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My water delivery guy in Cambodia brings me a 20L jug of filtered water every Sunday. He’s in his early 20’s and speaks English well.
I asked him about the music that had been blaring from a loudspeaker across the street from my apartment since 7am. He lit up, “Ohhh, that is Cambodian style house wedding!”
Pointing at him I asked, “Are you married?” He said, “Ohhh no, not enough money to married. I need more money so I can take care of family and be a man.”
He asked me if I was married. (A question I get asked often in SE Asia.)
When I answered no, I got the same response I always get – shock and veiled pity that I was past 30 and alone. They consider foreigners handsome and rich. Not marrying when you have the means to is bizarre to them. Family is the center of their universe.
I asked him, “How much money do you need to get a wife?”
“It depends if she is a rich girl or on your own level. You need to be on the same or higher level than her.”
“$20,000 for a rich girl and maybe $5,000 for a girl on my level.”
“You pay the money to the girls family and they arrange the wedding.”
He said, Cambodians get married early – 16 for the girls and 18 for the guys is the starting point.
I asked him how an 18 year old guy can come up with the money.
He told me you have to have a rich family to get married young. Then the family gives the son a business to run to take care of his family.
So why do you have to pay?
Cambodia isn’t a welfare state. Therefore it is the family’s responsibility to make sure their daughter marries well and is taken care of.
Money paid to the bride’s family is not (usually) for “purchasing her” – quite the opposite, it is for her protection.
- It’s a financial safety net for the woman if the husband gets her pregnant and the marriage goes south and he leaves.
- It demonstrates that the man is serious about marriage.
- It proves that the man has the means to make money and take care of his wife and future family. (remember, no welfare)
You might get it back
Often, the brides family ends up rolling that money back into their daughters family, so the man gets the money back indirectly. It is a pretty good system to set the stage for a healthy marriage and family.
Dream come true for a Western man?
Even the top end of $20k is pretty damn easy for a Westerner to come up with. Does this make it easy for you to marry a young, rich, Khmer model?
Like everywhere there is money and then there is class, and money doesn’t guarantee the latter.
The upper echelon girls have a lot of options for upper echelon Khmer guys. She and her family will not be impressed with your money if you aren’t also a catch in other regards. The richer girls and families are also less likely to marry outside their race.
What it does mean is you have a much easier go at it than my friend the water delivery guy. If you find a girl that is a good match for you, the money won’t be a big barrier.
I can say that Khmer women are very attractive from a marriage standpoint. Marrying young, being a good wife, and having children are their priorities. This isn’t something they grudgingly do because they are forced to by society. Everyday I see genuine, soulful, contented smiles on young Khmer mothers. I trust my observations.
They are also some of the biggest breasted Asian women…
East vs West
In the West the marriage pool is much more weighted towards early 30’s women that have only begun to think about marriage after “having fun,” getting a college degree, and a brief career stint. More than 1 or 2 children is a rarity in Western families. I understand the appeal to look east for matrimonial happiness.
There are many challenges to *seriously* consider
Keep in mind that you are not only marrying a woman, you are marrying her family and Cambodian culture.
This is a deal breaker for me. Khmer culture is so foreign to me that I think I could never get used to it. You have to live here first to see how it suits you.
Respect for elders is fanatical. As a self-reliant man I could never kow to the every whim of a potentially stupid mother in law or grandmother. Ignoring their nags WOULD cause problems. That’s not for me.
I know an expat of 16 years that married a lovely Khmer woman. He told me the only way he can cope with the local lifestyle is to smoke a big, fat joint every night. You can also by Xanax over the counter here, so that is another intoxicant that may help.
You could try to take your bride back to your home country. This has its own set of challenges. I also think that a Khmer girl away from her family would lose a lot of the happiness that made her so charming in the first place.
Of course, there are exceptions to all of this and some people are much more patient and flexible than I to permanently adjust to a new culture.
My advice. Live here for a minimum of 6 months before making any decisions.