There is no "I" in Burma


As statistically the most generous people on earth, it’s no wonder you don’t hear “I” in Burma. Marrying into Burmese culture, I am fascinated listening to the language, hearing people refer to themselves in the 3rd person as though they were a humble observer. It’s hard for me to wrap my mind around the concept of no “I”, especially as the 1st words that came out of my mouth as a baby, a full sentence, was “I want out” (as in, “out of my crib”).

A language and culture not so attached to self is free to give. I’m sure this concept goes deeply to the country’s Buddhist roots. And in its more recent history of decades of military rule, it has not taken self-expression or individualism lightly. With access to internet and this year’s new, more open government, I wonder how the Burmese concept of self and identity, and language will evolve? I hope people will feel empowered without losing the willingness to help each other, or be taken in by the useless greed paraded in much of the world’s media.

I hope too that the language stays the same and Burma remains the place where everybody knows your name. When speaking, one says his or her own name (instead of “I”) throughout the entire conversation. This seems very tiring to me, though Burmese names area generally short, mirrored monosyllables like Tun Tun, (as in the case of my husband), which are easy to remember after hearing them repeated over and over.

The same goes for “you”. You repeat the name of the person you’re addressing when talking.

And I find it mind-blowing that Burmese don’t have last names. No family name to pass down or change with marriage. Just a name, a location, an occupation to tell people apart. Which leads me to wonder if identity theft is at all an issue there or on the horizon.

For now, Kerry looks forward to both losing and finding herself in Burma in a few short weeks.


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