Travel Etiquette Series: The ‘Stans’ Part One

by GuestBlogger

After taking us down under last week, our Etiquette Guru Adam Barralet sheds some light on etiquette in the ‘Stans’ of Central Asia. In part one of this series, he takes us to Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan to offer us some valuable tips on what to expect and what manners are acceptable when visiting:

Some people have spent much of their life exploring many different countries throughout the continents. However there are a few countries that fall of the radar for many people. These countries rarely get a mention, seldom feature in the world news and to most people are either forgotten or remain a total mystery. These are the “Stans” of Central Asia. This week let’s take a quick look as some of the key points of each country’s etiquette.

Kazakhstan: Kazakhstan is unique in that its people, the Kazakhs, did not form the majority of the population upon independence in 1991. Currently the northern part of the country is populated mostly with Ukrainian and Russian majorities while Kazakhs are more prevalent in the south. It is the goal of the government for the Kazakhs to become the majority of the population throughout the country. Thus, depending on where you are in the country, you will be dealing with different nationalities and the etiquette will vary. When meeting Kazakhs for the first time, handshakes and using last names is the way to go. As rapport grows hugging and using people’s first names are fine.

Photo: Reuters

Kazakhs love to host dinner parties but even if you are not staying for a meal you may be served bread and tea. Bread is considered sacred and is served as a sign of respect. Your tea cup will only be half filled. When it is filled to the top it is a sign that your host would like you to leave. If you do not want any more tea, turn your cup upside down. In rural areas it is a sign of respect to offer the most honoured guest a boiled sheep’s head on a beautiful plate. This is then divided amongst the guests in a symbolic way.

Kyrgyzstan: The south is more conservative than the north. In the south men and women interact less. Two people of the opposite sex will not greet each other, while the same sex will shake hands. In large celebrations women and men will be in different rooms and with young children, boys and girls will seldom play together.

Respect of seniors and authority figures is key, so it is essential to offer your seat the elderly on public transport and observe seating at homes and restaurants where the most respected will sit at the head of the table, farthest from the door.

Strangers do not usually acknowledge each other while passing on the street. Any close contact, however, such as sitting near each other on public transportation or making a transaction at the bazaar, will open the way to introductions. It is common to invite new acquaintances into the home.

Tajikistan: Restaurants are usually closed at night so if you are travelling in Tajikistan your largest meal will tend to be for lunch. If dining at somebody’s home the meal is generally three courses, Firstly a sweet appetizer, followed by a main course with soup heavily influenced by Iranian and Russian food and completed with hot tea.

Traditional Tajik’s weddings vary from what you may be used to. The celebration stretches over many days where the bride and groom celebrate separately. On the fifth day, an imam stands before the newlyweds to ask for their opinions. If both agree, they must drink a cup of water, and eat a bit of meat, cake and salt. Only then are they allowed to be together.

A word of warning, if a customs officer asks you how much money you are carrying, don’t give a verbal answer. Sometimes officials look for a bribe or “tip” from unsuspecting travellers. Request a customs form so that you can answer in writing. Don’t pay any money to customs officials without getting a receipt.

Want more tips? Adam Barralet is Assistant Manager at our Flight Centre- Sheppard Centre in Toronto and can be reached by E-mail or by calling 1-866-828-1390. Check out more of Adam’s Etiquette Series.

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