Customs and traditions
Daily life and Khmer culture and identity are closely linked to Buddhism. The collective is considered to be ahead of the individual and it is important not to lose face. Doing so easily shames the group (for example, the family), not just oneself.
Hostility to Vietnam in particular is also a unifying factor that is often invoked, not least by politicians.
Traditionally, Cambodians greet each other by bringing their palms together, fingers up, in front of the chest and bow lightly, and say chum reap suor. Among women, it is still the most common way of health, while men nowadays often shake hands with one another, in a Western way.
- Countryaah: Overview of the capital city of Cambodia, including information about its population, economy, geography, history and map.
The traditional greeting – sampeah – stands at least one arm’s length away. How to say goodbye depends largely on social status. Those who rank below are expected to bow first. The higher you hold your hands and the deeper you bow, the greater reverence you show the one you greet. Two socially equal people greet their fingertips at about the level of their mouths. The greeting is not necessarily performed every time you meet a friend or workmate. However, it is common for it to be repeated when separated.
The hierarchies are important. Respect is shown especially for monks and leading people in society. Younger shows respect for the elderly, students respect for teachers, children for parents, employees for managers, and so on. The child prefers to avoid eye contact with the child.
If you pass in front of someone you do not immediately greet, it is advisable to just bow lightly, from the waist.
At an initial meeting, it may be advisable to avoid using names. Instead, the titles locomotive for a man and locomotive srey for a woman are used as a way of showing reverence. The terms are inserted before the address name.
According to Abbreviationfinder, Cambodians prefer to avoid confrontation and can thus appear rather unclear. To a question, they can answer what they think is a desired answer, rather than one that matches reality. Sometimes it is good to ask several times, and to try to read the situation in other ways than through direct questions.
It is considered appropriate to speak muffled and serious without too much gesturing. The Cambodians like to avoid showing anger but smile the better. Expressions of humor are common and people laugh and joke. But a smile – or even a chuckle – is common even if you present something negative.
A gesture in which the hand is rotated in front of the body, in something similar to a waving, means “no” or is otherwise dismissive.
To wave someone to one’s hand, hold the palm down and “force” with the fingers in the air – holding the hand upwards which we in the West would gladly do is considered rude.
Unsuitable with physical contact
There is a strong taboo against contact between the sexes, whether it is a friend or a partner. However, physical contact between two people of the same sex is accepted, including men in between.
Touching someone’s head is perceived as an insult. The head is the most important part of the body, where the soul is believed to be. The feet are considered dirty and you should avoid pointing them at anyone or stepping over someone else’s legs.
Visitors to temples, and private homes, are expected to take off their shoes. In temples one should wear long pants or a skirt that is reasonably long, as well as a garment on the upper body that covers the shoulders.
When it comes to conversation topics, a foreigner should avoid asking about the Red Khmer.
Rice and fish are staple foods. At home, the food is served on the carpet on the floor or you sit on a raised bamboo platform. You eat in order according to social status: adult men and guests first, those who cooked the food last. Breakfast usually consists of rice porridge or rice noodles. Yeast fish paste, prawn hook, is an important flavoring.
Fish amok is often called national dish and consists of curry-spiced fish in coconut milk, steamed in banana leaves. Bai sach chrouk is a common dish of rice and thinly sliced grilled pork chunks.
Teuk tnaot is liquid from sugar palm and drink more or less yeast – but usually not with meals. Rice wine flavored with herbs, for example, is also common.
Perhaps the most important celebration is the Khmer Chol Chnam Thmey New Year. The New Year is celebrated for three days in April when the harvest season ends and the rainy season is at the door. The Cambodians gather with the family, light candles and incense, visit temples, undergo purification rites, engage in charity and have fun with competitions. Also important is the Bon Om Touk Water Festival for three days in November, which is held when the rainy season is nearing its end and the water flow in Tonlé Sap changes direction (see Geography and climate). During the festival, you enjoy boat races, concerts and other outdoor activities.
The royal plowing ceremony is an old holiday that falls on different dates in May as the rice growing season begins.
According to Countryaah, many holidays have Buddhist origins and follow the lunar calendar. At the meak bochea that falls in late February or early March, one repents his sins and remembers the Buddha and his teachings. Visak bochea in May is a commemoration of Buddha’s birth, enlightenment and death. Pchum bones in September – October are also called Ancestors’ Day, but celebrations last for several days at the end of the Lent. You honor your ancestors, among other things, by cooking for the monks.
The “victory over the genocide regime” is celebrated on January 7, the day 1979 when the Vietnamese invaded to expel the Red Khmer. On September 9, the Constitution Day is celebrated in commemoration of the constitution adopted in 1993. On October 23, the Paris Treaty is signed by the Peace Agreement with Vietnam in 1991, and on November 9, the independence of France in 1953 is celebrated.
Several celebrations are being celebrated: King Sihamoni’s birthday on May 14 is celebrated on day three, King Norodom Monineath’s birthday is celebrated on June 18, and the king’s father, the former King Sihanouk, is remembered on his death on October 15. Sihamoni’s coronation is celebrated on October 29.
Several other secular and international holidays are also available, such as New Year’s Day and May 1, as well as International Women’s Day on March 8, International Children’s Day on June 1 and Human Rights Day on December 10.