My relatives maintain that Andrew is the most Burmese white man I could have chosen to marry. He eats chillies like a champ and does not even bat an eye at the condition of lavatories when you’re on a road trip in Southeast Asia. In all seriousness my love for him grew when I witnessed the ease with which he negotiated the different culture and the inner workings of my family. Apparently he holds himself and presents himself to the social world in a very “Burmese” way. And that’s amazing, we all want our partners to hold in high esteem something we value so much.
What surprises me more is that he often is more Ah-na dare than me. This term expresses the desire not to inconvenience or be an imposition to others and is a prevalent aspect of Burmese culture. The best example of this is, when someone asks you if you want something, you would commonly reply with “that’s okay.” Now, this would frustrate many Westerners and they would ask again, probably with some impatience, so, is it a yes or a no? Along the same vein is the fear of losing face. This phenomenon is the abhorrence of being embarrassed publicly. Trust me, you never want to cause anyone to lose face because there can be very real and often violent consequences. Apparently being shamed sometimes warrants pulling out a gun and serving a prison sentence. To an outsider these characteristics may seem backward or archaic but I think these anxieties are present but performed differently in the global North. We may avoid the incarceration but we try to rebuild our hurt pride through consumption, other markers of prestige or by putting others down. To some a hurt credit card and an imagined sense of superiority makes everything better. That’s lame.
Now there are some aspects of the cultural practice of not wanting to inconvenience others that I like and others that I can do without. Not wanting to be a burden encourages independence and self-sufficiency. These are character traits that are valued in North American society and will serve you well on the journey to your standards for success. However, being Ah-na dare can make you feel scared to ask for assistance or favours. I’m often at a loss for words how Andrew doesn’t ask for much. He will actually go out of his way not to ask questions, especially to strangers in a foreign country. Perhaps it’s because he’s a white male and things usually just appear for him. But if there is one thing I have learnt from being raised within Western society, it’s that no one owes you a thing. They will also not give you anything that you don’t ask for, especially if you’re a racialized individual. Although I am still hesitant about being brash and straightforward with those I admire the most, I’ve learned to just get over it. Really, the worst thing that anyone can say is “no.” There is not a whole lot to lose and the freedom that comes from fearlessness is worth everything.