Cultural differences to know before going to Kyrgyzstan
A trip to Kyrgyzstan will definitely be one of the best trips in your life, full of adventures, discoveries and encounters. You’ll be able to explore unexplored lands and enjoy amazing mountain landscape. And you’ll also get the chance to go in small villages or yurt camps and meet the local population.
The Kyrgyz people are very welcoming, but it’s always better to know a little more about their culture and traditions before traveling. Here is our advice on what to do and not do while traveling in Kyrgyzstan:
Good manners in Kyrgyzstan
Give a gift to your hosts
During your trip in Kyrgyzstan, you’ll probably get the opportunity to spend the night at a family stay or in a yurt. Your hosts will be delighted if you bring them a small gift. It can be a photo, a magnet, or a keychain, for example. If you’re invited over for lunch or dinner, think about bringing something like chocolates or fruits.
Finish your plate
Some of the traditional dishes should be eaten with your hands, like beshbarmak or manti. Eat with your right hand and not with your left hand, as the latter is considered to be dirty. You’ll probably notice that Kyrgyz women serve tea only with their right hand. If they hand a cup of tea with their left hand, it’s considered as a lack of respect.
Try your best to finish your plate. This is very important to local people, who see this as respect, and also never throw out food. Always finish your bread or take it with you. Bread should never be thrown away or left on the ground. Even if you leave crumbs for the birds, make sure these are on a table or a wall. If you see break on the ground, pick it up.
Bless your meal at the end
In every Kyrgyz household the meal ends with a blessing, « Bata » or «Omin ». They put their hands together and bring them up to their faces, as if they were washing their face, and pronounce the word “omin”. This is valid even if you just take a piece of bread. Your guide will show you the right gesture.
Sit at the right place at the table
Traditionally, the eldest or more respected man sits at the end of the table, or directly in front of the yurt’s door. Women usually sit at the other end of the table together, sometimes separately. Wait for your hosts to show where you should sit before taking a seat.
Take off your shoes before going inside
When you go inside your hosts’ home, whether it’s a house or a yurt, you’re expected to take off your shoes. You should also try entering with your right foot and leaving with your left foot first to bring luck to the family.
Negociating on the market
The prices aren’t always shown especially in the markets. You’ll have to negotiate, but remember that these are usually already low prizes and it’s not very well seen for a foreigner to try to lower the price too much.
What you shouldn’t do in Kyrgyzstan
Don’t blow your nose in public
Avoid blowing your nose at the table or in any public place. If you feel like you’re going to sneeze or blow your nose, try to leave the table and be as discreet as possible. Turn your back to other people as a sign of respect. It’s really badly seen to blow your nose in public, if you’ll do it in a bus for example, everyone will give you a bad look.
Don’t kiss cheeks when you meet someone
It may be normal in France to kiss cheeks when you meet someone, but in Kyrgyzstan that could be badly seen. It’s better to shake hands. Men usually shake both hands as a sign of respect, or shake their right hands while holding their left hand to their chest. Women who know each other well or elderly women may give one kiss on the cheek.
Don’t kiss your loved one in public
Even if you’re visiting Kyrgyzstan on your honeymoon, avoid showing your love in public. Kissing in public is a lack of respect in Kyrgyzstan and may not please the people around you. Wait to be alone to be tender with your loved one.
Don’t say thank you too often
The word “Rahmat” in Kyrgyz is usually used only to thank for something important like a service someone did for you, rather than at all times. For example, when you leave Kyrgyzstan you can thank your guide and give him/ her a small gift.