It is an age old story that cultures make up more words for the things that are important to them. The classic example is that Eskimos have many words for snow because they need to know what type of snow something is. Fluffy, fresh, packed, blizzard, etc. Well, here in Cambodia, I have learned just how important eating, and particularly rice, are to society.
First, let us start with eating. There are five main words for eating in Khmer depending on who is speaking and who they are speaking about/to. Those are:
- For animals (impolite word, although it seems to be an acquired slang for university age students between close friends. Either that or cockroaches count as animals and the hostel students are talking to them.)
- For someone younger, or the same age
- For someone the same age or slightly older
- For someone older than
- For the king and God
Just looking at the specifications with which they classify the verb “to eat,” it is clear how important food is to Khmer culture!
Now, let’s look at the ways that rice has integrated itself into society. It is important to note that rice production is one of the biggest ways that many families provide for themselves in Cambodia. Not only that, but every meal is served with rice. I could eat rice for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and dessert if we have it! In fact, I usually do! To start with some basics, let’s look at a couple places associated with food:
ហាងបាយ Hang bai
- Restaurant (literally “shop/store of rice”)
ផ្ទះបាយ P’teh-ah bai
- Kitchen (literally “house/home of rice”
What about if we follow rice through its process of production?
- Patty rice
- Uncooked rice
- Cooking rice verb
- Cooked rice you eat
And finally, how about when you are talking about eating, or being hungry in general?
ញុំាបាយហើយ Nyam bai howee?
- Have you eaten? (Literally: Have you eaten rice already?)
ញុំាបាយជាមួយខ្ញុំ Nyam bai chea-moi knyohm
- Come eat with me. (Eat rice with me.)
ខ្ញុំឃ្លានបាយ Knyohm klee-en bai
- I am hungry. (Literally: I am hungry for rice.)
- Note on this one. Sometimes hostel students will joke about this one and say “Klee-en mee” (I am hungry for noodles.)
Well folks, that’s all and sadly it is time to say good-bai! If you are in a particularly rice-y mood, or enjoy rice related humor, go on over and check out the post featuring An Ode to Rice on my other blog!