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Travel Guide > Asia > Burma/Myanmar

Burma/Myanmar People & Culture

  
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Myanmar's culture is largely a result of heavy Indian influences intertwined with local traditions and some Chinese influences. This can be seen in the various stupas and temples throughout the country, which bear a distinct resemblance to those in northern India. Like neighbouring Thailand, Theravada Buddhism is the single largest religion, and even some of the most remote villages will have a village temple for many to pray. Other religions which exist in smaller numbers include Christianity, Islam and Hinduism.

While the Bamar form the majority, Myanmar is also home to many minority ethnic groups and nationalities which have thier own distinct cultures. Generally speaking, the divisions in Myanmar are Bamar-dominated, while the states are dominated by the respective ethnic minorities.

Generally speaking, most Burmese people are incredibly friendly and polite, and will do their best to make you feel welcome in their country.

Customs

A women from a hill tribe near Inle Lake, Kakku  <span style='white-space:nowrap;'><img src='http://www.guidegecko.com/images/spyglass1.png' align='texttop' /> Click to enlarge</span>

The people cover their arms and legs; they are also courteous and considerate and low-key dress is highly appreciated, particularly in temples and monasteries (of which there are thousands). Miniskirts, shorts and sleeveless shirts are not allowed in consecrated areas, where you also have to remove your shoes, so prefer loafers and flip-flops that can slip on & off at the entrance--Myanmar has some of the most stunning temples in Asia and you will be tempted to visit more than you think.

Both men and women wear a longyi, a sort of sarong sold everywhere. They are wrapped in different ways for men and women, so find out how to tie yours. If you turn up at a temple in inappropriate dress, you can always rent a longyi for a pittance.

Also avoid t-shirts with images of Buddhas or Buddhist imagery, which is considered highly disrespectful. Folks are forgiving about it, but one should not look like a bigger fool than is necessary.

Burmese seller in wearing a traditional longyi to cover his legs and with make-up called thanakha  <span style='white-space:nowrap;'><img src='http://www.guidegecko.com/images/spyglass1.png' align='texttop' /> Click to enlarge</span>

Give generously at temples and monasteries but women are not allowed into some sacred areas--actually the restriction should cover only women in menstruation, but since it would be rude to ask and unthinkable to verify, they keep all ladies out. You will often see monks begging for alms in the streets in the morning (they are not allowed to eat after noon). Note that monks are not allowed to come into contact with the opposite sex. In addition, you should only donate food to the monks, as they are not allowed to accept money under any circumstances and giving money to a monk is considered a sign of disrespect - those that accept money are almost always fakes.

You can also purchase little squares of gold leaf to apply to consecrated statues.

When praying or paying respects, it is important to ensure that the *soles* of your feet do not point towards the Buddha or anyone else. However, statues are arranged so that won't happen unless you get acrobatic about it. Do not point to images of Buddha with your index finger; use your thumb instead. Tuck your feet underneath you when kneeling at shrines and temples. 

Boys flying kites, Ubein's Bridge  <span style='white-space:nowrap;'><img src='http://www.guidegecko.com/images/spyglass1.png' align='texttop' /> Click to enlarge</span>

When receiving business cards, use your left hand to support your right elbow, and receive it with your right hand.

Tourists of Caucasian descent are commonly referred to as bo, which translates "leader", as a sign of respect. Address elders with U (pronounced "oo", as in soon) or "Uncle" for men, and Daw or "Auntie" for women.

Generally speaking, despite the common negative perception of the government, most ordinary Burmese people are incredibly friendly and polite as long as you repect their local customs. Customer service is in general very good (some say better than in Thailand), so you might wish to tip service staff generously to ensure your money goes into the right hands.





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