Cambodia culture is dominated by the Khmer people,who make up between90-95% of the population.
The Khmer people have imbued this Southeast Asian country with its ownrich culture and history that stretch back for many centuries into thepast.
One of the best features of Cambodian culture is the warmth ofthe Cambodian people.
Today the majority of Cambodians areTheravada Buddhist and their religion has a marked effect on theirculture, customs, traditions and etiquette.
Understanding this side of Cambodia is important to get all you canfrom your visit and avoid any embarrassment.
Customs in Cambodia
Part of theirculture and religion is based on rank. Interpersonalcommunication is adjusted depending on the rank you occupy in relationto another person. When visiting Cambodia, you may find that Cambodiansmay ask you quite personal questions: this is not to be a sticky-beak,but to establish your rank and the appropriate way to communicate withyou.
Unlike western culture, where individual rights and freedoms are helddear, in Cambodia culture the group’s needs come before theindividual’s needs.
Like many other Asian nations, the concept of“face” is also important to Cambodians and visitors should be aware ofthis and their actions to avoid anyone losing face in any situation.In Cambodiancustom, face is generally lost when people are criticized orembarrassedpublicly and face can be given by giving compliments.
Greeting Each Other
In Cambodia culture the traditional greeting is a little bow with thehands clasped together like in prayer: your bow will be deeper for amore highly respected person.
Some Cambodians have taken to the westernpractice of shaking hands, but the bow remains the more usual greeting.People are usually addressed with the honorific title “lok” for men and“lok srey” for women followed by the first name, or both first and lastname.
Some western travelers may be somewhat shocked to see same sex friendshugging each other, walking down the street hand in hand or arm in arm.These are considered non-sexual displays of friendship and are quiteacceptable.
Public displays of affection between romantic coupleshowever, are not culturally appropriate in Cambodia and will probablybe considered offensive.
In western culture, we tend to judge someonethat will not meet our eyes as shifty. In Cambodia culture, indirecteye contact is a form of respect and direct eye contact is usually onlymade with social equals.
- A big no-no in Cambodia and in most of SoutheastAsia is to touch anyone on top of the head.
- Down at the other end, it is not considered polite to pointyour feet at anyone and especially not at a Buddha statue or Monk.
- If entering a temple, ensure that you sit cross-legged toavoid offence.
- In temples men should wear long pants, so no hairy legspoking gout thanks gents, and women should avoid any clothing thatexposes the shoulders.
- Avoid handing anything to anybody with your left hand.
- To pass things politely, touch your left hand to your rightelbow and pass the object with your right hand.
- It is polite to remove your shoes before entering someone’shouse and obligatory in a temple.
So In Short…
Cambodian people are very friendly and warm people. They understandthat you come from a different culture and will be patient of smallcultural faux pas, so no worries there!
However, theywill also appreciate an effort tounderstand some aspects of Cambodia culture. This would make a bigdifference in your interaction with the locals, in a positive way.
Have A Great Story About The Culture?
Do you have a great story about this? How did you find Khmer culture? Shocked, blended right in? Share it!
Where would you like to go next?
Go to Poverty in Cambodiafor a brief account how it came about and how to deal with it whileyou’re there.
What do the local folks wear? What should you wear? Here’s a quick lookinto the Khmer’s traditional dresses and also a simple dress code fortravelers.
The locals are a big fan of karaoke. But apart from the pop songs,there are other kinds too. The classical Cambodian music is deeplyvalued by the people.
In downtown Siem Reap, you’ll see restaurants offering free traditionaldance with your meal. Here’s you’ll find out more aboutthose dances and other kinds as well.
Learnsimples phrases that earn smiles from the locals. It’s a great icebreaker and perhaps, just perhaps, they’ll be extra nicer to you forlearning their language.