Matchmaking in CambodiaDecember 13, 2006
Typists get paid by the words they type a minute; therefore it’s in their interest to work as quickly as possible. Planning major life events, such as your own marriage, is entirely the opposite and there is no need to rush, and maybe that is why I’m still single at 35. Thankfully, in Cambodia we have matchmakers to help us find a suitable partner.
My family have been approached many times by matchmakers here in Battambang hoping to find me a suitable wife. They assume that my family is rich because our home is in the town rather than the country and my background is partly Chinese.
Often they try to introduce me to a poor girl from the villages, but the system can work both ways. Matchmakers can also try and match a girl from a richer family to a guy from a poorer family. It all depends on the circumstances.
At this point I need to explain that matchmakers have a financial interest in arranging marriages. Were I to be introduced to a girl via a matchmaker and that girl came from a poorer family outside town and were both families to agree that the match was good then an engagement ceremony would take place. After that, my family would agree on an amount to be paid for the wedding, which here can vary from $3,000-$7000 normally, or $10,000 plus if the family is very wealthy (marrying in the provinces is cheaper than in Phnom Penh) and this money would be given to the bride’s family. A certain amount of this cash would then be subtracted from the wedding costs and given to the matchmaker for their assistance in making the match. Matchmakers therefore have a financial incentive in making matches.
The matchmaker also has a sophisticated task in balancing the social status of each of the families, together with the reputations of the potential bride and groom. Is the groom a playboy? Has he a decent character? Does his family have the financial ability to look after his future wife? The matchmaker has to vouch for these things and say, ”According to my knowledge, he is a good man.”
Of course, there is a get-out clause for the matchmaker should the marriage go wrong. After the husband has resumed his playboy lifestyle the bride’s family might complain to the matchmaker and say, ”Why didn?t you tell us these things?” and the matchmaker can truthfully reply, ”How could I know what he was doing for every hour of every day.”
A decade or so ago my brother was living in Phnom Penh and a matchmaker approached my family wanting to introduce a prospective wife for him. The girl was the daughter of an ex government minister. My mother decided that this was a bad match as it seemed like the family had fallen on hard times and wanted rid of the girl. Her father had remarried and it looked liked her step-mother just wanted the girl out of the house. Furthermore, my mother didn’t like the girl?s short skirts and sexy clothes. Therefore, my family respectfully declined the match.
Cambodia’s political system is very fluid though and things can alter quickly as they did a decade or so in 1997. The girl’s father”s fortunes changed for the better and he became a government minister once again. I still sometimes think that if the match had happened I would not now be working in a government school ten kilometres from Battambang.