Lao Culture

Do's and Don'ts

Do’s

  • Lao are likely to appreciate any sincere efforts to learn or speak their language. Regardless of whether terms are mispronounced, basic greetings or several key phrases will act as a good ice breaker and show that you are keen to understand Lao culture.
  • Talk about your family, work and home country. This tends to be of interest to Lao who, in turn, will quite happily talk about their own family members, their work and place of origin.
  • Be sensitive to maintain the face of yourself and your Lao counterpart. To do so, avoid embarrassing someone in public by criticising or correcting them.
  • Try not to be offended if your Lao counterpart makes frank comments about people's body shape. Unlike in the English-speaking West, it is not considered taboo or rude to make comments such as, "Oh, you have put on weight". Such comments are not intended to be harmful, invasive or offensive. However, offering similar comments to your Lao counterpart may not be considered acceptable.
  • When conversing with your Lao counterpart, it is acceptable to politely acknowledge that Laos is a developing country. However, avoid wording this in a negative or disrespectful manner.


Don’ts

  • 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 Laos with people from neighbouring countries such as Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam or Myanmar (Burma).
  • Avoid disrespecting Buddhist statues or iconography. This is generally frowned upon in nearly all social situations.
  • Launching into a conversation about the Second Indochina War (also known as the Vietnam War) is not advised. Some Lao avoid discussing events and experiences that happened during this period as it may trigger intrusive thoughts. If your Lao counterpart shares stories with you, it is best to keep quiet and listen as a sign of respect.
  • Similarly, take care if conversing about the political situation in Laos or religion in the country. These two topics tend to be quite sensitive issues for many Lao.
  • Don’t be offended if your Lao counterpart refers to you as ‘falang’. Lao people will often refer to all those of Caucasian appearance as ‘falang’, a slang pronunciation of 'France'. This term traces back to the former French rule over much of Southeast Asia.
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