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Society and culture

This section gives specific advice and guidance on Cambodia's Society and cultural norms, including religion, status of the family alongside business and social etiquette, customs and protocols with Meeting & Greeting alongside appropriate communication styles in each country to enable an employee to move, live and work abroad.


The majority of Cambodians follow Theravada Buddhism. Originating from India, the religion teaches that life and death in this world are intertwined through the concept on reincarnation. Every person lives a life as a worldly being and depending on their behaviour will come back in their next life as a higher or lower being. Karma is the term used to describe the i.e. ‘’you reap what you sow’’

Theravada Buddhism has the following principles: Have the right thoughts, speak the rights words, have the right goals, perform the right deeds, earn a living the right way, be intellectually alert and meditate.

The role of the Family

Family is considered to be the foundation of social life for most Cambodians. The nuclear family is the core of the domestic unit, but Cambodians also tend to have a strong sense of attachment to members of the extended family, close neighbours and friends. Financial concerns play a significant role in defining household structure and the roles of family members. For example, if extended families live together, it is often due to financial reasons.
Each person generally has certain lifelong expectations, roles and responsibilities towards their other family members. Everyone is expected to support, care for and show respect towards their elders. Individuals also have a responsibility to help maintain the reputation of their family, as families have a collective face. There are also specific roles designated to certain family members. For example, if the family is in need of assistance (e.g. running their family business or taking care of the household), the responsibility often falls on the youngest daughter to pause her studies in order to take on this role.

Class Structure

Buddhism also reinforces a sense of hierarchy within society. Interpersonal communication is built on the relationship between those involved. Common hierarchical guidelines are that parents are superior to children, teachers to students and managers to subordinates. Monks walk in rank order.Meeting & Greeting Etiquette

Greetings between Cambodians are dependent on the relationship/hierarchy/age between the people. The traditional greeting is a bow combined with a bringing of the heads together at chest level. If one intends to show greater respect the bow is lower and the hands brought higher. Cambodians have adopted the western practice of shaking hands. Women may still use the traditional greeting – a simple rule is to respond with the greeting you are given. In Cambodia people are addressed with the honorific title ‘’Lok’’ for a man and ‘’ Lok Srey’’ for a woman followed with the first name or both the first and surname.

Gift Giving Etiquette

Gifts are usually given at Cambodian New Year (Chaul Chnam) unlike most other cultures, Cambodians do not celebrate birthdays. In fact, many older people may not know the exact date of their birth.

A small gift can be taken if invited to someone’s house for food, take nicely presented fruits, sweets, pastries or flowers. Use colourful paper to wrap gift (not white) when giving gifts use both hands. Gifts are not opened when received.

Dining Etiquette

When invited to the dining table wait to be told where to sit as you would not want to upset any hierarchical arrangements, the oldest person is usually seated first similarly the oldest person starts eating before others. Business is not normally discussed in such social settings.

Business Etiquette in Terms of Protocol in Cambodia (Relationships and Communication)

As Cambodia is a hierarchical culture the business world follows suit in terms of protocol and behaviours. Respect and deference must always be shown to the most senior person, when meeting a group, you will be introducing to the highest ranking person similarly you should introduce people according to rank so that your Cambodian counterparts understand the dynamic of the group. Handshakes are normal although firm handshakes can be construed as aggressive. If a man is addressing a woman wait for her to extend her hand, eye contact should be kept to a minimum.

Business Meeting Etiquette

Meetings do not stick to any scheduled agenda and will continue until all attendees feel everything has been satisfactorily covered. Building relationships on mutual trust is crucial so time should be invested in getting to know the person. Small talk should be employed at the beginning of a meeting. Cambodians are indirect communicators- if they disagree with someone or an idea they will remain silent other than make any comment. Ideas should be brought forward in a gentle way and wait for others to respond. Pushy, pressured communication is not received well. Punctuality is important as arriving late shows lack of respect. Anger, impatience or frustration should be hidden as this can lead to loss of face. Modesty and humility are emphasised in the culture, compliments and praise are generally responded to by a deprecating comment.

Business Card Etiquette

Business cards should be exchanged after initial introductions, have one side translated onto Khmer if possible. Use the right hand or both hands when offering or receiving a business card. It is important to treat business cards with respect as this is indicative of the way you would treat the person.