Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Myanmar culture and people

I cannot claim I have been learning a lot about Myanmar people but I would already like to make some observations and also say a few words about an article I read on the cultural differences and sensitivities between Westerners and Asian people.

Already in the past when I visited this country, only for a couple of days, I was surprised how hugely polite Myanmar people are. You can even say that, at the same time, they are shy with foreigners. In general, when people meet they smile to each other and bow. As their client they will do the utmost to make you happy. What a difference with Europe!

But the first thing that struck me after arriving here was the fact that Myanmar people are status-conscious. Everybody seems to know their position and act accordingly. And I do not refer only to age and professional status. One can see and feel the difference between rich and poor people. People here are having drivers which stay outside restaurants waiting for their boss to finish their meal, people employ a cook and a maid and perhaps a guard which also live at their house in special quarters like the most natural thing. And it is not only a few people. With the businesses and wealth coming back to Myanmar more and more local people are considering this help. And, of course, for the expats it is something very useful especially when you work around 10 hours a day. I do not want to debate the ethics of this.

And it is said that Myanmar people are more laid back. But people are slowly changing. The exception is made by the ones which lived for a period outside the country and returned or the ones who work with foreigners.

Another thing is that people laugh when they do not understand you. They will never say they did not understand. And they even say yes!yes! This is probably because they are embarrassed and do not want you to get upset.

The Myanmar people are friendly indeed. They will ask you about your family, age, work from the very first meeting. They will invite you to social events, to dinners or lunches and even to holiday houses they have in the country side.

The Crossroads magazine article I read speaks about doing business with Asian people and gives some advice to the Westerners:

1. start socially: one should never start with a business meeting but with a social event like a dinner or reception so that both sides get to know each other. 
2. immerse slowly in the business: first give an overview of the organization, of the project or of the future relationship. The authors states that "Asian like to see the forest first and then the trees". 
3. keep the documentation simple and clear. As already hinted Asian people will praise the business relationship, the trust, and not so much the written contract. 
4. be patient as there may be long delays because the Asian want to consult within their organization. The Asians like to discuss a variety of issues many of which will not be included in a contract. The author sees the positive sides: lengthy discussions will bring the parties closer together, you avoid mistakes.
5. maintain harmony by practicing good manners. Myanmar has no distinction between first name and family name and that is why you should use the full name unless they will invite you to use an alternative name. Many people in Myanmar also have a Western name which they prefer to use with foreigners.
6. never underestimate the language barrier. As I stated above it is better to avoid uncomfortable situations by hiring an interpreter.

On the same topic I was told that Myanmar people read and write English better than they speak it. It seems that the teachers in the past insisted on the written and not the spoken language.

The author, David James, believes that the points above are "strategies for success" when doing business with Asian people.

We are delighted to be here and learn about the culture and the people of Myanmar!

No comments:

Post a Comment