Greetings and visiting in Cambodia
Cambodians traditionally greet each other with the sompiah, which involves pressing the hands together in prayer and bowing, similar to the wai in Thailand. The higher the hands and the lower the bow the more respect is conveyed- important to remember when meeting officials or the elderly. In recent times this custom has been partially replaced by handshake but; although men tend to shake hands with each other, women usually use the traditional greeting with both men and women. It is considered acceptable (or perhaps excusable for foreigners to shake hands with Cambodians of both sexes.
Getting to grips with face is the key to success in Asia, and Cambodia is no exception. Having “big face” is synonymous with prestige, and prestige is particularly important in Cambodia. All families, even poor ones, are expected to have big wedding parties and throw their money around like it is water in order to gain face. This is often ruinously expensive, but far less detrimental than “losing’ face”.
Getting angry and showing It by shouting or becoming abusive is impolite; It is also unlikely to accomplish much. Getting angry means loss of face and makes all Asians uncomfortable – take a deep breath and keep your cool. If things aren’t being done as they should, remember chat there is a shortage of skilled people in the country because the majority of educated Cambodians either fled the country or were killed between 1975 and 1979.
A small token of gratitude in the form of a gift is always appreciated when visiting someone. Before entering a Khmer home, always remove your shoes if the home owners do so first. This applies to some guesthouses and restaurants as well – if there is a pile of shoes at the doorway, take yours off as well.
The Khmers are easy-going and may choose not to point out improper behavior to their foreign guests, but it is important to dress and act with the utmost respect when visiting wats or other religious sites. This is all the more important given the vital role Buddhism has played in the lives of many Cambodians in the aftermath of the Khmer Rouge holocaust. Proper etiquette in Cambodian pagodas is mostly a matter of common sense.
Unlike in Thailand, a woman may accept something from a lok song (monk), but must be extremely careful not to touch him in the process. A few other tips:
- Don’t wear shorts or tank tops.
- Take off your hat when entering the grounds of a wat.
- Take off your shoes before going into the vihara (temple sanctuary).
- If you sit down in front of the Buddha, sit with feet to the side rather than in the lotus position.
- Bow slightly in the presence of elderly or senior monks.
- Putting a small sum of money in the donation box will be much appreciated by residents at the temple and visiting Khmers.
- Never point your finger – or, nirvana forbid, the soles of your feet – towards a monk or a Buddha figure.