Do’s and Don’ts

Every country has its own traditions, customs and etiquette, and Myanmar is no exception. We thought we would mention a few points here so that you can impress the local people with your understanding and appreciation of their culture, and avoid unknowingly causing offence.

A key concept amongst Myanmar Buddhists is ‘Cetana’. There is no exact translation but it generally means to have good intentions and benevolence. It is the act of helping others, feeding guests, showing kindness – without expecting anything in return. Most visitors to Myanmar fall in love with the country and its people; the ‘cetana’ they experience may be part of the reason why.

Myanmar people are taught from an early age to respect others, and particularly respect monks, religious leaders and their elders. The following are tips on respectful and appropriate behaviour:

  • Take off your shoes at the entrance to a private home. Mats and carpets are meant to be sat on, so do not step on and soil them.

  • As a Buddha image is as revered as the Buddha himself, shoes should also be removed at the entrance of any Buddhist shrine, pagoda or monastery.

  • Your feet are the lowest part of your body so do not put your feet on a table, step over anyone or point your feet towards another person or a Buddha image. Your head is the highest part of your body, so do not touch anyone on the head, even a child.

  • Do not touch a Myanmar woman. Men should not offer to shake hands with a woman; if a woman wishes to shake hands she will offer her hand first.

  • Monks and nuns should not be touched. When handing an offering to a monk or nun, use both hands and place the offering in their bowl or on a table within their reach.

  • Do not sit on a chair at an equal height to, or higher than a monk or nun. Women should not sit above men, for instance on the roof of a boat or bus.

  • When handing a gift or business card to another person, use your right hand whilst touching your right elbow with your left hand. When handing a gift to an elder, use both hands.

  • Myanmar people dress conservatively. Please avoid wearing revealing clothing except on a recognised resort beach. In pagodas and monasteries you should keep your legs and shoulders covered.

  • Couples should avoid public displays of affection.

  • Do not lose your temper in public. This will cause all present to lose face and will only complicate matters.

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