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Kazakhstan: Etiquette, Customs, Facts and Vital Information

by Lizbeth Pereira |

Kazakhstan

horses
Photo by dmitry.papkovich

FACTS & STATS

mapLocation: Central Asia, bordered by Russia, the Caspian Sea, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and China.

Capital: Astana

Climate: Continental climate, arid to semi-arid with hot summers and cold winters.

Population: 15,399,437 according to July 2009 estimates. About 13.8% of the population live below poverty line and there’s an unemployment rate of 6.9%. Kazakhstan economy is based on their large reserves of fossil fuels, mineral deposits, agriculture, livestock, and metal industry.

Ethnic Make-up: Kazakh 53.4%, Russian 30%, Ukrainian 3.7%, Uzbek 2.5%, German 2.4%, Tartar 1.7%, Uygur 1.4%, Others 4.9%.

traditional girlReligions: Islam (Sunni) 57%, Christianity (Russian Orthodox) 40%, Others 3%. The Constitution guarantees freedom to practice all religions. Proselytising is not illegal, but may be carried out subject to certain official procedures. Foreign missionaries intending to engage in proselytising have to be registered with the Migration Police and obtain permission to do so, indicating purpose of stay in the country, religious affiliation, territory of missionary work, and time period required for work. Failure to do this might invite prosecution and fines. Registration needs to be renewed annually.

Language: Kazakh 64.4%, Russian 95%. Kazakh is the State language, but Russian is the official language used for social and business transactions by the majority of the population.

Government: Republic.

Travel Issues: Travel to Kazakhstan requires a passport with at least a six month validity and a Kazakh visa. All foreign travellers arriving in Kazakhstan have to register with the local police within five days of arrival. Those arriving from the UK intending to stay for less than 30 days are exempt from this obligation; however, please check to see if rules have changed. Visitors intending to stay for long periods need to produce a certificate stating they are free of HIV/AIDS.

Health & Safety: Those traveling to Kazakhstan might need to take precautions against Diphtheria, Hepatitis A, Tetanus, and Typhoid. A Yellow Fever vaccination might be required if travelling from or through an infected region in the recent past. Use bottled water for drinking and washing purposes, and eat only well cooked food.

marketman
Photo by sly06

SOCIETY & CULTURE

catThe People
Kazakh people live in a beautiful untainted land following an uncomplicated down-to-earth lifestyle. If they own a camel, a horse, and some cows they are content and consider themselves blessed. They live in makeshift homes made of felt called yurts which can be taken down in half an hour and carted away to another location. Their community is made up of interdependent tribes descended from a common ancestor living in happy co-existence. Though patriarchal when compared to western standards, women have an important role in the home and in the community which they guard fiercely just as men take care of their business of protecting and providing for their families.

kmanThe Religion
The major religion in Kazakhstan is Islam. However, there is a large percentage that practice Christianity under the Russian Orthodox denomination. There are smaller groups of Protestants and Roman Catholics in addition to other denominations such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Grace Church, and Baptists. Christianity is observed by immigrants from Russia, Ukraine, and Belorussia, while ethnic Kazakhs are mostly Muslims.

Role of Family
Kazakh family traditions are followed stringently from ancient times. After marriage, the newly weds live with the groom’s parents for a year. This is when the daughter-in-law undergoes training to become a good wife and housekeeper. By the time the first born arrives, she is deemed worthy of running her own home and is set up with a yurt, camels, cows, and horses donated by both families. Even if they live separate from the parents, the oldest male member is one who governs all and makes all important decisions. Older family members are very generous to the younger members and help considerably in terms of childcare, food, and farm animals.

camelAncestors
Ancestors, both dead and alive, are revered by the Kazakhs with a great deal of devotion. They have a saying which sums it all up, “If your dead ancestors are not satisfied with you, you won’t be rich”. Thus, they have elaborate funeral and mourning rituals that spread over a length of time and prayers for the dead every year before Ramadan.

Recreational Activities
Kazakhstan has a lot of spas and natural springs that visitors find very attractive. For the locals, horse riding and other related sports are a passion. Kazaksha kures (wrestling), baiga (horse racing), alty bakan (six pole swing), and kokpar (polo played with a dead goat) are some local sport.

Anything else important for this culture
Being punctual is a virtue, but it is almost never adhered to. Kazakhs do not see the point in fixing appointments and may just walk in and meet you; the plus point being you can do the same. Avoid this if you’re on a business meeting. Social hierarchy places age before all, then men, women and children. This means an elderly woman has the power to boss over the menfolk and will not be denied this due to her gender. Women have equality in the workplace and will be respected for her position in spite of gender. Women are fiercely protective of their home and will not tolerate men interfering in housework. Women wearing masculine attire and smoke are looked down upon.

hut
Photo by Irene2005

ETIQUETTE & CUSTOMS

dancersMeetings & Greetings
Men greet each other with a handshake and with both hands clasping the other’s hand if the relationship is close. Women may just smile and nod or shake hands lightly. Close relatives will hug and kiss on the cheeks. When greeting the opposite gender, it is wise to take the cue from the lady depending on whether she is happy to smile a greeting or shake hands. Greeting religious figures should be restricted to a slight reverent bow and no touching.

Courtesy
Society is hierarchical and seniority is always shown a lot of respect. Always let the older person begin and dominate conversations.

camel milkGift Giving
Gift giving does not follow any strict rules but flowers, chocolates and quality wines are all considered appropriate. However, do not gift alcohol to Muslims, even if you think they imbibe. When giving a gift be prepared to be given something in return.

Dress Code
Western attire is considered acceptable, though women tend to avoid masculine clothes such as boots or cowboy hats. Kazakhs love their shoes and it is a sign of their class. Women don’t normally favour sneakers or flip flops and mostly wear elegant stilettos and other high heels. Men sport dandy, pointy shoes polished to perfection. Short shorts and tight tees are generally not acceptable.

Dining Etiquette
Dining may be seated on floors or on furniture depending on the location. if in a rural setting, you may be seated on the floor and eat with your hands with the food being served from communal bowls. Lamb will be on the menu and may even be in form of the whole head which is then proceeded to be taken apart with various pieces assigned to the guests based on rank, ending with children getting the ears.

Visiting a home
If offered a boiled sheep’s head on an ornate dish, it is a sign of great respect and should be accepted with appreciation. This is only offered to the oldest member or a distinguished guest. Young people whose parents are alive are spared the ordeal of cutting it open, and so, it can be passed around for somebody else to do the honours. Tea will be served half-filled as a full cup is considered ill-mannered. Bread is considered sacred and should not be left over. However, when you’ve had your fill, leave a bit of left-overs or you will be served repeatedly. It would be good form to bring along a token gift in the form of pastries or chocolates for the occasion.

fam
Photo by culater251

Communication Style
Communication style often differs with ethnicity. With those of Russian ethnicity you may expect a certain bluntness and openness while ethnic Kazakhs rarely always maintain an indirect style. Most Kazakhs speak English, but it might sound a tad imperative even if they are only suggesting something.

Dos and Don’ts
Drive on the right side of the road. Religion, ethnicity, and politics are touchy topics with even close acquaintances and should never be discussed with strangers you may have just met. Do not hook two fingers together or put your thumb between your index and middle finger as these gestures are considered obscene. Do not ask after the welfare of a sick person in the evenings.

man with hat, cathedral, camel milk by sly06
traditional girl culater251
dancers by hello alisa
camel, yurt by Irene2005

 

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