our

chances, maybe when I know him better I might tell him, but if he wanted to

marry me I would probably leave," says Neary.

Nevertheless, Khmer beer

girls are here to stay. And with improved training and greater acceptance by

parents, they can expect to make a greater impact on everyday Khmer life as beer

consumption rises in line with economic development.

The girls used to be

on a pay plus commission basis. Now they are all on a straight pay packet.

There are some sales gimmicks used by the companies to boost sales, like

the ABC pull ring, VB coded prizes at the bottom of the can and Angkor's prizes

under the cap.

Sometimes the girls grab the cans before the customer

realizes that he has lost out on the chance to win the prize draw.

The

girls are pretty friendly to one another, though competition for customers is

usually fierce.

Tiger employs about 300 girls, Carlsberg, Foster and VB

about 250, and San Miguel, Stella Artois, and BGI around 100.

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