Myanmar Do's and Don'ts

Due to the countries conservative nature there are some things that you should know about Myanmar and its customs and expected behaviors. A key concept for Myanmar people is "Cetana". Although the word has no exact translation in English, it is generally employed in the sense of goodwill, good intention or benevolence. Cetena is manifested in a thousand ways.It is practiced in both his religious duties and daily dealings with others. Any act performed out of true Cetana is greatly appreciated in Myanmar society. Also never hesitate to ask for help whenever needed as locals would be happy to help you without harboring any selfish desire for material gains. Thus, gift of money or things should, if at all, be given courteously to any local who helps you(but know it is not required). Generally, tipping is not very big in Myanmar, however it is okay to tip waiters, taxi driver, etc. out of gratitude for their services.

Mutual Respect

In Myanmar, respect is mutual in any form of engagement and given spontaneously in almost any situation. The 'Yadanar Thone Par' which translates to 'The Three Gems', refers to the venerable trinity of Buddha, Dhamma [his Teachings] and Sangha [members of the Buddhist Order]. Among the Three Gems, Buddha is the most exalted. Each Buddha image must be treated as reverently as a living Buddha himself. Shrines, stupas, temples, monasteries and any other religious edifices are considered to be extremely holy; in these places women are requried to wear clothes that cover their knees, and footwear is strictly prohibited on sacred religious grounds(sleeveless clothing is also not allowed).

Social Etiquette

Like other Buddhist Asian countries, Myanmar adheres to a set of acknowledged cultural rules. Here's a guide to what you should not do on your trip to Myanmar :

  1. Never wear shoes and socks inside a pagoda or monastery as they are not allowed. When visiting someone's home, shoes should always be left at the door unless they specify that they allow shoes inside. You should also remember that carpets, mats and other kinds of floor covering are meant to be sat upon. Avoiding walking on them especially with your shoes on is the best way to go.
  2. Myanmar dress is conservative; however, the country is a lot more lenient on this ascpect now. Nevertheless, both men and women should avoid wearing sleeveless or revealing clothing in a pagoda or any other religious location.
  3. Women should not sit on the roof of buses or boats out of politeness to the men or elder sitting underneath.
  4. Do not step over anyone without asking to be excused first.
  5. Use both hands when offering something to a monk or nun or an elderly person . 
  6. Monks and nuns should not be touched. Women should be careful not to let any part of their body touch a monk's robes.
  7. Men should not offer to shake hands with a Myanmar lady unless she offers first, and should avoid touching them even out of friendliness. Also, couples should avoid displaying affection in public.
  8. If you happen to be sitting with your feet pointing towards a Buddha image, a monk or an older person it would be considered offensive.
  9.  Furthermore, touching someone older than you on the head may also be interpreted as an act of aggression and should be avoided. It is also worth bearing in mind that, apart from the religious persons, age, rather than wealth or professional position, is the most important criterion of social standing. 

Introduction and Greetings

The most common greeting in Myanmar is 'Mingalarbar' which means 'an auspicious occasion', and it is probably is the first word that you will hear upon arriving to Myanmar. Shaking hands is a common action when greeting, however this applies only to men. If you were introduced to monks, you would bow or bring your palms together. If a man is introduced to a Myanmar lady, you should not stretch out your hand to shake hers unless she does so first. As demure and shy as a Myanmar lady might appear at first to a foreigner, she is the upholder of centuries-old traditions that makes up the fabric of Myanmar's society. Thus a proper Myanmar woman will most certainly be reluctant to have any sort of social intercourse with a man who is not intimately related to her. In urban areas, once again, better-educated, well-exposed ladies are less likely to adhere rigidly to such a conservative code of behavior.