Myanmar – Society and Culture
We’ve listed the most prominent and observable values, behaviour and norms in Myanmar’s culture. Here’s a brief guide in understanding the country’s intricate social structure and how to navigate in it throughout your holiday.
Myanmar’s values and norms are the same as most of East Asia – primarily its emphasis on the importance of family. Roles have been set-up in an ideal fashion for families, but gradually, Burmese society is slowly accepting the interchangeability of such roles. These roles are: men should do the heavier tasks and leave the child-rearing to the women. But, men are also encouraged to cook and take care of the children, and at the same time, women are respected when tackling the major economic load for the family. Children are also taught to reciprocate their parents’ sacrifices by doing their best in their chosen aspirations. You can basically pinpoint this attribute as to why the whole Myanmar survived its military junta government for many years.
Another one of Myanmar’s foundation for enduring its harsh government and life challenges is its religious fervour and anchoring itself in its generations of tradition. On the religion side, more than 90% of the country’s population practice Theravada Buddhism – a more conservative practice of Buddhism. Theravada Buddhism’s main teachings highlight the Dukkha, also known as suffering or discontent. One person can only overcome the Dukkha by identifying its cause, finding a solution to sever oneself from the cause, and replacing it with virtues and consistently uphold said virtues. Virtues that are prevalent in the Burmese people include generosity, patience, and perseverance. As a matter of fact, most travel itineraries into the country include a religious site to visit. That is how important religion is for them.
Social Interactions and Norms
In most countries in this modern world, dress choices should not be singled out. But in Myanmar, culture dictates that dressing conservatively is the highest method of showing respect. This culture of conservatism even includes the intensity of emotions you show in public – nothing must be done in excess especially anger. They also appreciate tourists who have bright smiles and cheerful auras and those who show these, will most likely be invited into their homes. Of course, Buddhism has an important part in social interactions, one remarkable example is not to touch a person’s head – even those of children – since this part is considered the highest part at the body. Lastly, when visiting temples, remember to TAKE OFF YOUR SHOES.
Food and Table Manners
Though obscured by its other Southeast Asian counterparts, Myanmar has its own share of unique and remarkable dishes. These dishes are distinguished by their strong aromas and tastes. In this case, Burmese people love tourists who can obviously appreciate their dishes by leaving none in the plate – even the spaces between forks. Rejecting teas Burmese households offer to their guest of honour is also considered an insult. In other parts of the world, sounds during eating signify disrespect. However, in Myanmar, sounds during eating are music to the chef/cook’s ears. It signifies that the cook’s dish was a success. So don’t be afraid to slurp down your next bowl of Burmese noodles.
Festivity and Art Appreciation
Like most Asian countries, Myanmar loves its festival season. The country also loves its expression of art. During festival season, most of the streets are rowdy and bustling with activity and they love tourists during these seasons. Presenting their dances, rituals, and cultural traditions to the people that visit their humble country and considered a high honour for the locals. They also love those who try out and join in the festivities. You can rent traditional clothes from shops around then learn a step or two, and you’re ready to celebrate with the locals. The Burmese people also love to share their art with others. From the magnificent pagodas and temples all around the country to the miniature handicrafts of Buddha, all these are offered to the visitors. So, book a ticket to Myanmar especially on their festival season, and celebrate the night away. And before you leave, don’t forget to buy a locally made traditional handicraft.
Mother Nature is a Treasure
The Burmese people understand the importance of their environment in their daily lives. That includes their source of livelihood, ensuring the survival of the next generation, and the preservation of its communities’ natural beauty. From urban areas to isolated ones, the Burmese people have cemented their belief in the importance of nature as evidenced by their struggle with interest groups encroaching their natural resources. As a tourist, other than enjoying the views and the experiences, it would be a big help if you can remember their advocacy and share it with the folks in your home country. If you can’t get enough of Myanmar, you can always come back as a volunteer. That way aside from basking in Myanmar’s allure, you are also fighting for its valiant causes and helping in the struggle for positive change.