Greetings in Mongolia

A traditional method of greeting, especially in the countryside, is for the younger person to hold their arms out, palm up, and grasp the older person just in front of the elbow. The elder does the same, but with palms face down. This is done mostly during the New Year, or when people meet for the first time that year. The embrace looks vaguely Russian, but is missing the ritual kiss, and reminiscent of smelling. It is usually only used amongst close relatives.

Don’t forget the small talk

Asking directions, for example, is never done without some small talk first. Typical questions include asking how a person spent the last season, the condition of their livestock, or inquiring about their personal health.

If invited into a ger, you will be offered tea with milk and salt, and a plate with various cheeses and/or breads. Show your good behaviour by taking at least one small piece.

Show your good behaviour by taking at least one small piece.

To show respect when accepting something (like a snuff bottle), hold your right elbow with your left hand, or use both hands together. Even if you don’t want to drink alcohol, for example, always accept the bowl, make the gesture as if drinking, and pass it on or put it back. Refusal or pushing something back is not done.

Visiting a temple or a monastery in Mongolia

When visiting a temple or monastery, decent clothes are a must. It is a Mongolian habit to keep the arms covered till the wrist.

Most popular drinks in Mongolia

During spring and summer, the most popular drink is ‘Airag’, fermented horse milk. The Russians call it ‘Koumiss’.

Mongols can drink up to ten liters a day, but you should start off moderately. Stomach problems are common the first time, even for locals. A famous area for this lightly alcoholic drink is Hujirt. Airag from the Gobi tends to be stronger; it depends on the type of grass.

‘Shiming’, or ‘Archi’, is another local milk vodka made from horse or cow’s milk. It tastes like water, but contains more than five percent alcohol, by volume.

The given name

In Mongolia, the given name is more important than the family name, and commonly used.

The majority of the Mongolian population still live in the country, and most still prefer to wear the national costume on a daily basis, the Del (smock) and Gutul (high boots). On feast days, men might also wear the Loovuz, the peaked hat.

9 Tips to blend in with the locals

  • If you are asked how are you “San bainau”, you must always answer “Sain an bainau” (“I’m well”) negative replies are not allowed. If you are really not doing that well at all, you can tell them later!
  • You should not knock at the door of a Ger, but instead call “Nokhoi Khor” (“tether your dog!”) as you approach your hosts home.
  • Never roll up your sleeves in the Ger or it means that you are getting ready to fight your host and given the popularity of wrestling and history of violence you definitely don’t want to go down that path!
  • Hosts will often wish you well – a suitable reply is to wish that their sheep fatten or their horses grow up strongly. Whistling in the Ger or leaning against the upright supports is very bad luck!
  • A guest is supposed to tell the host where he has come from and why – a host would be considered rude to ask if the guest did not offer the information freely.
  • Mongolian men traditionally offer each other their snuffboxes – it is rude to refuse. Similarly, if visiting nomads a token gift (some postcards, a pair of socks, almost anything) is traditional – your host equally may not refuse your gift even if he hates it!
  • Mongolian Tea (main ingredients are hot water, milk, butter, salt, rice, and sometimes tea) will be served in little bowls. Your bowl will be constantly refilled until you upturn it, saying that you have had enough. You will be offered the tea bowl by your hostess with both hands – you should take it with both of yours as a mark of respect for their hospitality.
  • It is supposed to be very unlucky to eat fish. Many Mongols refuse to eat vegetables for health reasons (!)
  • ”Breaking the slumber of the earth” (i.e. cutting, ploughing, digging soil) is supposed to be very unlucky, and many Mongols refuse to have anything to do with it – hence the Ger-dwellings etc…