Anyone who likes visiting knows the importance of learning a few things about their destination beforehand.
Doing so ensures the warmest possible welcome from Myanmar people and stops any small misunderstandings turning into larger ones. Here are five things which are essential to know about Myanmar culture.
1. Religion & Beliefs in Myanmar
There are many religions present in Myanmar. However, Traveling in Myanmar, you will notice that masses of locals regularly visit the temple or pagoda and make offerings to the images of Buddha and various shrines. This is a major part of the culture and religion makes up more than 80% of population identify as Buddhist. The conservative Buddhist way of life which are five main precepts that should be practiced daily by believers: not to kill, steal, lie, drink alcohol, and commit adultery. That’s effect to the Burmese identity dictates the life and modern day culture of Myanmar.
Apart from Buddhism, the second largest religious group are Christians, of which Protestantism is dominant. Portuguese missionaries brought Catholicism in the 18th century and it later transitioned more towards Protestantism under the British. Islam is also practiced by a large percentage of the population in Rakhine State, which is currently in a state of conflict.
Myanmar’s religious system is one of the most devout and among the friendliest in the world. So, It's a very good idea to try and understand Myanmar culture before you arrive here.
2. Family in Myanmar
Family life is a major part of the culture and heritage of Myanmar. Myanmar family members tend to live near each other in the village and are very close and supportive. In a traditionally family, the father is considered the spiritual head of the household. He always hands his monthly salary over to the mother, who manages family expenses and children are taught to love and take care of their grandparents when they are old. They also believe that supporting their parents and grandparents in their old age is an important way to show their gratitude for raising them. Myanmar people generally do not leave the parents household until they get married, although this attitude is beginning to see some change.
3. Myanmar costume
Myanmar clothing make surprising to unprepared tourists to see most men and women dressed in a sheet of cloth worn as a long skirt which called "Longyi". Longyi vary from casual to very ornate styles, and are comfortable and lightweight. The only things that differ between the genders are the patterns and how it’s worn. A typical masculine longyi has a simple checked pattern on a dark colored cloth whereas feminine ones are more colorful. It is important to remember that in most religious sites like Shwedagon pagoda, a dress policy is implemented for both genders. Myanmar people are very proud of their traditional dress (and rightly so, it’s beautiful!), feel great confidence when wearing this at the offices and a more formal and professional environment opt for a longyi with a shirt. In Myanmar, a longyi is a suitable item of clothing for pretty much every occasion.
4. Myanmar cuisine
Myanmar’s food are varied considerably depending on what part of the country you’re visiting and which ethnic groups are dominant. And the country shares a border with three major cuisines in the region including Indian, Thai, and Chinese. Savoury dishes can tend to be slightly too oily or sweet for foreign tastes, but they smell and taste extremely delicious. More specifically and in align with Asian culture, rice is the main staple. This is often served as plain, white rice along with a fish or meat main and a side of vegetables.
Tea has an enormous place in the cultural heart of the country. It is used not only as a drink, but also as a food in Laphet Thoke (tea-leaf salad), one of the dishes that tourists tend to sample, a slightly bitter but truly delicious dish made using tea leaves, sesame seeds, fried peas, garlic, dried shrimp and peanuts. Tea houses are also popular social centers, and it is common practice to have a drink at one each day with friends and catch up. Tea is also offered to any guest who visits a household. Betel nuts are the second staple of Myanmar food, and are consumed at a remarkable speed by Myanmar men. Sold from stands set up on almost every street, the mild stimulant gained from chewing the nuts is reasonably addictive, and for a tourist has the initially disconcerting effect of dyeing the user’s teeth red!
5. Myanmar festival
One of the largest festivals that present Burmese customs at their very best is Thingyan. This is the New Year that’s celebrated in April and is characterized by the entire country taking part in a huge water fight. Anyone who’s traveled to Thailand and experienced Songkran will know what this event is all about.
The Burmese New Year follows the lunar calendar and the dates are slightly different each year. Celebrations usually begin after a day of observing strict Buddhist practices and making offerings during daylight hours on the first day. This is then followed by four days of partying, drinking, and spraying water at each other.
Phaung Daw U is another large festival that’s held at Inle Lake. Four large golden images of Buddha are paraded around the lake on boats with people coming from all around the country to attend and give their respects. This ties in strongly with the conservative Buddhism Myanmar beliefs that are dominant around the country.
The Festival of Light (known locally as Thadingyut) begins soon after Phaung Daw U. Locals light candles, lamps, and lanterns and use them as decorations in religious buildings to celebrate the return of Buddha back to earth. Both are great festivals to attend to get more of an idea into the local way of life and culture.