CUSTOMS, MANNERS AND ETIQUETTE IN MYANMAR

BURMESE CUSTOMS

Burmese are a very friendly and outgoing people, especially towards visitors. However it is considered improper to lose one's temper or show much emotion in public.

Myanmar culture is basically Buddhist and so much of the accepted etiquette pertains to Buddhist beliefs. As in all Buddhist countries, the head is considered to be the most sacred part of the body, where as the feet are considered dirty and corrupt. For this reason it is important never to touch anyone's head. Even ruffling a child's hair will be seen as a grave insult. [Source: Myanmar2day.com ]

Some customs and traditions endure from the British colonial period. Myanmar still uses English accounting systems and legal systems. Some Burmese observe tea time.

Heads, Hands and Rules in Myanmar

The Burmese and other Buddhists follow the Buddhist custom of not touching 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. [Source: Countries and Their Cultures everyculture.com ]

It is considered rude to touch a person's head, because it is the "highest" point of the body. It is also considered taboo to touch another's feet, but worse still to point with the foot or sit with feet pointing at someone older, because the feet are considered the lowest. Also, pointing a finger at Buddha images is considered blasphemous, although this custom has slowly eroded. Shoes are always taken off upon entering homes, monasteries and pagoda compounds. [Source: Myanmar2day.com **]

Visitors to Myanmar should never point their feet at anyone and especially not at a Buddha statue or image or at an elderly person or even a photograph of an elderly person. Pointing to someone with the feet is seen as extremely rude behaviour. The habit of some westerners of sitting back in a chair and putting one's feet on the table may not be the best of behavior at home, but in Myanmar it is considered absolutely outrageous.

Myanmar (Burmese) people have different view on upper and lower parts of the body. Upper part is considered sacred while lower part is considered inferior to the upper part, even considered dirty. Therefore, never mix the things you use for your upper part with that of the lower part. For example, towel used for the lower part should never be mixed with the upper part, especially the one used for the head and the one for the feet. **

No one in Myanmar would ever use the same towel to dry their hair and feet and would use a different basin to wash each. Using water reserved for drinking to wash one's feet is a grave insult. Women are even prohibited to sit on higher levels such as the roof of a boat, or buses while or monks or nuns and men are sitting beneath. **

1) Never raise your underwear above your head. This is considered very rude. 2) Never clean your feet in the basin you used to clean your hands and face. 3) Never use the water from the drinking pot to wash your feet. Myanmar people will consider this an insult. 4) Never put your feet on the pillow used for the head, or sit on the pillow for the head. 5) Never use your feet to point to a thing or a place. This is an insult for a Myanmar (Burmese). 6) Never touch a person’s hair, head or cheek, even if you consider it as a friendly gesture. Myanmar people would not consider it friendly, and will think you are rude. 7) Don’t point your feet towards Buddha’s image, elder person or any sacred place. Better not to point your feet to anybody at all. 8) It is considered highly impolite to indicate something with your chin or your foot. 9) Don't walk over bridges when someone is walking over it so feet aren't above head.

Do's and Don'ts in Myanmar (Burma)

Do's: 1) When you pass through in front of an elder people lower your head a little bit to show respect; 2 ) Put of your footwears when you are entering religious buildings live the pagoda precincts and monasteries; 3) Give due respect to the monks although you are not Buddhist; 4) When you are going to yawn or cough turn your face sidewards; 5) When you have to bother someone involuntarily, say "gadows" twice, as a gesture of asking pardon; 6) Try to suppress your anger towards a younger one; 7) Admit what you don't know; 8) Say greeting words heartily; 9) Pay respect to those people who are seniors to you by age or by rank; 10) Try to acknowledge the benevolence of others; 11) Smile heartily; 12 ) Make friends with you neighbours; 13 ) Keep the younger ones on the safe side when you walk together; 14) If you are going to talk about unauspicious things, you should begin the sentence with "Powa! gold house, and silver house, ", to wipeout evils; 15) If you are going to talk about or suggest possible mishap, you should begin the sentences with "Please may it not happen here."; 16) If you are going to talk about or suggest shameful thing you should request permission from others first. [Source: Hla Tha Mein, Yangonow <>]

Don'ts: 1) Do not spit in front of the elderly people; 2) Do not step over elderly people who are sitting; 3) Do not criticize nor disgrace someone in front of the strangers; 4) Do not meddle in the family matters; 5) Do not try to borrow anything from a guest; 6) Do not praise your own talent or wisdom; 7) Do not give anything to the elder people with only one hand; 8) Do not ask the income of the other person; 9) Do not else bluntly ask the age of a woman; 11) Do not enter the private apartment of others; 10) Do not look at what the other people are reading; 11) Do not walk side by side with a teacher, follow him or her; 12) Do not accept what you do not deserve. <>

Greetings in Myanmar

The "traditional" Burmese greeting is mingalaba , from Pali mangala and roughly translated as 'auspiciousness to you'); this is, however, a comparatively recent form of greeting, originating in the 1960s as a replacement in schools for the English language greeting "Good morning/afternoon, teacher" in the newly nationalised missionary schools. Greetings such as "Have you eaten?" Htamin sa pi bi la) and "How are you?" Nei kaung la) are still common. "Hello" is also a popular greeting nowadays, whereas it used to be confined to answering the phone. [Source: Wikipedia +]

The Burmese language is very age-oriented. Terms of address reflect relative age, seniority and respect. The use of honorifics before personal names is the norm, and it is considered rude to call a person just by their name without the honorific unless they are known from childhood or youth or in the case of a younger underling. Young males are addressed as Maung or Ko (lit. brother), and older or senior men as U (lit. uncle). Likewise, young females are addressed as Ma (lit. sister), and older or senior women as Daw (lit. aunt), regardless of their marital status. 'Aunty' or 'Uncle' is commonly used as well today. The first and second person pronouns vary depending on whom one is speaking to and are age-dependent. Elders are spoken to in a more respectful manner and a special vocabulary exists for speaking to Buddhist monks. +

Greeting with a smile is a customarily accepted cultural norm of the Myanmar people. Physical contact/touch, such as a handshake, is not the norm in Burma. A slight bow of the head is the common way to greet others. It is especially frowned upon to touch anyone older than oneself on the top of the head or to touch anyone of the opposite sex.

The greeting consisting of a slight bow, with the palms pressed together in a prayer-like fashion—known in Thailand as the wai, in India as namasté, in Laos as nop and in Cambodian as satu—is not generally used in Myanmar.

"Mingalarbar” is a word of greeting in Myanmar that came into wide usage only after the country regained her independence. In former days the usual greeting was “Kyan gan thar lo mar yet lar,” or “Mar bar yet lar”, or more informally “Nay kaung lar” which the nearest in English means “How are you?” or “How do you do” to which one replies in like manner without the necessity of going into a long story of one’s state of health. It is the same almost for the Myanmar equivalent, but if someone should take you literally to give a reply in the affirmative it is also acceptable. But then the second person can in turn ask the same question as a form of politeness. Today however “Mingalarbar” has come to be the accepted form of greeting and it is widely used by schoolchildren to greet their teachers. It is also on the lips of tourists and other foreign guests since it has found its way into English-Myanmar conversational phrase books. It is easier said and easier to remember than the cumbersome “Nay kaung bar lar” for those who do not know Myanmar but wish to use a Myanmar greeting. How this word of greeting originated is still obscure (at least to me!) but it is indeed a most fitting word because the word “Mingalar” has. aside from its religious background. great cultural import in Myanmar society. Some interesting topics are listed as follows. [Source: Myanmar Travel Information]

Gadaw

Gadaw is a Burmese verb referring to a Burmese tradition in which a person, always of lower social standing, pays respect or homage to a person of higher standing (including Buddhist monks, elders, teachers and Buddha), by kneeling before them and paying obeisance with joined hands, and bowing. This is usually done by students to their teachers or children or grandchildren to their elders (parents, aunts, uncles and grandparents), in order to show gratitude and reverence and an opportunity to ask for forgiveness, often involving gift-giving. It is traditionally done on New Year's Day of Thingyan and during the month of Thadingyut (roughly October), which marks the end of Vassa, the Buddhist lent. [Source: Wikipedia +]

The tradition is widely believed to have Buddhist roots, as teachers and parents are honored as part of the Five Infinite Venerables, along with the Three Jewels, namely the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha. Moreover, the Mangala Sutta, the source of the 38 Buddhist Beatitudes, describes the importance of "honoring those worthy of honor", puja- ca puja-neyyana-nam) and lists respect, humbleness, gratitude and as among the highest blessings. The collective gadaw of teachers is called a “hsaya gadaw pwe” or more formally “acariya puja pwe or asariya puzaw pwe”, usually done formally during the month of Thadingyut (or World Teachers' Day on 5 October) by students or alumni at schools and universities throughout the country. During the time of the Burmese monarchy, a ritualized gadaw ceremony called the gadaw pwedaw was practised at least three times a year at the royal palace, by tributary chieftains and rulers as well as subjects to the king, as a symbolic form of allegiance. Gadaw nay was one such time, occurring at the end of the Buddhist lent, and when tributes and gifts are formally offered to the king. +

The traditional Burmese request of the Three Jewels (Triple Gem), a formulaic prayer (termed the "Buddhist common prayer" by Pe Maung Tin) that precedes most Buddhist ceremonies, explicitly references the gadaw of the Five Infinite Venerables (Buddha, Dhamma, Sangha, parents and teachers): “I request! I request! I request!...In order that any action I may have committed against the Three Jewels (with my parents and teachers) either physically, verbally and mentally may be effaced, and in order that I may acquire merit which will bestow upon me longevity, health, freedom from dangers and others; I raise my joined hands in reverence to the forehead and worship, honor, look at, and humbly pay homage to the Three Jewels: the Buddha, the Dhamma, and the Samgha (with my parents and teachers) once, twice, and three times. As a result of this meritorious act of prostration may I be freed at all times from the woeful realms, the three kinds of catastrophes, the eight kinds of wrong circumstances, the five kinds of enemies, the four kinds of misfortunes, the five kinds of loss, the ninety six or ninety eight kinds of diseases, and the sixty two kinds of wrong views; and quickly attain the Path, the Fruition, and the Noble Dhamma of Nibba-na. +

Gadaw is also called “shikho,” or shiko—the “Burmese posture of kneeling with joined hands and bowed head before a superior.” George Orwell described a person “bowing, touching the floor with her forehead in the full shiko of utter abasement. It is similar to Chinese kowtowing and reserved for expressing deep respect such as before a revered monk. A more ritualized form called the wai khru is found in neighboring Thailand. A similar tradition, called dam hua is practiced in the Lanna region of Northern Thailand, especially during Songkran, the Thai new year.

Public Customs and Courtesy Towards Women

1) It is considered improper to lose one's temper or show much emotion in public. 2) Don't walk over bridges when someone is walking over it so feet aren't above head. 3) Generally, young people are advised to bow down while crossing in front of old people. It is (or was) considered rude to walk in front of old people without bowing your head. 4) In some places people spit out red betel nut juice (See Betel Nut and Smoking).

Displays of affection are frowned upon, Couples of the same sex often walk hand in hand or with their arms around one another. Physical demonstrations of affection in public are common between friends of the same gender or between members of the family, but seldom seen between lovers. It is thus common to see friends walking together holding hands or with arms round each other, but couples rarely do so, except in major cities. However, for males and females to show affection in public by kissing or hugging is not an acceptable custom in Myanmar.

Men should never touch a woman, even to shake hands. This is not respectful at all. Similarly women should never touch Buddhist monks. If a woman is making a donation, she will place it somewhere the monk can retrieve it, rather than hand it over directly.

Underwear Superstitions in Myanmar

Underwear can be a sensitive topic in Myanmar. Never raise your underwear above your head. This is considered very rude. Washing is often by hand. If you have some laundry done at a guesthouse, some people make take offense to washing you under garments. If you wash them yourself do so in a bucket, don’t do it in the sink. When drying underwear, do it in a discreet place and don’t hang it so it is head level or above as it is regarded as dirty and uncouth for part of the lower body to be higher than the head.

There is a superstition in Myanmar that contact with women’s garments, especially underwear, can sap men of their strength. It is widely believed in Myanmar that if a man comes in contact with a woman's panties or sarong they can rob him of his power. In 2007 one Thai-based group launched a global 'panties for peace' campaign, in which supporters were encouraged to send women's underwear to Burmese embassies, in the hope that contact with such garments would weaken the regime's hpoun, or spiritual power. The generals may indeed subscribe to this belief. It is widely rumoured that, before a foreign envoy visits Burma, an article of female underwear or a piece of a pregnant woman's sarong is hidden in the ceiling of the visitor's hotel suite, to weaken their hpoun and thus their negotiating position. [Source: Andrew Selth, a Research Fellow at the Griffith Asia Institute, The Interpeter, October 22, 2009]

The Daily Mail reported: “Burma's iron-fisted - yet superstitious - military junta believe touching lady's underwear will "rob them of power", organisers say. And Lanna Action for Burma hope their "Panties for Peace" campaign will help oust the oppressive rulers who ruthlessly crushed recent democracy protests. The group's website explains: The Burma military regime is not only brutal but very superstitious. They believe that contact with a woman's panties or sarong can rob them of their power. So this is your chance to use your Panty Power to take away the power from them. Activist Liz Hilton added: "It's an extremely strong message in Burmese and in all Southeast Asian culture. [Source: Daily Mail]

Buddhist Customs in Myanmar

Caged sparrows are sold everywhere. Buddhist believe to let them free to earn merit. At temples, each morning statues of Buddha have their mouths cleaned with a tamarind branch. On Inle Lake people make fabric for monk’s cloaks from lotus flower stems.

On auspicious occasions, offerings are dedicated and given to Lord Buddha and the assemblage of celestials. The offerings usually contains three or five hands of bananas, one coconut and Eugenia sprigs.

In Myanmar no deed is considered more worthy than to build a pagoda. Making a pilgrimage to such shrines is also considered a worthy religious act. On the sides of roads, groups of small girls wait to collect coins from passing cars and minibus to build shrines and temples. Joshua Kurlantzick wrote in the Washington Post “Crumbling pagodas overrun with vines lined the road, their statues worn smooth by years of worshipers touching the faces. As I wove past water buffalo and dilapidated ox carts, children and young adults flagged me down, rattling aging silver bowls for me to stuff with wads of kyat, the Burmese currency, to be used to restore these treasures. [Source: Joshua Kurlantzick, Washington Post , April 23, 2006]

Monks should be greeted with three Southeast Asian bows. When talking to a monk try if you can to have your head lower than his. This can be achieved by bowing slightly or sitting down. If a monk is sitting down you to should also be sitting down. Women should not touch a monk or give objects directly to him (instead place the object on a table or some other surface near the monk). On buses and trains, people customarily give up their seat to monks.

Buddhist Temple Customs in Myanmar

People are supposed to take off their shoes and socks before entering a temple and leave umbrellas outside. There are places to leave your footwear. Visitors are also expected to be neatly dressed. Hats should be removed. Short sleeve shirts, short pants, short skirts and pants for women are generally regarded as inappropriate attire but are often grudgingly tolerated from foreigners.

Some cultures require visitors to only take off their shoes when entering a temple but in Myanmar they are required to take off their shoes and socks when entering the temple grounds. Some people wash their feet before entering a temple. In Myanmar you must take off your shoes and socks even if the temple area is 16 square miles in area like at Pagan or 775 foot high like Mandalay Hill. W.E. Garret wrote in National Geographic, "Since thorns will get you if you step off the blazing walks, I found it best to avoid temple visits in the heat of the day.” On how locals viewed the custom, Paul Theroux wrote in the "The Great Railway Bazaar”: “Remove shoes and socks but also spit and toss cheroot ashes on the temple floors.”

Always walk clockwise around Buddhist monuments, thus keeping the religious landmarks to your right (this is more important in Tibet and Himalaya areas than it is in Southeast Asia) Don't walk in front of praying people. Don’t take photos during prayers or meditation sessions. Don’t use a flash. As a rule don’t take photos unless you are sure it is okay. Taking photographs of Buddhist statues or images is considered to be sacrilegious.

Buddha images are sacred object and one should not pose in front of them or point their feet at them. When sitting down many local people employ the “mermaid pose” to keep both feet pointed towards the rear. Photographing Buddha images is considered disrespectful, but again, is tolerated from foreign tourists.

Praying is done by prostrating oneself or bowing with hands clasped to their foreheads from a standing or seated position in front of an image of Buddha. Prayers are often made after tossing a coin or banknote into an offering box and leaving an offering of flowers or fruits or something else. Many people visit different altars, leaving some burning incense and praying at each one. Other bow at the altar and sprinkle water, a symbol of life. Other still, kowtow before shrines, bend down and stretch three times. In big temples money can be left in a donation boxes near the entrance. If there is no donation box. You can leave the money on the floor.

Paul Theroux wrote in the "The Great Railway Bazaar” that in Burmese temples one should remove shoes and socks but also spit and toss cheroot ashes on the temple floors: “We were standing at the foot of Mandalay Hill, before two towering stone lions and a sign FOOT WEARING IS FORBIDDEN. I took off my shoes—"Stockings too," said the Burman apologetically—and socks, and began climbing the holy stairs. He kicked off his rubber sandals and followed me, muttering, "Omega, Omega." And spitting. "Foot wearing" is forbidden, but bicycles are not—provided they are pushed and not ridden—and neither is spitting. Dodging great gouts of betel juice, I climbed, and soon others joined us.”

Social Customs in Myanmar

Most people communicate in an indirect way. Direct communication among close friends and family members is more common. Myanmar people are aware that foreigners have different ways and accept them for who they are, but at same time, greatly appreciate when visitors make efforts to respect their culture and etiquette standards.

If presenting or receiving a gift, always do so with both hands. This is even true of giving or receiving business cards – a custom the Myanmar people have enthusiastically absorbed. Do not be surprised if your gift is not immediately opened, but just places aside. It is somewhat rude to open it immediately – this can be interpreted as being rather greedy.

Do's: 1) When you pass through in front of an elder people lower your head a little bit to show respect; 2 ) When you are going to yawn or cough turn your face sidewards; 3) When you have to bother someone involuntarily, say "gadows" twice, as a gesture of asking pardon; 6) Try to suppress your anger towards a younger one; 4) Admit what you don't know; 5) Say greeting words heartily; 6) Pay respect to those people who are seniors to you by age or by rank; 7) Try to acknowledge the benevolence of others; 8) Smile heartily; 9) Make friends with you neighbours; 10) If you are going to talk about unauspicious things, you should begin the sentence with "Powa! gold house, and silver house, ", to wipeout evils; 11) If you are going to talk about or suggest possible mishap, you should begin the sentences with "Please may it not happen here."; 12) If you are going to talk about or suggest shameful thing you should request permission from others first. [Source: Hla Tha Mein, Yangonow <>]

Don'ts: 1) Do not criticize nor disgrace someone in front of the strangers; 2) Do not meddle in the family matters; 3) Do not try to borrow anything from a guest; 4) Do not praise your own talent or wisdom; 5) Do not give anything to the elder people with only one hand; 6) Do not ask the income of the other person; 7) Do not else bluntly ask the age of a woman; 8) Do not look at what the other people are reading. <>

On talking about politics and the military regime in Myanmar, Brigette and Robert reported in their blog: “We learned that we really should not ever start a conversation about the junta or politics in a public area. You could seriously endanger a person’s safety. Military spies are common all over the country (reminder: 400,000 soldiers). Luckily, we never noticed somebody following us, which is good! Still, the government is constantly mentioned in our conversations with locals. They always know a way around paying an entrance fee that goes to the regime. The people’s frustration about the situation in the country can be felt and we sense that people here must feel like in prison. We never take a standpoint though (reminder: spies); a simple nod and a short “aha, interesting” is enough. [Source: Brigette and Robert on Tour, Blog]

On socializing with a man he met on the street, Steven Martin wrote in Time magazine, Myo Aung was having “cup of sweet Burmese tea and a plate of deep-fried curry puffs when I happened by. He pulled a miniature stool out from under one of the tea shop's knee-high tables of polished teak and motioned for me to sit. By this time I was both sore of feet and spirits, and was thankful for the invitation. As he ordered an additional cup of tea and more pastries, I fought the urge to launch an inquisition and instead fielded the icebreaking questions that customarily open such encounters: “Where are you from? What do you do? Are you married?” Myo Aung's English was rusty and, once I got around to asking about the cemetery, I had to open my notebook and doodle a line of graves and headstones. [Source: Steven Martin, Time magazine, 2002]

Paul Theroux wrote in “The Great Railway Bazaar”: They had told me how much they had paid for their longyis, how much their shirts cost; I turned the conversation to politics for, since the textile industry is nationalized and all the prices are determined by the government, surely this was a political matter. They were silent. One said, "We can't say," and that was that. I had broken the rules by mentioning politics; one must mention only high prices for government goods. In a Burmese house in Mandalay, I asked about former Premier U Nu. "That," said my host, "is a political matter." He smiled; end of conversation. His son, a law student, broke in: "Burmese people! Happy people! Never solly, alway jolly!" He told me afterward that his father had been destroyed financially by General Ne Win, the present Premier, and had decided to spend the rest of his life "in meditation." [Source: Paul Theroux, The Atlantic, November 1, 1971]

Home Customs in Myanmar

If visiting a Myanmar home, shoes should be taken off at the door. More urbane city dwellers may find that a polite attempt at removing shoes shows enough respect, but even then do not walk on carpets or rugs. These are for sitting on. People are also expected to remove their shoes when visiting temples and pagodas. Unlike Thailand where shoes are removed at the temples and pagodas themselves. In Myanmar they are removed before entering the temple or pagoda grounds.

The removal of shoes has been an important enough cause of concern to start a war. Narathihapate (reigned 1254-87) had a mission of Mongol diplomats executed when they did not remove their shoes when entering his palace. Paul Theroux wrote in the "The Great Railway Bazaar”: “Remove shoes and socks but also spit and toss cheroot ashes on the temple floors.”

If presenting or receiving a gift, always do so with both hands. This is even true of giving or receiving business cards – a custom the Myanmar people have enthusiastically absorbed. Do not be surprised if your gift is not immediately opened, but just places aside. It is somewhat rude to open it immediately – this can be interpreted as being rather greedy.

Burmese families commonly all sleep on the floor together. When beds are used people tend to sleep on the sheets of a bed rather than under them. If people are chilly they use a blanket, Many people wash their feet before going to bed.

1) Do not walk on carpets, even with slippers, carpets are often used for sitting; 2) Do not wear the hat in the house, except gaungpaung; 3) Do not be fussy when you are a guest; 4) Do not reject any visitor at your door if he is not endangering you; 5) Guests are often shown photo albums of family trips or important family events.

Eating Customs in Myanmar

When eating, it is customary for the elderly to be served first and coughing, sneezing or blowing one's nose at table is not acceptable. Politely excuse yourself if you feel the need. Also do not use tooth-picks without covering with you’re your mouth with your hand or sit at the head of the table unless you are eldest person there. Out of respect, the eldest diners are always served first before the rest join in; even when the elders are absent, the first morsel of rice from the pot is scooped and put aside as an act of respect to one's parents, a custom known as u cha (lit. first serve).

Myanmar dining tables are round and low. Family members sit on the mats around the table when eating. Food is not served in courses. Dishes are served simultaneously with different items are spread out on the table, and people help themselves and put food on their plates. Myanmar food tables are usually small and rounded. The atmosphere desired is not one of elegance or polish. What is desired is convivial closeness of those who gather to eat. Dishes should be small but deep, unlike the large serving dishes of the West. For relishes, pickles and dips Burmese use 3-4 inch diameter bowls. For normal curries, fried vegetables and salads they use 5-7 inch diameter bowls. Suitable serving spoons of metal or even Chinaware are put into curries and bowls. [Source: Myanmar Travel Information =]

When serving a meal, servers may hover about but only the big rice bowl is taken around by them. There are too many dishes to serve quickly enough from the side. Each person needs to help themself to get the dish he or she wants. People tend to concentrate on eating rather than chatting. The hostess constantly dishes rice for guests who insist they have had plenty. When finished. each guest may rise and go to the basin and wash with soap. =

Dishes are served simultaneously. A typical meal includes steamed rice as the main dish and accompanying dishes called hin, including a curried freshwater fish or dried/salted fish dish, a curried meat or poultry dish instead, a light soup called hin gyo, called chinyay hin) if sour, and fresh or boiled vegetables to go with a salty dish, almost invariably a curried sauce of pickled fish (ngapi yayjo) in Lower Burma. Fritters such as gourd or onions in batter as well as fish or dried tofu crackers are extra. [Source: Wikipedia +]

Many people eat with their hands. If that is the case food is eaten with the fingers of the right hand. Eating with fingers must not look messy. Burmese use all the five fingers to eat. Homes and restaurants in cities and towns have dining tables and chairs, some people eat with fork and spoon. Chopsticks and Chinese-style spoons are used for noodle dishes, although noodle salads are more likely to be eaten with just a spoon.

The Burmese eat with their right hand, forming the rice into a small ball with only the fingertips and mixing this with various morsels before popping it into their mouths. Knives and forks are used rarely in homes but will always be provided for guests and are available in restaurants and hotels. Drinks are not often served with the meal and, instead, the usual liquid accompaniment is in the form of a light broth or consomme served from a communal bowl. Outside of the meal, the Burmese beverage of choice is light green tea, yay nway gyan). +

Hospitality is often based on providing food and often the more people that come the better, with reason of course. Printed invitations are uncommon except for ceremonies at monasteries and for weddings. Locals usually go around and invite close friends, relatives and whoever they want to invite verbally. Since most Burmese are Buddhists many ceremonies are held at monasteries called Ahlu. These events are regarded as “a joyful and peaceful type of donation.” Many curries and rice and served. Nowadays, western style parties are held at hotels. =

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, The Irrawaddy, Myanmar Travel Information Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, burmalibrary.org, burmanet.org, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, NBC News, Fox News and various books and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated May 2014

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