Good Manners in Central Asia: In Public
MIR’s Tour Specialist Jake Smith has lived and worked in several Central Asian countries, observing – and learning by experience – the art of what can be complex and confounding good manners in this part of the world. Here Jake offers his “best behavior in public” tips in two of his favorite countries: Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.
- My Lesson: I was walking down a street near my apartment in Dushanbe, Tajikistan when I saw an old man with whom I had spoken several times before. I was enveloped in my own thoughts though, and absent-mindedly continued to walk past him. He called out to get my attention. As I turned around he looked me in the eye and said, with a smile: “Well look here at the Shah of the Neighborhood – so high and mighty he doesn’t even need to greet the rest of us!” Needless to say, I learned my lesson.
- My Lesson: As a student in Tashkent years ago, I had an American friend over for dinner at my host family’s house. The dinner went well, with a great deal of cultural exchange facilitated by our conversation. At the end of the evening I walked my friend out to the front gate of the house with my host-mom. He wished us farewell and held his hand out for my host-mom to shake. She awkwardly reciprocated. Then, in an attempt to express his gratitude and affection for the hospitality she had shown, he pulled her in for a hug. My host-mom instantaneously emitted a high-pitched squeak of alarm and leapt backwards several feet. Afterwards she couldn’t stop laughing about it, but it was quite a shock for her, and my friend, in the moment.
- My Lesson: Having spent the better part of my 20s living in Central Asia, this hand-over-the-heart gesture became almost second nature for me. Now that I am back in the States I occasionally notice people with whom I am shaking hands looking somewhat puzzled as I place my left hand over my chest.
(Top photo credit: Michel Behar — Elderly people are treated with respect – especially in public – in Central Asia.)
PUBLISHED: December 22, 2014