Cambodian culture is all about respect, even down to the language. It is appropriate and respectful to interject certain terms within your sentences to address the person you are talking to. When I first arrived, I learned the following terms and the times I ought to use them:
“Bong” – (I’m not letting this one go FOR SURE.) A general term that loosely means “you”. Use it on anyone to show them respect, although it isn’t the most formal way to address someone. Even attach it to their name, like “Bong Olivia” 😀
“Ming” – Aunt. Use this when addressing any woman older than myself, especially someone who is definitely a mother and a bit older.
“Boo” – Uncle. This was the hardest one for me to adopt because among some circles in America (especially those influenced by inner cities) this term is a romantic term of endearment. We were told to use this term when addressing moto and tuk tuk drivers, but it was just so hard for me to say, “Thank you, Boo!” or “Hello, Boo!” So I ended up using Bong more often…which I later found out was NOT appropriate.
Here’s the thing. One night I was watching some very soppy, very romantic Khmer music videos and noticed that the girl would sing and refer to her lover as “bong”. Come to find out from my Khmer teacher that “bong” is used by girls to address their sweethearts. Even though it is sometimes ok for a woman to address men as “bong”, sometimes it is more appropriate to address them as “boo”. “NOOOOO!!!!!!!!” I exclaimed. I had been referring to all my moto drivers as Bong, especially when I was sweetly begging them to give me a cheaper ride. With a big smile on my face I would say, “Pleeeease, Bong!”
In my attempt to escape what was for me an awkward way of addressing someone, I ended up digging myself into a deeper hole. There are at least twenty moto drivers out there who think this little white twit of a girl was calling them “sweetheart” to try and get a deal.
No wonder I always got cheap rides.