Interesting etiquette of Mongolians
Planning to travel to Mongolia? Here's what you need to know about the unique and interesting culture and etiquette of Mongolians.
Shake Hands to Apologize
Imagine that while you are traveling around Mongolia step on someone’s foot. Usually, you would say sorry, but in Mongolia, you will see a hand. Whether it was your fault or others, it does not matter. If you happen to step on someone’s foot in Mongolia, it’s mandatory to shake hands.
Mongolians rarely say anything and opt to just shake hands quickly as a sign of respect and apology. So if you say sorry and not shake hands it is kind of disrespectful to Mongolians.
Smelling of Head is a Sign of Affection
Kissing is not really a common way to greet but smelling the head is. When you meet your elder relatives they would kiss you for a greeting. In Mongolian tradition, elders smell younger people’s heads as a way to show affection and greetings.
Sniffing bottle? Yes, it is. In Mongolia everyone, especially men, is expected to have Khuurugs, a canteen carved out of rare stone and marble. People may call it a sniffing bottle. You store powdered tobacco and exchange and smell it and give it back your Khuurug with strangers you meet on the road or when visiting relatives during any kind of celebration days.
Ugly Doesn't Mean Ugly At All
Mongolians call babies ugly and shave their hair. If a Mongolian calls your baby ugly, it actually means the baby is cute or adorable. Sometimes Mongolians will say the exact opposite as a way to protect a baby from any kind of bad spirit. Also when boys turn 3 years old and girls turn 4 years old Mongolians make a big celebration to shave their baby hair, called “Sevleg Urgeeh”. Every relative will gather around and cut a little piece of baby’s hair and exchange it with a present to a baby such as toys, candies or money.
Make a Wish to Ovoo
A sacred pile of rocks is called Ovoo and everyone respects it. You will see many times Ovoo, a pyramid-shaped pile of stones and woods and placed on top of a hill or mountain during your travel through the countryside.
Ovoos are sacred and they are erected in respect of the gods of the mountains, rivers, and lakes. If you stop by at the Ovoo, try to add 3 stones to the pile while walking around it three times in a clockwise direction. You can also make a wish.
Visiting Empty Hands is Not a Good Idea
Everyone will get a lot of gifts during Lunar New Year. During Lunar New Year it is very shameful to come without any presents for your elder relatives for a New Year greeting. It can be vodka, milk, or money and it shows how you are happy to see the elder people being healthy for another year. But when you leave they are also going to gift you small but very thoughtful presents from your elders expressing that they are happy to see you. It can be anything such as socks, candy bars, scarves, etc.
Welcome with a Silver Spoon
Silver cup with blue linen. It won’t be considered an official celebration if you don’t have a Khadag and a silver cup to offer to the guests. It’s a way of giving good-will and a warm welcome.
Guests Cannot Go Without Having Something
Guest is the guest. Even if they are meeting for the first time and you are complete strangers to them they will offer you food and drinks. It’s a taboo to let visitors and guests leave with an empty stomach. It’s very common for Mongolians to offer guests milk tea, dairy products, and some homemade pastry. Sometimes they even prepare a full course meal for their guests.
Good to Remember...
When you visit a Mongolian family living in a Ger/yurt, and in the countryside you do not have to take off your shoes. But you must take off your shoes if you visit a family living in an apartment or a house, especially in Ulaanbaatar City.
Almost every family has a small Buddha picture and god structure in their home and you should never touch. Touching and showing interest in other items in a nomadic family Ger (yurt) are allowed and regarded as normal, but it is a religious and sacred thing for the families.
Spitting is Not to Disrespect
Mongolians do not like to exchange hats. Do not be surprised if you see someone softly spitting into another person's hat when they exchange their hats. Spitting softly said to prevent the coming of bad-spirits of others that exist in their hat to you.
Vodka of a Special Kind
Vodka and Airag (fermented mare's milk) - a common drink in Mongolia and it is famous all around the world. These kinds of alcoholic drinks are the choice of drink for anything that needs to be celebrated. Mongolians produce their very own version of very light vodka with all-natural ingredients.
Mongolian vodka is of a kind that you have to drink the whole bottle; the taste is so good that you will forget popular brands. It is ok to refuse if you are offered alcoholic drinks or fermented mare's milk. But to show respect, you may take a small taste or just dip your upper lip into the drink.
Fill the Pots before Returning
Mongolians really like to share their food with everyone. So If Mongolians offer you food in a container when you are camping around their home or staying with them. Try to put some small candies or any other type of food in the container when you return it. It is a sign of appreciation and Mongolians will be glad that you are respecting their culture.
The biggest thing to remember when you visit Mongolia is Mongolian people are amazingly hospitable, friendly and will do their best to make sure the guests are happy and comfortable with them. So do try to accept this hospitality even if you are not very familiar with it and do your best to abide by the local customs so as to avoid any cultural faux pas.
Even If you do break some of these rules, many Mongolian people will understand that you are from another country and not familiar with Mongolian culture. So all you have to do is to be nice and respectful, friendly, and understanding.