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Do's and Don'ts in Myanmar

Introduction and Greetings

The most common greeting word in Myanmar is 'Mingalarbar' which means 'an auspicious to you' and it is likely the first word that you will hear upon arriving to Myanmar. Shaking hands is a common action when greeting between only men. If you are introduced to monks who are very revered in the country, you may need to show polite manners. If a man is introduced to a Myanmar lady, you should not stretch out your hand to shake hers unless she does first. As demure and shy as she might seem 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 hesitate to have any sort of social intercourse with a man who is not friendly 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.

The main things which should be avoided to do are- 

  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.

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