6 things to know about Myanmar culture
It is always good to learn about a country’s culture before traveling in it; every culture has its own rules and customs that visitors need to adhere to. Doing so ensures the warmest possible welcome from local people and stops any small misunderstandings turning into larger ones. Here are six things which are essential to know about Myanmar culture.
Myanmar culture 1: Family in Myanmar
Family is possibly the most important pillar of Myanmar culture. In a typical family, the father is considered the spiritual head of the household. He always hands his monthly salary over to the mother, who manages family expenses. Traditionally, children are taught to love and take care of their grandparents when they are old. They also believe that supporting their parents and grandparents in their old age is an important way to show their gratitude for raising them. Myanmar people generally do not leave the parents household until they get married, although this attitude is beginning to see some change.
Myanmar culture 2: Men and Women
Unlike many western countries, men and women’s status in Myanmar are distinctly different. Although Burmese women enjoy equal legal rights with men, men have a higher religious status. As a result, women are prohibited from certain areas of religious buildings such as the small platform that allows you to touch Golden Rock, some areas of Shwedagon Pagoda and so forth. In terms of occupations and Myanmar tradition, women were previously supposed to take care of children and family matters while men focused on business. This attitude is changing, however, and there are now many women in professional occupations.
Myanmar culture 3: Clothing
Myanmar clothing is quite distinct from clothing in other parts of the world, so it can come as quite a surprise to unprepared tourists to see most men and women dressed in Longyi, a sheet of cloth worn as a long skirt. Longyis vary from casual to very ornate styles, and are comfortable and lightweight. It is important to remember that in most religious sites like Shwedagon pagoda, a dress policy is implemented for both genders. You are not allowed to wear casual clothes, meaning knees and shoulders must be covered. This policy does not apply outside religious sites, however. Myanmar people are very proud of their traditional dress (and rightly so, it’s beautiful!) and feel great confidence when they wear it for special occasions like weddings and ceremonies.
Myanmar culture 4: Food and Drink
Myanmar’s food and drinks are varied and, generally, very good. Savoury dishes can tend to be slightly too oily or sweet for foreign tastes, but they smell and taste extremely delicious. Among all the foods in Myanmar, two items are particularly special to the Burmese people. Tea has an enormous place in the cultural heart of the country. It is used not only as a drink, but also as a food in Laphet Thoke (tea-leaf salad), a slightly bitter but truly delicious dish made using tea leaves, sesame seeds, fried peas, garlic, dried shrimp and peanuts. Teashops are also popular social centers, and it is common practice to have a drink at one each day with friends and catch up. Tea is also offered to any guest who visits a household. Betel nuts are the second staple of Myanmar food, and are consumed at a remarkable speed by Myanmar men. Sold from stands set up on almost every street, the mild stimulant gained from chewing the nuts is reasonably addictive, and for a tourist has the initially disconcerting effect of dyeing the user’s teeth red!
Myanmar culture 5: Chinlone
Among Myanmar’s many traditional and cultural games, Chinlone is probably the one seen the most by tourists. A small ball woven from rattan is tossed into the air, and a team of six players take turns to stand in the middle of a circle and see how long the ball can be kept up for. There is no competition; the aim is simply to see the beauty of the game and work as a team. Extremely popular at festivals and special occasions, it is also very likely you will see Burmese men playing it at the side of roads across the country. Among the non-traditional games, football (English football in particular) is incredibly popular. It is quite common for Burmese people to know the names of many cities in Europe – without necessarily knowing anything about them – because they have been following their football teams!
Myanmar culture 6: Religion and Belief
Although there are many religions present in Myanmar, more than 80% of people identify as Buddhist. In Buddhism, there are five main precepts that should be practiced daily by believers: not to kill, steal, lie, drink alcohol, and commit adultery. The ultimate aim in life according to Buddhist belief is to escape the cycle of rebirth and reach Nirvana. Moreover, astrology, palmistry and clairvoyance still play a major part in the lives of Myanmar people. They play a vital role, especially during decision making for marriage, business, naming babies and other important issues. Myanmar’s religious system is one of the most devout in the world.
Myanmar culture is unlike any other in the world, and while not required it is a very good idea to try and understand it a little before you arrive. Myanmar people are among the friendliest in the world, and making the effort to conform to their way of life will be met with great appreciation.