Excuse me, but I AM HERE!

Cambodian Culture, Khmer Language, Living in Phnom Penh / Thursday, March 31st, 2011

There are times I want to say this – “Excuse me, but I AM HERE!”


Here’s an observation of how some Khmers usually talk. Note that I am not generalizing all Khmers, but living in Phnom Penh for the past three years have made me acutely aware of how most Khmers converse. At first, I got offended. Who wouldn’t be? I mean I’m right there, I’m humongous, one’s eyesight cannot miss me!! but I still get ignored in conversations. Lol!

A lot of Khmers like talking in third person. For example, all my Khmer relatives know my name, but to date they still refer to me as ‘Chinkee Mama‘. Lol! I know it sounds like a brand of noodles, but I’ve learned to live with it. Also, even when you are present and participating in the conversation, they would still refer to you as a third person.

But I have also learned that they consider this polite if they/you refer to yourself in third person. Perhaps this ┬áis part of their language or Cambodian culture. Another reason could be most of them are shy particularly around foreigners. A friend of mine who is also married to a Khmer told me she talks about herself in third person specially when speaking with elders. Example, when she’s about to leave for work, she tells her mother-in-law, ‘ Ma, your son’s wife or your daughter-in-law is now leaving for work.’

So, though at first it piqued me, coz it strikes me as impolite, but its not. So now, I find amusement whenever I’m referred to as a ‘third-person’ I think there are really things that one has to learn specially when dealing with another culture. And I always remind myself now not to be quick to judge.

5 Replies to “Excuse me, but I AM HERE!”

  1. Oh yes, I noticed this, too. I asked my Khmer colleagues before and you are right, it’s the polite way of addressing someone. My landlady always refer to her husband as “Pa Son” (or the father of Son)… and my landlord to her as “Ma Son” …
    As the Frenchies say… vive le difference… or something to that effect!

    1. true. i guess that’s part of the journey of getting to know another culture. hehe what might be ok for them might not be ok for us and vice versa.

      i’ve actually gotten used to it somehow, sometimes I feel so conscious ba, of being discussed while I’m there plus being always called chinkee mama lol!

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