myanmar

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Key facts

Capital: Naypyidaw

Government: Military Junta

Official Language(s): Burmese

Population: 53.37 million (2017)

Ethnic Make-up: Bamar (68%), Shan (9%), Karen (7%), Rakhine (4%), Mon (2%), others (10%)

Religion(s): Buddhism (87.9%), Christianity (6.2%), Islam (4.3%), Other (1.6%)

Culture and Society: heavily influenced by Buddhism, the native Mon people, and neighboring countries. In more recent times, British colonial rule and westernization have influenced aspects of culture, language, and education.

Dress: The most widely recognized Burmese national costume is the longyi (an ankle-length wraparound skirt), which is worn by both males and females nationwide. Other than traditional costumes, people typically wear European style clothing.

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Food:

  • Extensive use of fish products such as fish sauce, ngapi (fermented seafood) and dried prawn.

  • Mohinga is the traditional breakfast dish and is Myanmar's national dish

  • Seafood is a common ingredient in coastal cities while meat and poultry are more commonly used in landlocked cities like Mandalay

dynamics

Family

  • Family is extremely important to life in Myanmar

  • The notion of ‘family’ extends well beyond the nuclear family. As an example, there is no such thing as a “cousin” as they are more understood and referred to as one’s brothers and sisters. Men and women are usually called “uncle” and “aunty” no matter the relation

  • Families are perceived to have a collective reputation or face. In this way, the act of an individual can impact the perception of the entire family by others and the interests of the family supersede those of the individual.

Hospitality

  • There is a deep tradition and culture of hospitality and openness in Myanmar

  • Hotels are a relatively new concept as people usually stay with friends and relatives in other regions for as long as needed.

  • An invitation to be a guest should not be approached too casually as it is considered an honor to host

  • Take your shoes off when entering someone’s home

  • Burmese people may sit on the floor to socialize but generally offer the visitor a chair if they have one

  • Do not enter the bedroom or kitchen unless you are specifically invited

  • Be sure to thank your host dearly at the end of a visit. A traditional saying is “one owes a debt to whoever gave even a morsel of food to eat”.

notes for foreigners

key phrases

Welcome: kyaosopartaal

Hello: min ga lar par (or the less formal “nei kaung la”)

Goodbye: bhine

Thank you: kyeizu tin ba de

Social Etiquette, Customs and Protocol

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Meeting and Greeting

  • Men greeting Men usually a handshake, a nod, smile.

  • Women greeting Women usually a hand wave, smile, a nod, handshake.

  • Greetings between Men & Women usually a smile, a nod, handshake.

Gender Dynamics

  • A sense of equality is encouraged between husband and wife, and women have had equal access to education, inheritance rights and property rights in divorce. However, there is some variation among ethnic minorities.

  • While women enjoy equal rights in most areas, they are generally expected to perform the domestic chores for men in addition to any day job. Many fulfill the role as cleaner, cook, and child minder as well as an income earner.

  • Buddhist practices also reinforce women's subordinate status in the society. Under Buddhist teaching, they are unable to enter some parts of monasteries or touch monks. This comes down to the idea of ‘hpon’ in Buddhism that delegates men more spiritual potential, and thus status.

Personal Space and Touching

  • Following the Buddhist custom, it is important to not touch g a person on the head, since spiritually this is considered the highest part of the body

  • Patting a child on the head not only is improper but is thought to be dangerous to the child's well-being

  • A person should not point the feet at anyone

  • Footwear is removed upon entering temple complexes for religious reasons, and it is polite to remove footwear when entering a house

Business Meetings

  • Nearly all offices are shoes-free areas. Generally, shoes are worn in public corridors, but removed at the door to a firm’s offices. You’ll likely see a shoe rack at places where they need to be removed. If in doubt, assume you should take them off.

  • Handshakes are common in Myanmar business culture with one caveat: There is no one correct answer when it comes to handshakes between genders. When foreign men do business in Myanmar, men will readily shake their hands. With women, things get a bit more unsure. The best policy is to let the woman make the call. Wait to see if she extends her hand, and if she doesn’t, a smile and exchanging of pleasantries will do. For foreign women, the choice is yours. If you want to shake hands, do so. If not, it’s alright.

  • Myanmar culture has something of a middle ground approach to small talk, not requiring a long elaborate ritual, but also not diving straight into business talk. If you ever feel stuck for a topic of conversation, Myanmar people are usually curious about foreigners’ impressions of their country, culture, and cuisine. 

Taboos

  • Use your right hand for giving money

  • Place your left hand on the forearm of your right when handing over money or papers, as a sign of respect