Cambodian Culture

Greetings

  • Traditionally, Cambodians will address each other according to relationship – for example, ‘ta’ (grandfather), ‘po’ (uncle) or ‘bang’ (brother) and to an older woman as ‘yeay’ (grandmother), ‘ming’ (aunt) or ‘bang srey’ (sister).
  • Commonly, ‘bong’ (older) and ‘oun’ (younger) followed by a shortened version of one’s first name are used as a form of address, usually the last syllable in their first name. In a situation where one is unsure of their counterpart’s age, bong is used to avoid failing to defer to the most senior person.
  • Some people in Cambodia are addressed with the honorific title ‘Lok’ for a man and ‘Lok Srey’ for a woman followed by their first name or both their first name and surname.
  • Many educated and younger Cambodians offer a handshake as the common form of greeting. These tend to be more gentle and do not linger for long.
  • Women and men tend not to touch each other when greeting. A woman may feel embarrassed if a man tries to shake her hand.
  • Regardless of the type of greeting and setting, Cambodians generally offer a smile.

 

Sompeah

Greetings in Cambodia are accompanied by the gesture known as the ‘sompeah’. The way in which one does the sompeah varies based on age and social status. The greeting is done by placing one’s palms together in a praying gesture and bowing one’s head. The higher the hands and lower the bow, the greater the degree of respect that is being shown to the other person. While this form of greeting is still widely used, the sompeah has been partially replaced by the Western practice of shaking hands. Here are some things to note about the sompeah:

 

  • The sompeah is made during initial introductions or if people have not seen one another in a long time. It is not required to sompeah each time you meet a friend, family member or coworker.
  • It is considered impolite and offensive not to return a sompeah. It is similar to rejecting an offered handshake in Western culture.
  • The person who is younger or from a lower social class should be the first to bow.
  • When doing a sompeah to someone of higher social standing, the hands are held in front of the nose; when addressing someone of equal social standing, the hands are held at the same level of the mouth; and when addressing someone younger or of a lower social standing, the hands are held at the chin.
  • Regardless of age, monks receive the highest level of respect (a sompeah where the hands are placed in front of the nose).
  • A person holding or carrying something may simply bow their heads slightly in lieu of a sompeah.
  • It is not necessary or expected to perform a sompeah to service providers such as cashiers or taxi drivers.


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