When visiting any foreign country it is always
polite to respect the local customs and traditions. Kyrgyzstan is a multinational
country, and besides Kyrgyz population there are also many other nationalities
with its own mode of life. The following are the general traditions used in
everydays life by many nations living in Kyrgyzstan.
Greetings, partings, and expressing gratitude
In Kyrgyzstan people usually greet each other once a day and say
good bye when they leave. With people you don't know well you would use formal
words like "Zdravstvuite" or "Dobryi den/vecher" for Hello,
and "Do svyidania" for Good Bye, and with friends you can say "Privet"
(Hi) and "Poka" (Bye). The word in Kyrgyz for Hello is "Salamatsyzby"
(literally" Are you healthy?"), and for Good Bye -"Jakshy kalynyz"
("Stay well"), if you're the one who's leaving, and "Jakshy barynyz"
("Have a good journey), if you're the one staying. It may sound complicated
at first, but with time, you will learn all these things and many more.
In the west it is very typical to say "Thank
you" very often and it is considered rather rude when a person does not
use polite phrases like "thank you", "you are welcome",
etc. In Kyrgyzstan the situation is slightly different. There is no doubt that
Kyrgyz people thank each other and say "you are welcome", but they
probably do it less than Westeners. So, at the beginning it might seem a little
bit surprising, and you would have to get used to this cultural difference.
Also in Kyrgyzstan you are supposed to say hi to a person only once a day, if
you say hi for a second time they will think you have forgotten that you have
already seen them that day.
Addressing people In Kyrgyzstan different words are used to address an unknown
person. If you can manage a few words of the local language or Russian, this
will be very much appreciated. For a female it is "gospozha"(madam),
"zhenshina"(woman), addressing elder Kyrgyz women (mostly in rural
areas) say Edje (Older sister), and for a young woman "devushka"(girl)
or Chon Kyz if addressing Kyrgyz girl. For a male it is "gospodin"(sir),
and it is common to call a young man "paren" (boy) or "molodoi
chelovek" (young man). Addressing elder Kyrgyz male say Baike (Older brother).
The words gospozha and gospodin are a very formal
way of addressing people and are when you don't know the person very well, you
would normally use either the gospozha So-and-So or gospodin So-and-So address
or call people by their first name and patronymic ("otchestvo" in
Russian). For example, gospozha Ivanova or Elena Petrovna for female and gospodin
Niuhalov or Artem Dmitrievich for male. With friends you can use just the first
name or even their nick names if have some.
Handshaking Handshaking is a common social custom in Kyrgyzstan, but is
used by men mostly. Men shake hands to greet and congratulate one another and
also to say Good Bye (friends, acquaintances, and strangers at a meeting or
a conference). Close friends hug and even kiss, and this is considered to be
normal. Typically men do not shake hands with women. If a man extends his hand
first to a woman, the woman is supposed to shake it. If a woman extends her
hand first to a man, the man would shake it, but this is not a very common thing
to happen. So if you're a woman, just wait till a man initiates it. In hand-shaking
business here, the woman is supposed to take a passive role. This takes a while
for Western women to get used to, and often it is a very sore point. That a
man will walk up to a group of men and women, shake hands with the men and ignore
the women is not a cultural point that one should get used to, but a difficult
custom to change.
Concerning kissing hands (men do so sometimes when
they want to greet women), this tradition does not really exist any more. Some
people still practice it, but it is rather rare. Sometimes older men may greet
young ladies in this manner.
Everybody knows that Westeners usually smile when they talk to people,
and also in pictures. You will not see a big smile very often when talking to
Kyrgyz people, and they smile even more rarely in pictures. It is also a cultural
thing. People are just not used to smiling a lot (no reason to, many say), and
actually if you're too nice to people, some may think you're a little strange.
But of course, there are exceptions, and you may encounter people who would
be very friendly, polite, and smile at you.
Standard hours of business are from 9:00 to 17:00-18:00. Rush hour
is from 8:00 to 10:00 in the morning, and from 17:00 to 19:00 in the evening.
Lunch time in government and private offices is usually from 12:00 to 13:00,
or from 13:00 to 14:00.
Time can be quite relative in Kyrgyzstan. Depending
upon the situation you're in, you'll find that being late for an occasion is
either appropriate or rude. Here's a "rule of thumb" guide for when
to be on time, early or late.
Rule of thumb
Be on time (the person you are meeting might be late)
Lunch with friends
Be on time/few minutes late
Be on time
Dinner at friends
10-30 minutes late
Kyrgyzstan is an oriental counrty, the people
here do not have the concept of time and are not very disciplined at keeping
time. They are often late for appointments, business dinners, conferences and
all sorts of other events. It can be very annoying for someone who values his/her
time, but be prepared for that. It is another cultural difference you would
have to if not accept, at least be aware of. You will find that you are used
to making a schedule for the day and trying to keep to it. Here that is almost
impossible. Somebody will hold you up, offer tea and be offended if you refuse
or the car can break down. There is that fine line to walk, one is to not give
in and say, "Listen, you where supposed to be here at 2, now it is three
and I do not have time to meet you now" Or get used to having a messed
up schedule everyday. There is a line in between that you have to find. If you
try to keep to standards that you are used to you will only get frustrated and
upset. If you decide to drink tea and at every occasion you will end up getting
nothing done, somewhere in the middle is the answer, but it is a hard happy
medium to find.
Why are they always late?
You might find it very annoying that people around you in Kyrgyzstan
are not punctual and do not value time. This would be especially true with regard
to 'guesting'. It's either the hosts will be ready and the guests late, or the
guests on time, and the hosts not yet ready situation. Remember, people in this
part of the world have a different notion of time, and for them time IS NOT
money. In situations like that, the best way to cope is to be a little bit more
Personal Space The notion of personal space simply does not exist in this
part of the world. People can come up and stand very close to you, and it is
regarded as something normal. This is especially true in public transport, as
the buses and trolleys are very crowded, and people there may touch your elbows,
push you, or even lean against you. To a Wesener who is used to the 60-cm distance
rule, this might be a surprise, a shock and a variety of other emotions. You
might want to back away when talking to people here and they'll try to come
up closer to you again, because that's how they are used to talk. Awkward and
unusual as it may seem to you, please don't take it as an insult. The answer
can be probably found in family traditions, as Kyrgyzes normaly have over 5-6
people living together in very limited space.
People in Kyrgyzstan wear different types of clothes. In villages
you will observe women wearing traditional clothes like long skirts, kerchiefs,
etc. In cities they are less traditional and more modern. As for male clothing,
most men wear pants more often than they wear jeans. Shorts are worn rather
rarely, and by city folks mostly. In any case it will never provoke unwelcome
attention from the local population. Also, you may notice that, to your taste,
people dress too classy for everyday things like work (especially women), and
not classy enough for special occasions. It is not unusual to see men dressed
in three-piece suits for a football match, or men wearing jogging suits for
concerts at the Music Hall. Or you may notice women wearing see-through blouses
and high heels to work during the day. All of this may strike you, but it is
yet another cultural difference you should be aware of.
The summers often get very hot here, that is why
many people, including government officials and even the Prime Minister himself,
won't wear a suit to work from May through August. A shirt and a tie for men,
and a summer dress for women in an office environment in the summer are perfectly
acceptable. There is one more cultural thing about dressing. In western countries
people tend to alternate their clothing daily, but in Kyrgyzstan it is not very
typical. You can see that your co-workers, students and people around you wear
the same clothes two or three days in a row. It does not mean that they do not
have enough clothes, or they put on dirty ones. It is just not very traditional
to wear different things every day. Do not be surprised.
A lot of people smoke in Kyrgyzstan, and there is no law that bans
smoking until a certain age (like in european countries and US). Cigarettes
are sold everywhere: at shops, supermarkets, kiosks, "bazaar's", and
no identification with the birth date indicated is required to purchase cigarettes.
That makes it very easy for young children to buy tobacco products, and smoking
is on the increase among the youngsters. Smoking is officially prohibited in
elevators, health facilities, public transportation, and taxis. Smoking is also
restricted in most public buildings (such as museums, markets, classrooms, offices).
Restaurants and cafes usually allow their customers to smoke inside, and there's
usually no division between the smoking and non-smoking areas. So, if you're
a smoker, you won't be happier. If you're a non-smoker, in most cases, you would
have to put up with the cigarette smoke around you.
The purchase and use of alcoholic beverages by people under a certain
age is not prohibited by law in Kyrgyzstan. Of course, there are always some
regulations or prohibitions at schools and universities concerning bringing
alcohol to these places and drinking it there. But if you're in a shop buying
a six-pack, and you see a 17 year- old do the same thing, don't be surprised.
With regard to the frequency and severity of drinking, we would say that people
here certainly drink more than people in Western countries. It is a custom for
Kyrgyzstani people to drink a lot of alcohol for holiday celebrations. The drinks
usually vary between beer, wine, Champaign, and vodka or sometimes altogether.
Being a guest in some Kyrgyzstani houses, you may
be pressured to drink more than you usually do. If you attend a big event like
a Birthday party or a national holiday, there is going to be a lot of toasting,
and often times people drink "bottoms up" to most of the toast. If
you are a guest of honor (and being a foreigner you may expect to be one), people
would drink a lot to you, and you're expected to knock it all down no matter
how much or little you enjoy it. For someone who is not used to it, such heavy
drinking may be difficult to keep up with, and the main goal for someone like
that would be no to stay sober, but avoid getting sick. So, if you really do
not feel like drinking, just say politely "no" and do not drink -this
is the best way out in such a situation. Often you may accept one drink, thinking
that one means one, but if accept the first drink custom will often dictate
that you drink with the rest until the end of the bottle. Women have an easier
time refusing alcohol then do men. They say there is a very short period between
the first and the second (drink or sometimes (what happens more oftenly)bottles).
Toasting is a big part of any drinking event, just like drinking
is a big part of any social event. Everybody is supposed to be able to make
a long toast. The longer the toast, the better. Long toast supposedly show your
intelligence. To make a toast is the same as to make a speech before a big auditorium.
Many find pride in being given a toast, and many find offense in not being offered
to propose one. That is why the host or the toast-master often would not call
it a day until everybody has had his or her chance to propose a toast. Also
be sure to pour drinks for everybody, then for yourself, to pour for yourself
first is very odd here.
Since we started talking about drinking, we should move on to social
occasions. During your stay in Kyrgyzstan you may be invited to a social occasion
like a Birthday party or a wedding. If it's a close friend, one is expected
to bring a gift. If it's a colleague you do not know well, you may just express
you best wishes, and maybe give flowers but usually only for women.
If you give people flowers, remember one basic rule: the number
of flowers that you bring to different occasions is very important. An even
number of flowers is brought to a funeral. An odd number of flowers is for any
other occasion. You certainly don't want to bring 12 carnations (or roses, or
some other flower) if it's your friend's 30th anniversary.
Sometimes a special occasion may be celebrated
at a restaurant or cafe. Find out in advance when to come and how much money
to bring. In some cases, an invitation may mean that the host is treating, and
in some cases it may be an "Everybody pays for himself/herself' scenario.
Guesting is a big thing in Kyrgyzstan. People often go guesting
just like that, even without a special reason. If you are invited to a typical
informal Kyrgyz party, be aware that there are also special seating arrangements
for guests. The eldest person or honored guest is usually invited to sit either
at the head of the table, or "tyor" they call it in Kyrgyz (the seat
most distant from the door). Young people or hosts sit by the door to act as
"waiters". They bring and take away dishes, pour tea, and do other
things. In general, the younger you are, the more work you do. Going to somebody's
house take some sweets or souvenirs for children.
Some additional things you should be aware of:
- They do not start eating the food until the host invited you to the table.
And, they always let the eldest or honored guests try the food first.
- Please note also that it is not necessary for guests to show up right on time
to a private party, you may be a little late.
- Hosts do not usually ask the "Would you like to drink something?"
question, they just give it to you.
"Taking off the shoes" custom
Most of the time, when people come into somebody's house in Kyrgyzstan,
they are supposed to take their shoes off in the corridor before going inside
the rooms. Sometimes slippers are offered, sometimes not, and so you would stay
in your socks. If the host of the house permits you to enter with shoes on,
you can violate the "taking off the shoes" custom.
Insist on it
When you go guesting or invite guests over to your place, you may
become a witness to a very peculiar situation. When you offer something to eat
(for example, some chocolate or sweets) to a Kyrgyzstani person, he/she tends
to refuse after your first try, in which case you would probably think they
do not want it. As a matter of fact, they would love to taste what you are offering,
many people here consider it to be impolite to say No the first time. If you
push a little bit, saying: "Oh, please, take a piece of it and taste it!"
and insist on it, it is only then that they may consent, saying: "Oh, OK.
I will taste it. Thank you.", though, they may have dreamed about it from
the very beginning. So if you have a similar situation, and offering something
to somebody, try several times to make them taste or take something that you're
offering. If you give them one shot only, and they say No, and then you don't
offer again, people would most likely feel ashamed to ask for it themselves.
Do's and Don'ts
Sitting on the ground: As you know, in Western countries people
(especially students) feel comfortable placing themselves on the ground or on
the floor. In Kyrgyzstan, you may observe that people have a different attitude
towards it, especially older ones. Most of the older people think that it is
not very good for health (the risk of getting cold), and it is not very polite
to sit on the floor instead of a chair, or on the ground instead of a bench.
Of course, young people worry much less about such things, but by and large,
it is not customary to sit on the ground or the floor. Another reason for not
sitting on the floor might be that the floors are usually not covered with carpets
like they are in foreign countries, and are usually quite dirty to sit on.
Squatting: In contrast to sitting on the ground,
you will notice that many young people (men, and women in villages) squat. This
looks really strange to someone from the outside, and the thing that surprises
foreigners most is that some people can remain in this position for good half
hour. Strange and unusual as it may seem, it is a cultural thing that we can
not even tell where it originated, but it's something people do here, and something
you will often come across while in Kyrgyzstan. After a year or two of practice
foreigners also become accustomed to sitting like this and wonder how they sat
Beliefs and Superstitions
The following are some beliefs and superstitions of the Kyrgyzstani
people. Most of the Kyrgyzstani people do not believe in them, but some do.
They say it is bad luck
- To meet the woman with empty bucket. (especially in the morning).
- To shake your hands dry after washing them.
- If a black cat runs across your path.
- To laid "lepeshka" (round bread) upside down or on the ground, even
if it is in a bag.
- To ask proffecional drivers about time left before reaching the destination.
(they believe it may cause unexpected problems in the road).
- To leave the bread on the ground.
- To come back home for something you have left there. You can return, but
look at a mirror and everything will be ok.
- To watch a sunrise often, or to get up with the sunrise is good luck.
- To watch a bird sitting near your window brings news or letters.
- When a person returns home (usually after war, service in the army, or being
hospital), before he/she enters the house, take a cup of water and circle it
his/her mouth. The person should then spit into the cup. You should leave the
outside. It means you leave all bad things and bad spirits outside, and not
- Do not kill a spider. It brings guests to your house.
- Do not sit at the corner of a table/desk, you will not get married ever or
will get bad wife/husband.
- Do not clean table with paper. You will never get married ever.
- Never hit anybody with a broom. You won't be lucky.
- Do not use a broken mirror.
- Do not whistle in the house, especially at night. It brings evil spirits and
you'll be broke.
- Do not give a knife and a clock as a gift.
- If your ears are burning, it means somebody is talking about you.
- If your nose is itching, someone will invite you for a drink.
- If your palm is itching, you will get money soon.
- Do not sweep the house 3 days after your relatives left for a long jorney,
otherwise they will never come back.
- If knife fall down on the floor wait a man coming soon at your house, if spoon
or fork wait a woman.
- Do not get light a sigarette from candles.
They say you gain more enemies:
- If you sweep the house at night.
- If you wipe a knife with bread.
- If you leave a broom standing against the wall.
- If you step over a lying gun or man.
Regarding babies they say:
- Do not let a baby look at the mirror, she/he will have bad dreams.
- Do not leave baby's clothes outside at night.
- Never say good words about a baby, the evil spirits may be attracted by them
and may harm the baby.
They say it is a sin:
- To leave your food on the table untouched.
- To eat food while standing.
- To treat any food scornfully.