Etiquette 101: What you need to know about Cambodian customs

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Every culture has their own customs and etiquette you need to respect, especially if you’re visiting their country. This includes Cambodia where you have to be mindful of the way you interact with people, considering not only their age but also their status.

Ensure you’re always respectful by reading the basics of Cambodian etiquette and customs, curated by IPS Cambodia.

Sampeah

A sampeah is a greeting done in Cambodia where you bow with your hands pressed together in front of your face. The higher the hands and the lower the bow indicates the status and age of the other person, showing as well how much you respect them. Take note of the following hand placements when demonstrating respect:

  • Nose → For those who deserve the highest level of respect like monks
  • Mouth → If you have the same standing
  • Chin → For those who have lower standing or are younger.

Doing sampeah every time is not recommended but it’s necessary if you haven’t met someone for a long time or for introductions. Additionally, make sure to always return a sampeah because it’s considered rude if you don’t.

Monks and Buddhism

Cambodia is primarily a Buddhist country wherein the religion’s values and beliefs are closely followed. Always mind your manners since respect is a must regarding all facets of Buddhism, including statues or iconographies. Additionally, if you’re in a temple and you have to sit, always do so with your legs on the side since it’s not allowed to be stretched out or crossed.

Following the practice of Buddhism, never touch anyone’s head since it’s considered the most sacred part of the body. On the other hand, the feet are not sacred so it’s considered rude to point it at someone or use it to push something to another person.

Furthermore, monks are one of the most revered in Cambodia. Take note of the following when interacting with a monk:

  • If you’re a woman, don’t touch monks or their robes.
  • When giving something to monks, it’s best to hand it to a male who will give it to a monk. Another option is to use a handkerchief or tissue when handing the object. All of this is because monks are not allowed physical contact with women.

Visiting homes

When visiting, make sure to bring a token of appreciation to the host and remove your shoes before entering their house. Additionally, if drinks or food are offered, it’s best to show gratitude by accepting them.

Giving gifts

Wrap gifts using colored paper and make sure to not use white since it’s a color meant for mourning. When you’re giving gifts, the proper way is using your right hand while your left supports your right elbow.

Additionally, never give knives as a gift since it symbolises cutting off relationships. 

Eating

There is a proper seating arrangement in the dining table, following the hierarchical placements of everyone so make sure to ask where you can sit. The oldest person in the group will eat first, signalling the others can start after.

Depending on what food you’re eating, you can use a spoon, fork, chopsticks, or even your hands. However, if you’re using spoon and fork, take note that forks are only used to push food to the spoon.

Business

Cambodia’s culture is heavy on showing respect on age and status so business etiquette follows this. Introductions are done with the highest ranked person first to lowest rank, following the hierarchical structure of the company. Additionally, greetings are done with honorary titles attached to the first name or full name. It’s Lok for men and Lok Srey for women.

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