A Keyhole into Burma – “I am Burmese!”

My guide in Yangon insisted on giving me a lengthy Burmese most-often-used phrases lesson at dinner one night. This turned out to be pure gold for me during the remainder of my stay.

I wrote down and later memorized such phrases as “thank you,” “delicious!” “it is very hot!” (referring to the weather), “hello, how are you?” “I’m fine,” “what is your name?” “how old are you?” “You are very beautiful,” “I am ## years old,” “how much?” “too expensive!” “I already bought that” (to be used on the kids selling postcards), and “Discount! I am Burmese!” (this line brought the house down every time). I also memorized the numbers and the refreshingly easy large number counting conventions.

This small arsenal of language drove my already skyrocketing popularity through the stratosphere. Seeing a Pinkie speak Burmese was the funniest thing in the history of the universe for most people. I added to the list of phrases as my trip progressed. Eventually I could ask directions, bargain with hawkers, flirt with girls and order food (I usually had no idea what kind of food I was ordering, but the point was that I wasn’t starving to death).


I made small talk with guys, caused whole groups of women to shriek with delight, scared the ca-ca out of little kids… I was a one-man show, no admission, 15 encores.

Wielding these phrases, I came away from Burma with dozens of brief, but poignant encounters, many of which still rank as my all time favorite travel experiences (and not just because I was constantly the center of attention, but that didn’t hurt). As a result, I made a new resolution to memorize similar phrases for every new country along the way. Even France.

Leif Pettersen, originally from Minneapolis, Minnesota, contributed three stories to the upcoming anthology “To Myanmar (Burma) With Love: A Connoisseur’s Guide” published by Things Asian Press. His personal blog, Killing Batteries, and his staggeringly vast travelogue could fill a lifetime of unauthorized work breaks, if one were so inclined.