Culture Shock – Beware of your Feet

I met many foreigners (mostly westerners) who do not feel anything to put their feet on the table while sitting on the chair. This seems a normal habit to them. They don’t feel like it is a strange or rude thing to do it. And I know they don’t mean to be rude. However, in the eyes of a Burmese (Myanmar) man, it is a strange behavior. Indeed, in the eyes of a Burmese, it is really a very rude thing.

For Burmese (Myanmar), head is the most sacred part of the human body while feet are the most inferior part. Being the lowest part, they are not only under every part of the body but also the dirtiest part. They touch ground, dirt, mud, garbage, feces; just think of all the dirty things lying on the ground. Invariably, feet become the most dirty and smelly part of your body. Just try to sniff your feet at the end of the day. For Burmese, dirty part should only be in the lower place. When you put that dirty part of yours onto somebody’s clean table, it is like an insult to that person; I mean if that person is a Burmese. There is nothing more insulting to a Burmese than to point your feet towards him.

So, if you want to win heart and mine of your Burmese friends, next time you visit him or he visit you, try not to put your feet on the living room table or point your feet towards him. Indeed, your feet should never be pointing to the direction of a person or a sacred place (like Buddha’s image or shrine, or a photo of an elderly). This is the rule you must strictly follow in Burma (Myanmar). Possibly, your Myanmar friend will not say anything even if you do it, but it does not mean he is ok with your behavior or approves of your behavior. He will not say anything but will consider you as a very rude person. Even if that person is your employee or your house maid, you should never do it to him/her.

Hope you find your stay pleasant in Burma (Myanmar)

8 comments for “Culture Shock – Beware of your Feet

  1. k San
    April 13, 2010 at 8:51 am

    Thanks for uploading this, but the title should be something like “be mindful of where you put your feet”

  2. max tomkins
    June 21, 2010 at 10:53 am

    Would it be possible for you to suggest what a man visiting Myanmar in mid October-mid November should pack in the way of clothes. This would be very helpful to thoise of us who come from cooler climates.

    Thank you.

    max

    • June 23, 2010 at 1:26 pm

      Unless you travel to mountainous places (far North like Putao or Shan Plateau) just a light warm cloths is enough as the weather is not cold during October-November (even hot for Europeans).

  3. Laura
    July 27, 2010 at 6:00 am

    I loved this article. As a westener (from Scotland) I personally would not even think about putting my feet upon another persons belongings, it’s just plain rude. People should be treated with respect and kindness all over the world.

    I’m loving this website, it’s great to get an insight of the culture in Burma(Myanman) 😀 Keep up the good work.

    • winnie
      March 10, 2012 at 1:33 pm

      Thanks for your positive thinking about our culture.

  4. Ron
    May 25, 2011 at 4:00 pm

    I spent a month travelling around Burma in Jan/Feb 2011. Overall I loved it but the custom of not wearing shoes was a bit hard to take at times. I have no problem going barefoot where the surface underfoot is clean. . No one wears shoes in my house. Unfortunately many of the temple floor and stairway areas range from dirty to filthy. At one temple I ended up with feet full of thorns. Perhaps the Myanmar insistence on bare feet in temples is just revenge for the monk who was jailed for life for throwing a shoe wearing Englishman out of his temple.

    • May 26, 2011 at 9:11 pm

      It is not true. Everyone, including monks have to remove shoes on Pagoda. This is since ancient time when even kings have to follow this rule. However, inside monastery compound, some monasteries allow ordinary people to wear shoes while others do not allow. This is still a controversy among monks. On Pagoda, nobody, including monks, are allowed to wear footwear (this includes socks).

  5. sophia
    January 8, 2013 at 10:45 am

    I love your article. I am visiting your beautiful country in February for the second time. The first time was in 2000 when I was 12 years old. The people of your country are the nicest I’ve ever met. Mingalabar!

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