There are over 140 nationalities throughout the Central Asian region. Custom differ from country to country, and even from village to village, and thus sorting out proper etiquette and the “right” cultural tenets and customs can be difficult. For foreign visitors: as a guest in a region proud of its tradition of hospitality, locals will readily forgive any transgressions or missteps within reason. As is the case almost everywhere in the world, a smile and a laugh can go a long way. [Source: safaritheglobe.com]
One of the most beautiful features of Central Asian culture is found within one simple little gesture, this “silent bow”. Often accompanying the handshake, men will place their left hand over their hearts and offer a slight, almost indiscernible, bow to their counterpart in a gesture of deep respect. This subtle bow or slight inclination of the head is also displayed in a variety of other exchanges among people. However, when not shaking hands, it is the right hand that is placed on the chest. You will most definitely encounter this when someone is offering thanks, saying goodbye or parting ways, or even when a younger man passes an elder in the street and wants to show his respect.
In terms of customs and how to behave in Kazakhstan, most rules are based on the country’s Islamic roots and nomadic traditions. According to Islamic dietary restrictions, for example, pork should not be consumed and alcohol is forbidden. In Kazakhstan the restriction on pork is closely adhered to, but with many Christians, pork is at times available. Alcohol is, however, a part of the daily life. Vodka is imbibed, sometimes is large amounts, by Muslim Kazakhs as it is by Russians and other Soviet peoples. Only the strictest Muslims refrain from drinking alcohol.
Kazakhs have always revered and highly valued their national customs and traditions. The main tradition of Kazakhs, which eventually transformed into a feature of national character, is hospitality. In the Kazakh society, there is an unofficial law voiced in ancient times, which says “Meet a guest as the God’s messenger”. Hospitality is considered a sacred duty in the Kazakh society. At all times, the steppe inhabitants did their best to please their guest. Therefore, each traveller knew that he or she would be welcomed anywhere in the Kazakh land.
When guests come to visit, the host will entertain them with the best foods. For highly honored guests or relatives that haven’t met for years, mutton and horse are brought out. Before eating, the host will firstly bring water, kettle and washbasin for the guest to wash their hands, and then serve the plate with sheep head, rear leg and rib meat in front of the guest. The guest should firstly cut out and eat a piece of meat from the sheep cheek and then the left ear, and give the sheep head to the host. Then every one can start eating together.
Respect for the elderly is another positive feature of Kazakhs. Traditionally, a child from early childhood is taught to be moderate and honest when dealing with older, wiser and life experienced people. Kazakhs respect the old. They will politely offer tea or meal firstly to the older people. Usually the elder members of the family are firstly seated and then the rest will be seated cross-legged or on knees around the table. The best meat is served to the elderly.
Accommodating guests is an important part of Kazakh culture and it contains a specific ceremony and rule for hosts as well as for guests that you should follow. WE would like to present you these rules which Kazakhs keep following from generation to generation.
First thing first, the guests should take off his shoes on entering a new home but hosts will help you to put off your outer clothing. Hosts will warmly welcome you and all your family when men shake hands, give a hug and say “As-salamaleikum!” (“In Arabic, Peace be with you!”). The person to whom it was said should respond with “Ua-alaikum as-salam!”. When it comes to women in exchanging greetings, they kiss cheeks to each other as Italians or French people. Or, you can say in a formal way “Salemetsizbe!” or informal “Salem!” Depending on the time of the day, you can say “Kairly kun!” (“Good day!”), “Kairly kesh” (“Good evening!”).
It would be better if you take something as a present
It could be some fruits, box of chocolate and tea, and you shouldn’t forget about the kids. The host will be very glad if you take something for their lovely child or children! Generally, if the baby is very very young, a nice dress for the baby brightens the face of the hosts.
Generally speaking, the present depends on the occasion when you are invited. If the occasion is connected with children such as birthday or 40th day ceremony, you are advised to bring cloths, or other necessary things, or money. Here you can see more on the reasons of giving money and their notions.
After coming to the house, you and other guests are invited to one room where everyone may welcome each other, acquaint with people you don’t know, and just have a small conversation to break the ice and to let the good vibe fly around. You can ask others about how they are doing, and how their life, family, job etc. is.
Everyone loves when their house is clean and Kazakhs are no exception.
You won’t be waiting long to be invited to the dining table or “dastarkhan”. First of all, the host invites old people or in Kazakh “zhasy ulken” (literally means “with a high age”), whereas the most respectful person is invited to the “tor” which is the farthest place from the door and while all guests have a sit, the host stands up, looks around to make sure that people feel comfortable, and helps everyone if it is necessary.
Usually, men and women sit around one table but in some cases, such as in Kurban aid, they sit separately.
There will be generally two types of sitting arrangements in Kazakhstan. There could be European style sitting when you have a full served table and people sit on the chair around it. The other one is traditional way of sitting in Central Asia countries when you sit on the “korpe” (handmade patchwork) or on “kilem” (carpet) which is laid on the floor around the table.
You shouldn’t be surprised with the amount of food on the table because Kazakhs try to decorate table with good and qualitative products and they love to serve it to their guests. First of all, , you will have different kinds of salads, fish, baursaks, vegetable mix, cheese, sausages, juice, water and so on. The second part is beshbarmak or “et beru” (“bringing meat”). Kids are also can be invited to have a dinner with adults but usually they eat fast and then leave the table and play with other kids in another room.
Usually, the themes for the conversation are different, beginning with the discussion about health, personal information and ending with worldwide news.
After having different delicious foods, the oldest man says blessing words (“as kaitaru”) and then you will have a break and women have a chance to clean the table and serve all necessary items for tea: cakes, cupcakes, candies, fruits, raisons, nuts and others. You will be offered to have a black or white tea with milk. In this small break, men may engage in cards games in small groups and recount their earlier experiences and laugh heartily.
The size of Piala (Tea Cups) and tea volume may differ in the regions of Kazakhstan, for example in the South Kazakhstan, Kyzylorda, Atyrau, Mangystau, Aktobe regions, people pour tea in small cups whereas in the North part of Kazakhstan, the size is generally a little bigger. This difference is mainly because of the weather. Nomads were used to consume hot drinks in big sizes in the North because of the cold and windy weather whereas in the South and West Kazakhstan, the weather is much warmer and people are used to drinking less amount of tea. Additionally you can have a green tea as a guest in the West regions.
You will never leave the house without some presents from the
It is a traditionally accepted that every guest have a bag with fruits, meat, nuts, baursaks, i.e. with the food served on the table and a piece of fabric.