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Khmer wedding party 101: A guide for foreigners

It is still the wedding season here in Cambodia. If you’re an expat or are visiting the country for a while, chances are that you will be invited at a wedding party at some point. Here’s a little guide to make your first Khmer wedding party a success.

Khmer Wedding Cambodia

I’ll let you in. But first, promise me you’ll behave well”

Dress up!

Just like anywhere in the world, the first question that comes to mind when invited to a wedding is: “What should I wear?”. The answer is relatively straight forward: a nice dress for ladies, and a shirt, trousers and clean shoes for guys. While some Khmer people will wear super-classy and/or traditional  clothes (especially close friends and family), most will dress smart casual. Remember that most of the time, hundreds of guest will be attending the party, some of them the newlyweds barely know. So don’t worry too much: people won’t be giving you a hard time because you don’t look as sharp as Kate Middleton or James Bond.

Music and dancing

The best part. Depending on how wealthy the family is, there will be a live band performing or just a dj. In both cases, it will be loud! A lot of the music is traditional love songs in which a guy pursues a girl (who’s generally quite elusive). We’ve seen some really great shows out there. The singers both sing and act during the performances, and it’s definitely a lot of fun to watch.

As for the dancing, the general idea is that everyone goes around in a circle, most often around a table. The best way to get into the vibe is to ask your Khmer friends to teach you the basic moves. Start off by putting one hand palm up and the other palm down, then switch. In rhythm of course. As for the stepping part, well… you’ll learn eventually.

Drinking

This is one is the biggest caveat for foreigners. Yes, beer is actually drank with ice. Yes, it ends up tasting like water so you’d better drink it fast before it does… See the dangerous combination here? You don’t want to be that foreigner that has had one too many and whom everybody made fun of at the wedding last night, right? So go easy on the iced beer!

Socializing

Khmer people like to toast, often every time they pour themselves another glass. So get ready to clink some glasses! Although some will find it a bit too much, think of it as great opportunity to talk and interact with people sitting at your table. Most of the time, you will be randomly sat at a table with complete strangers, so toasting often is a great ice-breaker. In any case it won’t be hard to socialize: you’ll probably be one of the only foreigners at the party, so people will often come to you to start conversations and ask about yourself.

The envelope

In Cambodia, it is the tradition that every guest at a wedding party contributes a bit financially. At some point, you’ll be handed an envelope. You are expected to slip a few bank notes in it, and then drop it in a box as you leave. Generally, putting between 10 and 15$ should be fine, but it also depends on how “important” you are to the newlyweds.

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