Culture Shock – When a Myanmar do not say NO

Many a time, foreigners (especially western foreign expats working in Myanmar) will notice that things they ask from Myanmar friends are met with affirmative answers but never materialized. For example, a westerner expat might invite his friend to a dinner party. The Myanmar friend is not free on that day. Normally, a westerner will simply decline to the invitation and tell his friend that he cannot come because he is not free. In case of Myanmar friend, he would probably say yes, even though he knows he cannot come. On the day of the dinner, he is not appearing. He would not also call his foreigner friend that he cannot come. The next day, he will apologize his friend for not being able to come, blah, blah, blah. The foreigner might think that his friend is not trust worthy and not consistent.

Here lies that difference between western culture and Myanmar culture. Myanmar people are usually reluctant to say no, especially to foreigners. (Forget about those annoying taxi drivers and shop keepers. They are the exceptions.) The closer he is to you, the more he may be reluctant to say no. Thus, instead of saying “No”, he will simply choose to be absent, hoping that you might not notice his absence. Or he may choose to call you at last minute when you have prepared everything for the dinner.

This is not only with the foreigners. Many of my friends also act the same with me. Many times, they will say “may be”, “I think I will be free”, “I will try to come”, blah, blah, blah. As a Myanmar myself, I know that he will not come to the appointment.

For westerners not familiar with Myanmar culture and Myanmar way of life, this is a very strange and uncomfortable situation. It may appear to then as Burmese people are unreliable. However, the truth is, it is difficult for a Myanmar to say NO to other people. I personally don’t know how it happens that way, but I myself also find it difficult to say NO many times. It is bad, but it is firmly rooted in the life and culture of Myanmar people.

So next time, if you invite or ask something from your friend, and if he blah, blah, blah, make sure he will really come to the appointment or do what you ask him to do.

10 thoughts on “Culture Shock – When a Myanmar do not say NO”

  1. culture shock -when a Myanmar do not say no..

    First of all,
    I like your writing skill. The flow is very neat.
    Interesting topic.
    I am a Myanmar Citizen. The story you say it out is totally correct. I found out hard to say No too..

    I will read your articles more often.

    Thanks for publishing.
    Best wishes

    Amit Myint

  2. Thank you for your interesting information. I am going to visit Myanmar in September 2010 and find it a very useful source of all kind of great advice for visitors.
    Especially, your posting “When a Myanmar do not say NO” caught my attention. How is the level of the English language with ordinary people? Is it possible to get invited to a Burmese home if I follow the rules?

  3. Nothing is impossible if a real man try to do. Saying the language condition, perhaps over 90 % do not speak English. Yet people in Myanmar are really kind.

  4. May be it’s time for Myanmar people to be brutally honest and advocate to say NO if they can’t do it. I just met with a few Business owners in Myanmar a few months ago and oh how they complain about hating Myanmar’s Ya-par-tay cultural. Very very bad habit in deed.

    1. Oh o! It’s our CULTURE!!! If you were born and grown up in such an environment, you won’t find it as “bad habit in deed” in deed. Mind your words. Don’t insult a culture even though it can’t be fitted in all situation. Don’t think western cultures is perfect for everyone as well!!!!!

      1. Agreed, I am a westerner and white is not always right and west is certainly not always best best!Hi – I live in New Zealand I am about to employ two recent Burmese refugee ladies who have been living in a Thai refugee camp for the past three years. I was looking for some information online about the differences between the western and burmese cultures esp in a woking environment. I want these two ladies to have a positive experience working in my company, however I realise our cultures are very different. We do have a language barrier so was hoping for some further readings on this topic – Can anyone suggest a good site for this?



  5. My experiences are in other way around. Half of my life, I lived inside Myanmar with very strict Myanmar culture of big families from both of my parents’ sides. So, never say “No” straight. The other half of my life, I’ve been living outside of Myanmar with foreigners and various culture. I keep the good from both Myanmar and Westerners (and other Asian). So, try finding ways and means to say “No”. However, whenever I go back to visit friends and family in Myanmar, they take me as very aggressive who never keep face to others by saying “No”. It’s my problem now.

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