In general, Mongolians are quite friendly and very hospitable people, especially if their guests are from a far away country like yours. On the other hand, without knowing the rules and traditions, one might break one or several of the many traditional, religious and superstitious customs. If you get confused, do not panic, minor indiscretion will be tolerated and forgiven.
- Say hello (Sain bain uu!) when you arrive.
- After entering a ger, always move around the stove in a clockwise direction.
- Keep your sleeves rolled down, if you have any (or pretend to, if you have short sleeves); try not to expose your wrists
- Bowls of food and drink will be offered to you with either your host’s right hand or both hands. Receive them also with both hands or your right hand.
- Receive everything with an open hand, with your palm facing upwards;
- Take at least a sip, or a nibble, of the delicates offered;
- Squat or kneel on the floor and if seated on a stool, tuck your feet underneath – do not stick them straight out in front of you.
- Sleep with your feet pointing towards the door;
- Do not shake someone’s hand with your gloves on.
Remove them even if it is -40°C.
- Do not lean against the ger wall or furniture.
- Do not lean against a support column.
- Do not whistle inside a ger.
- Do not stand on, or lean over, the threshold.
- Do not walk in front of an older person; or turn your back to the altar, or religious objects (except when leaving).
- Do not take food from a communal plate with your left hand.
- Do not touch other people's hats.
- Do not have a long conversation in your own language in front of your hosts.
Rituals & Superstitions
- Don't write anything in red pen
- Don't point a knife in any way at anyone; pass a knife handle first; use the knife to cut towards you, not away
- Don't spill any milk.
- When offered some vodka, dip your ring finger of your right hand into the glass, and lightly flick a drop (not too much - vodka is also sacred!) once towards the sky, once in the air 'to the wind', and once to ground. If you don't want any vodka, go through the customs anyway, put the same finger to your forehead, say thanks, and return the glass to the table.
- Don't point your feet at the hearth, the altar or at another person
- Don't walk over an uurga, a lasso on a pole.
- If you have stepped on anyone, or kicked their feet, shake their hand immediately.
- Urinating in water (such as a stream or river) is sacrilegious. Don't do this. At the time of Chinggis Khaan, only death could repay such an offence.
- If someone saddles a horse for you to ride, do not refuse the offer. Unsaddling a horse that has not been ridden is bad luck. If you do not want to ride, have the courtesy to trot about for a bit (a test drive, if you will), and then dismount.
- When arriving in sight of a ger, it is absolutely vital to bring your horse to a walking pace. Arriving at a gallop would be taken as an aggressive act.
- Fire, the god of life, represents the link between the ancestors and their descendants, and symbolizes the succession of generations. So don't stamp out a fire, or put water or any rubbish on it. Don't even think about urinating on a fire to extinguish it.
When at Rome, do as the Romans do !