Travel Etiquette Series: The ‘Stans’ Part Two

by Adam Barralet

Last week our Etiquette Guru Adam Barralet shed some light on etiquette in the ‘Stans’ of Central Asia. In part one of this series, he took us to Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan to offer us some valuable tips on what to expect and what manners are acceptable when visiting. This week we will complete the exploration of the Central Asian “Stans” with Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan:

Turkmenistan: When greeting someone in Turkmenistan people of the same gender will generally shake hands. This is often accompanied with the Islamic saying “Asalaam Aleikum” which means “God grant you peace”. When a man and woman are greeting each other it is generally just a nod of the head with “Asalaam Aleikum”.  It is taboo for religiously observant men to touch women and vice-versa so be careful of initiating any contact. In contrast, you will notice the Russian speaking part of the population greet each other by exchanging several kisses on the cheeks.

In conversation you will find people tend to communicate more directly in business environments and less so among friends and family. Saving face is an important part of Turkmen culture so people will rarely answer with a direct “no”.

When it comes to being on time is quite important in business and less so in social life. It is common for to be 15 to 30 minutes late when meeting friends or going to parties. People don’t tend to think they are wasting other people’s time when they are late. Most services don’t usually run strictly on time.  The buses usually wait to leave once they are full, but domestic planes and trains tend to keep to their schedules.

If you are doing some shopping in Turkmenistan, people always carry their purchases in bags.  If you are carrying around something that is not in a bag, it will usually attract attention. You will attract similar attention if you are eating while walking around as this is considered strange.

Uzbekistan: Men will always shake hands with other men. Even if you are not introduced to everyone, a simple handshake substitutes for a formal introduction. A woman visitor may not receive a handshake unless she herself extends her hand. Female travellers should not feel offended that you do not receive the same attention as the males in your group. As odd as it may seem to us in the West, it is only out of respect that you are not included in the hand shaking ritual. For the winter traveller, gloves should be removed when shaking hands.

Respect for elders is paramount and it’s very rude not to add –opa (for a woman) or –aka (for a man) to an elder’s name, even if the person is just two years older than you. For example, Dilorom would be Dilorom-opa, Dilshod would be Dilshod-aka. If you don’t know the person’s name, you can just say opa or aka. –Jon is also a term of endearment added to a man’s name, –hon for women.

Home dining in Uzbekistan is often in the form of a banquet. Tradition states that the table should be covered with food at all times. When you arrive all the cold food will be out,  including a range of appetizers, salads, cakes, cookies and a fruit arrangement in the centre. Your plate will be replaced after each course and only cleared once it is empty.  Toasting is a honoured tradition in Uzbekistan. Each person will take a turn as the toast master. If you have to give a toast include a thank you, an acknowledgement of the host, a joke or something witty and wishes of good health and prosperity. The toasting drink is generally vodka and toasts start within five minutes of everyone sitting at the table, so be prepared for a big night!

If you are out shopping in Uzbekistan, it’s a good idea to haggle for every purchase. Cab drivers do have a reputation for overcharging the unwary. Refuse to go with them until you have negotiated the price you want. Finally while out and about if you see someone you fancy and are interested in taking them on a date it may not be enthusiastically welcomed.  In Uzbek culture, most women are submissive and arranged marriages are still common, so dating would probably get a woman in a lot of trouble with her family.

Travelling around the Central Asian region you will notice that there are many different nationalities, over 140 in fact. Etiquette and customs are bound to  differ from country to country, and even from village to village, and there is no one “right” cultural tenet to follow. What I have shared with you is the “traditional” etiquette and customs of the country’s people. And, as a foreign guest in a region proud of its tradition of hospitality, locals will readily forgive any transgression from the cultural norm. Remember as with anywhere in the world, a smile and a laugh can go a long way.

Looking for 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.