Lao Culture

Greetings

  • The standard greeting in Laos is ‘sabaideebor’, which means ‘how are you?' or ‘are you well?'. This is usually accompanied by the ‘nop’ (see below).
  • If someone greets another by saying ‘sabaideebor’, the receiver will usually reply with ‘sabaidee’ (‘it goes well’).
  • Informally, Lao may greet each other with ‘kin khow leo bor?’ (‘have you eaten?’) or ‘pai sai maa’ (‘where are you coming from?’). The latter is not a literal enquiry about someone’s destination but rather is used in the same way one asks ‘how has your day been?’ or ‘what have you done today?’
  • In an informal setting, Lao may shake hands with those of the same gender or lightly touch each other on the arm. Usually it is men who shake hands.
  • To address someone of a high status, one adds ‘thaan’ to the person’s name. For example, Thaan Persuth.
  • Where applicable, Lao usually use professional or official titles to address teachers, doctors, police officers and so on. 
  • When a person has no specific title, a Lao may address their counterpart with particular titles depending on the relative age and gender. For example, someone may address an older man as ‘aii’ (‘older brother’). 
  • Between friends and those of the same age, people usually address each other by their first name or by nicknames.


The Nop

In Laos, greetings are usually accompanied by the gesture known as a ‘nop’, which is the placing of two hands together in a prayer position at chest level. A nop indicates the level of respect for another person and is an acknowledgement of seniority. A nop may also be used as an expression of thanks or regard. Sometimes the nop is accompanied with a slight bow. Here are some tips on how to correctly perform a nop.


  • The depth of the bow and the level of the hands represents the level of respect given to someone.
  • For example, when addressing a person who has higher social standing (such as monks), the hands are held just below the nose.
  • When addressing someone of equal age or social status, the hands are usually positioned at the level of the mouth.
  • When greeting someone who is younger or of lower social status, the hands are typically held at the chin.
  • The person who is younger or of lower social status is expected to bow first.
  • The hands are never held above the level of the nose.
  • One’s hands should not touch their body when greeting.
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