UNDERSTANDING CAMBODIAN SOCIAL BEHAVIOUR
Making your visit more enjoyable.
The key to understanding Cambodian social behaviour is the understanding of an important concept called “keeping face”. This means that in social situations, it is important for each person to maintain respect and dignity from those they are interacting with. Keeping face can be thought of as three things. It is first and foremost social, because you want others to respect you and think highly of you. Second, face is an impression that someone makes about you. It doesn’t matter what their real impressions are, as long as you are treated and treat people with respect. Finally, face only refers to favourable social attributes. Similar to the impression, regardless of what you actually think of someone, they are owed respect and dignity.
Keeping face is all about the needs we all have:
- Admiration – As human beings, we have a need to be acknowledged and have our accomplishments and talents admired. In this respect, it is important to acknowledge someone’s status, success, accomplishments,reputation and capabilities. Status is very important Cambodian culture.
- Control – Being able to stay in control of your emotions and reactions shows personal authority. Conquering your emotions means that you have freedom from your own actions, and can control your emotions and keep face.
- Approval – Cambodians are very concerned with being accepted and being part of a group. Approval rides on the integrity of moral character. If someone’s moral character is tarnished, it is impossible for someone to function within that group. Obtaining approval relates back to the need to be treated with respect and dignity.
UNDERSTANDING CAMBODIAN SOCIAL BEHAVIOUR IN PRACTICE – LOOSING FACE IN PUBLIC
You could extremely hinder your dealing with local hotel staff, tour guides and other people by causing someone to lose face or publicly humiliate them. The main rule is keep calm in tense and frustrating situations, Cambodians don’t appreciate it when people loose their tempers. To be honest, this can be frustrating and madding at times… specially when you know that the person you are dealing with might be bluntly lying to you. The concept of loosing face can push people to react in ways not familiar to most foreigners: I have seen people give you wrong road directions just because they do not know the correct information, and they do not wan to be seen incompetent or a member of staff walking away from an office with a hope that a foreigner will get bored and leave as they can not answer their query.
In all of these situations, it is important to remember that it is not about you personally, it is not because someone does not like you or because they do not want to provide you with good service… it is because the people you are dealing with “need” to protect their face. So, stay calm and try to be positive. It is always useful not to point out what someone did wrong, that is always a bad starter, instead try to focus on how can you solve the problem at hand together with the people you are dealing with. You will not get anywhere by getting angry.
BE CAREFUL WITH YOUR HANDS
If you’re asking for directions on how to avoid that crazy intersection, don’t point with your finger. It’s considered very rude. In the same way, don’t point at the particular scarf or menu item you want. Instead, indicate a direction or object using your whole open right hand.
Don’t use your left hand for anything, whether it be pointing, eating or touching objects. Your left hand is considered dirty (everyone assumes it’s what you use to clean yourself in the bathroom). The only exception is when you give and accept business cards, gifts and objects of value. You show politeness and respect by using both hands. Public displays of affection — even hand-holding or putting your arm around someone — can offend and embarrass Cambodians. Certainly no smooching or canoodling! You can probably get away with holding hands, though, when you first arrive and are nervous about crossing the chaotic streets.
You will find lots of references about pointing you feet in your tourists guide books. To be honest we have never find this to be a problem.