The Right Greeting

 Cambodia is a warm, beautiful country and the people are very kind. The traditional greeting is a sompiah (hands pressed together) similar to the wai in Thailand. When I first got here, I was eager to follow the local customs so I sompiahed to everybody.

Monks go around to houses and shops in the morning (they cannot eat after noon) with their begging bowls. When a pair of monks came to our place, I put the offerings in their satchels- cartons of coconut milk and packs of noodles- careful not to let my hands touch their robes or their bags (a no-no for women) They chanted a prayer of blessing and I sompiahed to them.

They gave me a look of what seemed like amusement then turned and left. I was baffled.

On another day, some monks were passing and I sompiahed to them. They too gave me an odd look. After a couple more incidents, I asked a local friend what I was doing wrong.

'Show me how you are greeting them' she said and I demonstrated, holding my pressed hands at chest level and bowing slightly.

'Oh! Your hands are too low. For a monk, you must show more respect. You must hold your hands high, at head level.'

Great. I hadn't been in the country a month and had been dissing every monk I saw.

I think I've gotten the hang of it now.

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2 Responses Feb 20, 2009

good for you very nice post.

Been there once. Yes they were like that. But then it reminded me of my birth place, which is countryside. I felt a mixed feeling while i was there. I can still recall as if it were yesterday. Thanks