Dos and Don’ts While in Cambodia
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There is nothing worse than visiting a country like Cambodia and to cause offense without even understanding what you have done wrong. Green Cultural Travel has prepared this article to help you to understand the behavior of Cambodian people in order to adapt quickly to their manners. Indeed, the Cambodian possesses a custom very different to the Westerners. Their smile, politeness, and their welcoming and modest behavior constitute good local manners.

Politeness 

  • To greet someone, we do not shake hands or kiss but we join the hands at the level of the breastbone, bowing slightly (with an equal person). But if it’s with an important person, your hands have to be at the level of your face. This local custom is called “Sompiah”.
  • Don’t point a finger at someone. This gestural behavior in South-East Asia has a particular significance, so it can seem very familiar or even offending.
  • Don’t call someone directly by their name — it is considered as impolite. So you have to precede the name of someone by “Sir” or “Madam”.

In the streets 

  • Ask permission prior to taking someone’s photo.
  • In Cambodia, there is a lot of poverty, so there are a lot of beggars, including old people and victims of antipersonnel-mines. A small gift of their local currency (Riel) will improve their day and put some food in their stomach.
  • The Cambodian people are very modest, so avoid wearing clothes that are too short or revealing in public.
  • Don’t touch the head of someone, even a child, because it is considered as an offense. For Cambodian people, the head is the noblest part of the human body.
  • It will cause great offence to criticize their King and the royal family.
  • As in all Asian countries, don’t get angry but keep calm. It is very badly seen to raise one’s voice or be menacing. This kind of behavior makes someone lose face to a Cambodian, and it will create resentment towards you.
  • When you eat, avoid pricking your chopsticks vertically in a bowl of rice, as it is a reminder of the incense burnt in temples in memory of ancestors.
  • If you use a toothpick, hide your mouth with the hand — we don’t have to see your teeth.
  • To blow your nose in public is offensive to the Cambodian people.
  • Don’t invite anybody to join you by making a sign with the palm of your hand upward as it is likened to a sexual invitation.

Although there are some tourist areas that are used to Western behavior, remember that, once you leave these areas, it is important to respect the local customs. If you follow the above simple rules and advice, you will have an amazing experience and be treated with respect by the local people you interact with.

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Kim Burton