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Greeting Rituals in Cambodia

Mary lives in Cambodia, a few months each year, working on education projects.

Another Sampeah Greeting from Cambodia - From Panya

Sampeah

Sampeah

The Cambodia Greeting Ritual

With their palms put together as in a prayer and bowing slightly, the Cambodians do this Sampeah saying Choum Reap Sur (for hello) and saying Choum Reap Lear (for goodbye).

The Sampeah is performed in different ways depending on the age and status of the person one is greeting.

As respect is central to Cambodian culture, they have distinct ways of addressing each other. Formally, the Cambodians address a man with the respectful prefix Lok (Mr.) and Lok Srey (Mrs.) followed by surname and given name. Following Lok only with a surname is impolite so be sure you catch both names.

Within the family, they use Lok Ta for grandfather, Lok Yeay for grandmother, Ming for aunt, Oum or Pue for uncle, Bong Bros for brothers and Bong Srey for sisters. Nowadays, those of the same ages often just call each other with their given names.

As in many cultures, tradition sometimes gives way to modernism. But in Cambodia, even between ages, respect is still very much expected. You often find yourself being asked your age not because they are nosy but because they want to address you properly.

Note: This intro picture is of our friend, Soeung Sameang, who happily greeted us when we came back this time to Cambodia.

1. Cambodian Greeting for friends of the same age - Both palms are placed together facing each other at the chest level

greetings-cambodia

2. Cambodian Greeting for persons more senior in rank and age - Palms are placed together facing each other reaching the mouth level

greetings-cambodia

3. Cambodia greeting for parents, grandparents and teachers - Palms are placed together facing each other at the nose level

greetings-cambodia

4. Cambodian Greeting for the king and monks - Palms are placed together at the level of the eyebrows

greetings-cambodia

5. Praying to God and other sacred deities in Cambodia - Palms are placed at the forehead facing each other

greetings-cambodia

The Sampeah: Greeting Ritual at the Heart of Cambodian Culture - Know more about Cambodian Culture

Majority of Cambodians are Khmer. Khmer practice Theravada Buddhism so this is the major influence in the rituals in Cambodia although many Khmer ancient customs and traditions have already been practiced in the ancient kingdom of Angkor as part of the community rites so they had been a part of their own unique culture as a people.

You can read about the ancient civilization of Angkor.

Sampeah Greeting for the Monks - Monks on Procession in Cambodia

Sampeah to the Monks

Sampeah to the Monks

Do's and Dont's in Cambodian Culture

  1. Avoid touching a child or another person in the head especially putting your palm on the head of a child.
  2. Avoid pointing your toe towards another person. It is very impolite.
  3. Try to use your right hand when handing things over or receiving these. Also, in eating. Sorry for left hand people.
  4. Avoid pointing your fingers at the person's face. It is impolite even if sometimes, you only meant it for emphasis.

Cambodian Khmer Teach Children to Do the Sampeah Early

Panya at this age already knows how to do the Sampeah. It is often one of the first things parents teach their children. It is their pride when their kids are able to do this and kids are always made to perform this in front of guests.

Sampeah greeting from a young Cambodian - We got this greeting in the Park in Cambodia

Little Girl Doing Sampeah

Little Girl Doing Sampeah

Other Cambodian words of politeness

Learn a few words of greeting in Khmer and use these when you're there. The Cambodians will truly appreciate this gesture.

  1. How are you?

    luk-sohk-sah-bahy chia dteh?

    Sometimes I just ask: Sohk-sah-bahy(bai)? and they are happy.

  2. Fine, thanks.

    Sohk sah-bahy chia dteh, O-ku!n

  3. Thank you

    O-ku!n

  4. Good Morning

    Ah-ru!n soou-sdey

  5. Good Afternoon

    Dti-via soou-sdey

  6. Good Evening

    Sahy-yu!n soou-sdey

More useful Cambodian words


Please: Sohm

Sorry: Sohm-toh

Market: Phsar

Thank you: Akun

Yes: Baat (Man) and Cha(Woman)

No: Otay

Cambodian Greeting on Videos - Watch them do the Sampeah

Video showing how to greet the Cambodian way.

Tutorial Video on Cambodian Greetings

This little girl was giving Sampeah to everyone she met in the park one Saturday afternoon.

Rank and Age Make a Difference in the Greeting

As you have already seen in the former pictures, rank and age differentiate the type of Sampeah greeting. In this picture, you see the greeting for the monks. Many people even kneel as the monks pass or when they offer something to the monks or when they ask for the monks blessing.

Take note if you're a woman, you cannot touch the monks. You have to keep your distance. Our friend monk can put his arms around my husband and hug him when we have not seen him for long but he can't do it to me. A big smile coupled with words of greeting is enough. I just do the Sampeah.

The Cambodian King Father doing the Sampeah Greeting - Cambodia in Mourning for the King Father

Offering to the King Father

Offering to the King Father

Pillars of Cambodian Culture: Religion, King and Nation

The King is central to Cambodia's culture together with the nation and religion: Religion, King, Nation are the 3 pillars of Cambodian society. Cambodians also have elaborate rituals around death.

Cambodians, young and old, continue to pay their last respects to the King Father, Norodom Sihanouk. This speaks of how much Cambodians love their King and the respect accorded him. The mourning for the King Father will last for 3 months during which all scheduled celebrations like the water festival will be cancelled.

Young People Doing Sampeah Greeting to the King Father - Their Respect to the King

Offering to the KIng Father

Offering to the KIng Father

A Cambodian Family Offering at the Temple - Kneeling in front of their God

Cambodian Family Praying in the Monastery

Cambodian Family Praying in the Monastery

A Pagoda in Cambodia - At the Center of Cambodian Life

Monastery in Cambodia

Monastery in Cambodia

Monks Walking in the Streets of Phnom Penh - Sets the tone in the city

Monks in the Streets of Phnom Penh

Monks in the Streets of Phnom Penh

Cambodian Bride Doing the Sampheah - Greeting the Guests

Cambodian Bride Doing Traditional Greeting

Cambodian Bride Doing Traditional Greeting

The Sampeah is used by everyone - To greet each other

Temple in Bokor Mountain

Temple in Bokor Mountain

The automatic reaction of Cambodians is always to do the Sampeah when meeting someone.

Cambodian Statues Doing Sampeah Greeting - You can see the statues in this pose all over Cambodia

Statues in Wat Botum in Traditional Cambodian

Statues in Wat Botum in Traditional Cambodian

Try using Sampheah for greeting - While in Cambodia

The Royal Palace of Cambodia

The Royal Palace of Cambodia

Another try at Sampheah - You get used to it

The Royal Palace in Cambodia

The Royal Palace in Cambodia

Cambodians greet each other based on their Buddhist Beliefs - What's on auction on Theravada Buddhism

Cambodia follows Theravada Buddhism and all the important rituals and ceremonies in Cambodian Khmer life are founded on this. There are also other ethnicities in Cambodia and they of course have their own way of greeting but the majority are the Khmer so what is often referred to as Cambodian is mainly Khmer.

Share with us how other cultures greet each other - Or just leave us your thoughts on this lens

Mary Norton (author) from Ontario, Canada on December 03, 2019:

It's one of our favourite countries.

Denise McGill from Fresno CA on December 02, 2019:

This is very interesting. What a wonderful place to visit. Thanks for the education.

Blessings,

Denise

Mary Norton (author) from Ontario, Canada on July 11, 2018:

My husband worked with three government ministries and I worked with NGOs. We are consultants on education.

Gwyneth Green from Paphos, Cyprus originally United Kingdom on July 11, 2018:

Amazing that you worked there, what did you do?

Mary Norton (author) from Ontario, Canada on July 11, 2018:

I hope you enjoy your visit there. We lived and worked there until last year but decided to retire now. The people are reallly welcoming there.

Gwyneth Green from Paphos, Cyprus originally United Kingdom on July 10, 2018:

Interesting. We are visiting Cambodia later this year, so enjoyed reading.

Mary Norton (author) from Ontario, Canada on June 25, 2018:

I am sure there are some Cambodians you will meet even if you don't go there. It will be interesting to understand how they usually greet.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on June 25, 2018:

This is truly interesting Mary. While it is unlikely that I will ever visit Cambodia it is always nice to learn about customs of people and the meanings behind them. Thanks for writing about this.

dellgirl on June 06, 2014:

Wow, this is so interesting and it's very informative. I learned a lot from your awesome photos. Thanks for the great lesson on greetings in Cambodia.

Erin Mellor from Europe on October 13, 2013:

I used the Sampheah greeting in Cambodia, but I'm sure I got the levels wrong. It didn't matter though, as I think people understood that I was trying to get it right and appreciated that.

Mary Norton (author) from Ontario, Canada on August 12, 2013:

@darkflowers: Am happy you enjoyed learning more about other cultures.

Anja Toetenel from The Hague, the Netherlands on August 11, 2013:

I had no idea Cambodia has such a wide variety of ways to greet each other, it is very interesting to learn about his. Thank you for your beautiful Lens ful of wondeful information and beautiful photos, it's a pleasure to learn more about your culture!

KamalaEmbroidery on May 04, 2013:

It's very similar to the greeting used in India. "Namaste" - my soul bows to your soul. Except I've never noticed differences in India for social status. That part's more like bowing in Japan which I never could get right. Cambodia is so beautiful. I've wanted to visit for a long time, especially Angkor Wat.

hmommers on April 09, 2013:

We shake hands or kiss on the cheek, depending on how well you know each other.

I never knew the hands gave different levels in Cambodja. Not sure I would dare to visit out of fear to upset anybody.

Great lens.

butternyk on January 30, 2013:

Great place to be

anonymous on January 08, 2013:

I love the way the Cambodian people greet, in India we too greet with a "Namaste or Namaskara".

Mary Norton (author) from Ontario, Canada on December 25, 2012:

@anonymous: Thanks Tipi. I was fascinated by this Khmer greeting ritual as well.

crstnblue on December 24, 2012:

Very interesting lens, Aesta1, thanks for sharing!

Blessed!

anonymous on December 18, 2012:

Oh, forgot to mention that I noticed the blessing didn't take when I was here in September, it has to be a year or so now....but it is a delight to revisit your work, always a labor of love!

anonymous on December 18, 2012:

I was absolutely fascinated the first time I came here and it is a pleasure to return to do a little dusting once again on your excellent teaching of the greeting rituals of Cambodia...beautifully presented with such a sense of honoring!

Mary Norton (author) from Ontario, Canada on December 01, 2012:

@LiteraryMind: It is indeed fascinating.

Ellen Gregory from Connecticut, USA on December 01, 2012:

What a great lens. It is so interesting to learn about other cultures.

Mary Norton (author) from Ontario, Canada on November 29, 2012:

@xtianfriborg13: Angkor Wat is a monument to that.

Mary Norton (author) from Ontario, Canada on November 29, 2012:

@takkhisa: Yes, I have seen it in Thailand but not in Sri Lanka for every day greeting.

Takkhis on November 29, 2012:

I think Buddhists greet such way all over the world. I am a Buddhist and in my culture we greet the same way you do in Cambodia. Great lens.

xtianfriborg13 on November 28, 2012:

Goes to show the Cambodia has a very rich culture. It's important we keep those in mind.

Mary Norton (author) from Ontario, Canada on November 28, 2012:

@TaraWojt: I hope you get a chance to visit Cambodia one day.

Mary Norton (author) from Ontario, Canada on November 28, 2012:

@anonymous: I am glad you did learn some things from the greeting rituals of Cambodia.

anonymous on November 28, 2012:

Very informative lens, I have learn many new things from it.

Tara Wojtaszek on November 27, 2012:

I've always wanted to visit Cambodia - perhaps some day.

Mary Norton (author) from Ontario, Canada on October 27, 2012:

@SquidooPower: It speaks a lot of their own uniqueness. Doesn't it?

Mary Norton (author) from Ontario, Canada on October 27, 2012:

@tonybonura: I am sorry you were not ale to visit Cambodia. I hope you'll have another chance.

Tony Bonura from Tickfaw, Louisiana on October 24, 2012:

Greetings. This was a very informative lens and brought back some wonderful memories of when I was in Thailand. I did thoroughly enjoy this lens. You have done a great job on it.

TonyB

SquidooPower on October 19, 2012:

L-O-V-E-D this lens. The way different people around the world greet each other is intriguing to me. Great topic, great lens.

Mary Norton (author) from Ontario, Canada on October 12, 2012:

@WriterJanis2: It fasciinated me as well.

WriterJanis2 on October 12, 2012:

Interesting reading about this and how different levels are used depending on whom the gesture is used for.

Mary Norton (author) from Ontario, Canada on October 04, 2012:

@Melissa Miotke: I hope you do as this place is really interesting especially Angkor Wat. There is nothing like Angkor Wat in the world.

Melissa Miotke from Arizona on October 04, 2012:

I hope I get to go to Cambodia someday so I can be greeted for myself:) This seems like a really welcoming culture.

Mary Norton (author) from Ontario, Canada on October 01, 2012:

@SteveKaye: They truyl are. Arriving here theother day was like coming back home.

SteveKaye on September 30, 2012:

These are such beautiful people. Thank you for publishing this lens.

Mary Norton (author) from Ontario, Canada on September 20, 2012:

@anonymous: Thank you so much again Tipi.

Mary Norton (author) from Ontario, Canada on September 20, 2012:

@LadyFlashman: I hope you do. The people are so nice there.

LadyFlashman from United Kingdom on September 15, 2012:

What a beautiful lens, and so useful too! I would love to go to Cambodia one day. I really have learned a lot reading this lens!

anonymous on September 11, 2012:

I was here in 2010 and am delighted to return with angel dust....

Mary Norton (author) from Ontario, Canada on August 04, 2012:

@Lady Lorelei: Culture is complicated and often we offend people because we don't know.

Mary Norton (author) from Ontario, Canada on August 04, 2012:

@Ruthi: Respect for elders is really central in this culture.

Lorelei Cohen from Canada on August 03, 2012:

I had seen the Sampheah greeting before but did not understand the full meaning of it. I was surprised by the many impolite gestures that would be viewed as from our culture.

Ruthi on July 19, 2012:

I truly enjoyed learning about the Cambodian Sampheah and how it varies with levels of respect.

Mary Norton (author) from Ontario, Canada on July 17, 2012:

@LaraineRoses: Anyone can really use this.

Mary Norton (author) from Ontario, Canada on July 17, 2012:

@srsddn lm: Although neighboring cultures often are similar as you can see between Thailand and Cambodia.

srsddn lm on July 10, 2012:

Thanks for bringing all different ways of greetings to your lens. Very interesting, specially note the differences.

Laraine Sims from Lake Country, B.C. on July 09, 2012:

This was so very interesting!! The deaf greet each other with sort of a salute.

Angel blessings**

Mary Norton (author) from Ontario, Canada on July 05, 2012:

@pawpaw911: Thanks for visiting.

Mary Norton (author) from Ontario, Canada on July 05, 2012:

@Mandy Stradley: That will be exciting. Are you going?

Mary Norton (author) from Ontario, Canada on July 05, 2012:

@Nithya Venkat: Thank you for your visit and appreciation.

Mary Norton (author) from Ontario, Canada on July 05, 2012:

@kindoak: I think so as there has been intermingling of cultures between them given conquests of each other.

kindoak on June 30, 2012:

Interesting about the different height of the hands depending upon who you greet. Would the same rank/ palm height system apply to for instance Thailand?

Nithya Venkat aka Vellur from Dubai on June 26, 2012:

Enjoyed reading this lens. So many ways to greet people. The photos are great. Fantastic lens.

Mandy Stradley from Riverton, Utah on June 21, 2012:

Great lens! My husband is photographing a Cambodian wedding next month!

pawpaw911 on June 12, 2012:

Very interesting reading about the various greetings.

Mary Norton (author) from Ontario, Canada on May 30, 2012:

@anonymous: Thank you so much for the visit.

anonymous on April 29, 2012:

Cambodian greeting is so wonderful.. So proud to visit here :)

Mary Norton (author) from Ontario, Canada on April 27, 2012:

@MisterJeremy: Yes, respect is really important to the Khmer.

Jeremy from Tokyo, Japan on April 14, 2012:

Very nice. Getting greetings right is an important way to show respect.

Mary Norton (author) from Ontario, Canada on March 28, 2012:

@julieannbrady: Thanks for using some words you've learned.

Mary Norton (author) from Ontario, Canada on March 28, 2012:

@squidoopets: Thank you for the visit.

Mary Norton (author) from Ontario, Canada on March 28, 2012:

@hntrssthmpsn: You are right. It does not take much from us.

hntrssthmpsn on March 12, 2012:

What a cool peek at a tiny slice of Cambodian culture! It's so great to be able to extend a greeting to a traveler according to his or her native tongue and culture!

Darcie French from Abbotsford, BC on February 18, 2012:

Loved this article on how to greet people Cambodia style, many thanks

julieannbrady on February 03, 2012:

What an interesting introduction to the greetings of Cambodia! Dti-via soou-sdey!

Mary Norton (author) from Ontario, Canada on January 30, 2012:

@jaredsgirl: Thank you for visiting.

jaredsgirl on January 04, 2012:

Beautifully done lens! I've learned so much about how Cambodians greet one another and others. Thank you for sharing!

Mary Norton (author) from Ontario, Canada on December 01, 2011:

@jlshernandez: You are right as they have influenced each other.

Mary Norton (author) from Ontario, Canada on December 01, 2011:

@JoshK47: Thank you for the blessing.

Mary Norton (author) from Ontario, Canada on December 01, 2011:

@goo2eyes lm: You are right...same tradition.

goo2eyes lm on November 30, 2011:

cambodia and thailand are having the same way of greeting.

JoshK47 on November 27, 2011:

Absolutely wonderful to learn this - thank you for sharing! Blessed by a SquidAngel.

jlshernandez on November 13, 2011:

The Cambodian greeting gestures are similar to the Thai greetings. Correct me if I am worng. It is interesting to find out that the higher the palms of the hands are placed relative to your face, the higher the social status of the person you are greeting is. Blessed by a SquidAngel. ****

Mary Norton (author) from Ontario, Canada on November 12, 2011:

@viscri8: Thank you so much for the blessing.

viscri8 on November 12, 2011:

This lens is blessed -- as a greeting for the gentle people of Cambodia

viscri8 on November 12, 2011:

Lovely girl making a lovely demonstration of a Cambodian greeting style. To learn the local greeting is the first sign of respect one can show when in a foreign place -- it is usually reciprocated with a lot of good will.

Mary Norton (author) from Ontario, Canada on October 23, 2011:

@anonymous: It is similar, isn't it?

anonymous on October 23, 2011:

Wow- there are so many ways to greet with the Sampheah greetings, one will have a tough time to remember. Reminds me of Indian "Namaste".

Mary Norton (author) from Ontario, Canada on October 21, 2011:

@ecogranny: Thanks for the visit.

Kathryn Grace from San Francisco on October 20, 2011:

Thank you for sharing the customs for appropriate address and greetings in Cambodian culture. I live in a city rich in diversity, and your page is not only informative but helpful.

Mary Norton (author) from Ontario, Canada on October 18, 2011:

@Mclure2: Visit now.

Mary Norton (author) from Ontario, Canada on October 18, 2011:

@elyria: Thank you for the visit.

Mary Norton (author) from Ontario, Canada on October 18, 2011:

@vkumar05: It is the Indian influence.

Mary Norton (author) from Ontario, Canada on October 18, 2011:

@Fcuk Hub: Yes, it is admirably recovering from this sad history.

Fcuk Hub on October 17, 2011:

Altrough has Cambodia a sad history, it is nice to know something good from this countrry.

vkumar05 on October 15, 2011:

The greeting style is exactly like that in India. In India it is called 'Namaskar' or "pranam'. Excellent Lens. Great share.

elyria on October 14, 2011:

I love learning customs and traditions of different cultures. Wonderful lens and great instructions!

Mclure2 on October 13, 2011:

Great Leans. Always would love to visit Cambodia

mountainstevo on October 06, 2011:

Thanks for teaching us :)

Mary Norton (author) from Ontario, Canada on September 27, 2011:

@goo2eyes lm: Happy to be part of your circle.

Mary Norton (author) from Ontario, Canada on September 27, 2011:

@hamshi5433: Because both have the Buddhist culture.

hamshi5433 on September 26, 2011:

This is pretty similar to us Sri-Lankans. Cool information.

goo2eyes lm on September 24, 2011:

thank you for visiting my lens. you also have nice lenses like this. good to know how to greet people in cambodia. welcome to my squidoo circle

Vicki Green from Wandering the Pacific Northwest USA on July 30, 2011:

I think it is very important to learn and understand the customs of other cultures. Thanks so much for sharing these Cambodian customs - I learned a lot!

victorianpassage on May 07, 2011:

Thank you for this cultural lens! I certainly learned something from it. =)