A cultural tradition that should be familiar to visitors of Laos is the nop, where two hands are presented in a prayer and accompanied by a friendly “sabaidee”. Sadly, young Lao people are finding less time for tradition as Laos enters the modern era, and the nop is becoming less common.
Traditionally, Lao children have been taught to give the nop to their elders, monks and Buddha as a sign of respect. When receiving a gift, it is polite to nop the giver. At parties, hosts and guests will show each other the nop to greet and welcome each other.
If you make a mistake you should nop to apologise because this can help you avoid arguments. The nop is also used in modern situations and places such as in offices, factories, restaurants and hotels across the country.
A young Lao person at a job interview may give the nop to show respect and demonstrate good manners. This can give them an edge over competitors, as polite people are pleasant to work with. The nop is also used in prayer. A Lao person may sit before a monk or Buddha image and perform the nop.
Monks perform the nop when receiving alms as do the people giving them. Lao people will also perform the nop to sacred stupas, or to stupas of their ancestors. The nop is seen most frequently around the time of traditional Lao festivals, such as Lao New Year, when young people ask their older relatives for blessings and also honour Buddha, monks and their ancestors at sacred stupas.
It is also performed at baci ceremonies and wedding parties. It is a beautiful custom that Lao people should be making every attempt to preserve.
To give the nop to monks or images of Buddha, bow your head slightly and join your hands together with thumbs slightly outstretched, positioning them between the eyebrows.
To nop your parents, do the same as above, but adjust your hand position so that the thumbs are near the end of your nose.
Students giving the nop their teachers should bow their heads slightly, join their hands together, and position the thumbs just below the lips.
To greet friends, or people of a similar age, position the hands on the chest and bow your head slightly.
For older people, or leaders of the country, join your hands together at the chest and raise them so that the thumbs are positioned near the chin. To achieve this, you may need to bow your head a little more than usual.