Serious business

Tips for doing business in Cambodia

How to greet, meet and more in Cambodia. Words by DESMOND SO, illustrations by A YIP

Attire

In formal business situations, lightweight suits in dark colours are the norm. In some cases, dress trousers and a shirt will suffice. Women should avoid tight or revealing clothes. The longer your skirt or dress, the better. While Cambodia is a tropical climate, it’s a good idea for women to keep their shoulders covered.

Greetings

The traditional form of greeting is the sampeah, with hands together in a prayer-like position, but the handshake is becoming more common. However you are greeted, respond in the same fashion. Titles are important; if you don’t know a person’s title, use the honorific ‘Lok’ for men and ‘Lok Srey’ for women. 

Meetings

Business relationships can be enhanced by a third-party introduction or a reference letter, especially if it is from a government official. Let the most senior person in the room begin and guide conversations. To save face, people will nod ‘yes’ even if they don’t understand, so it’s a good idea to gauge whether everyone’s on the same page.

Business cards

Make sure you have a generous supply of bilingual business cards. Treat cards you receive with respect and take care to read and store them properly. If the recipient is of a higher professional status, you may choose to offer the card with the right hand, using the fingers of the left to support your right elbow. Do not take a card with the left hand.

Faux pas

Cambodia is not the place for high-pressure selling; being pushy will move you backwards, not forwards. Public displays of anger, criticism or abusive behaviour will result in a loss of face that will cripple your business relationship. Never touch Cambodians on the head, not even the cutest children.

Desmond So, founder of the East-West Institute of Applied Etiquette

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