Cambodian Culture

Do's and Don'ts

Do’s

  • Cambodians are likely to sincerely appreciate any efforts to learn their language, despite the language’s difficulty. Basic greetings in Khmer, even if mispronounced, can act as a good ice breaker and show that you are keen to understand an integral part of your counterpart’s culture.
  • Talk about your family, work and home country. This tends to be of interest to Cambodians who, in turn, will quite happily talk about their own family members, their work and place of origin.
  • Try and smile during conversation. Cambodians smile often and appreciate it when the warmth is reciprocated.
  • Be sensitive to maintain the face of yourself and your Cambodian counterpart. To do so, avoid embarrassing someone by criticising or correcting them in public.
  • When there is a conflict, it is often resolved through an intermediary rather than discussed directly with the person who has taken offence. Once the problem has been resolved, often the two parties will not raise the issue again.

 

Don’ts

  • Avoid disrespecting Buddhist statues or iconography. This is generally frowned upon in most social situations.
  • Although Cambodians tend to be forgiving about unintentional cultural gaffes, they do not take well to being deliberately slighted.
  • Upon first meeting, Cambodians tend not to ask their counterpart what their name is, nor share their name. Do not be offended by this. In Cambodia, it is not considered rude to not enquire about another’s name.
  • Don’t show negative emotions of anger in public. Cambodians tend to avoid overtly showing their emotions, particularly anger and frustration, as it is thought to lead to a loss of face.
  • Launching into a conversation about the Khmer Rouge is not advised. Some Cambodians avoid discussing events and experiences that happened under the Khmer Rouge regime as it may trigger intrusive thoughts. Nonetheless, it is not uncommon for people to bring up the subject themselves to those they are familiar with, and many are quite open to discussing their experiences. If your Cambodian counterpart shares stories with you, it is best to keep quiet and listen as sign of respect.
  • Do not assume all Southeast Asian peoples are the same. There are a variety of distinct countries and cultures across the region. Thus, avoid homogenising those from Cambodia with people from neighbouring countries such as Thailand, Vietnam or Laos.
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