Mongols, like their progenitor Chinggis Khan, used to dwell on the steppes and raise horses. Following Western niceties will, predictably, have the opposite impact in Mongolia. However, there are a few ground rules to observe. Receiving things should always be done with the right hand, palm facing up. Drink from your right hand as well, palm up. It’s impolite to reject a gift. Take at least a tiny bite from anything on a platter of welcome nibbles. You should never point your index finger at someone because it conveys contempt.
You will unknowingly violate one or more of the numerous cultural, religious, and superstitious norms if you approach a nomadic family or visit a ger. Don’t worry if you become confused; small blunders will be overlooked and forgiven. The dos and don’ts listed below will aid in minimizing cultural disparities.
- When you come, say hello (sain bainuu) (but repeating it again when you see the same person is considered strange to Mongolians)
- At the very least, take a drink or a sample of the delights on offer.
- With your palm pointing upwards, pick up everything with an open hand.
- Hold a cup by the bottom rim rather than the rim at the top.
- If you accidentally tap someone’s foot with yours, shake hands with them right away (failing to do so will be seen as an insult).
- Lean on a pillar for support.
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- Lean over the threshold or stand on it.
- Put out a fire by smothering it with water or dumping trash on it (fire is sacred to Mongolians)
- Turn your back on the altar or holy artifacts, or walk in front of an elderly person (except when leaving)
- With your left hand, take food from a shared dish.
- Touch the hats of others.
- In front of your hosts, have a lengthy discussion in your own language.