The Myanmar Work Ethic (Alternatively, The Ethics of Work in Myanmar)

The United States is a land devoted to the notion that the customer is always right and workers are there to provide service with a smile. Sometimes, this leads to disheartening but hilarious websites where workers share their worst customer service experiences with the world. Other times, this ideology is simply disheartening.

I’d like to believe that despite living for almost two decades in the US, I have not internalized too much of this mindset. I’d also like to believe that I am a nice person, but every once in a while I can feel the inner angry suburban soccer every American develops inside them getting agitated and getting ready to demand to see a manager.

The other day, I attempted to ride a trishaw to go visit a friend. For those of you who are unfamiliar, a trishaw is like a rickshaw but designed in a way that makes it even more dangerous to ride, and is pictured above. My desire to take this particular mode of transport was largely borne out of nostalgia and a romanticised vision of myself being whisked around the city feeling the sun on my face and the exhaust fumes in my hair. And I say attempt because I was denied the opportunity to ride said trishaw. After walking to the end of my street, I approached a cluster of trishaw drivers sitting in the vehicles and asked them to take me to a boba place less than thirty streets away. A twenty-minute walk according to Google maps. The four drivers, though not currently in the process of earning money, or in a situation where their services were being clamored for, told me that that was too far and too much work and that I should take the bus instead. I walked past them and immediately got into a taxi.

Now, I’m not advocating for a world where I should be given whatever I want so long as I can pay for it, but I do believe I should be able to purchase whatever good or service someone is selling so long as I ask politely and can pay for it. Trishaw drivers do not make a lot of money, and it’s not even like I was trying to haggle. And… this is their job? But I suppose situations like this and a slightly less imbalanced power dynamic between buyer and seller is part of the charm of living here.

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