CUSTOMS IN UZBEKISTAN
Most of the behavioral restrictions in Uzbekistan are based on their Islamic faith. In addition to following the dress restrictions and dining etiquette the most important behavioral restrictions tend to be common sense. Avoid sensitive conversation topics, such as politics, finances, religion, and business unless initiated by your local counterpart. Also try to avoid being loud, rude, showing off wealth, or getting noticeably drunk in public. [Source: safaritheglobe.com]
According to Chinatravel.com: The Uzbek people attach much importance to rites and customs. They respect the elderly in every aspect of their lives. If two persons go out by horse, the senior one will be seated in front of the young one, and the male will be seated in front of the female. When two men meet each other, they will firstly bow to each other with hands on the chest and then shake hands. However, when two women meet each other, they will firstly bow to each other with hands on the chest and then hug each other. When there is only a mature woman at home alone, other people should not come over. In public, people are forbidden to be stripped to the waist. They cannot wear shorts in public either. The Uzbek people pay special attention to the cleanness and safety of the drinking water. [Source: Chinatravel.com chinatravel.com \=/]
Greetings in Uzbekistan
According to orexca.com: “Men will always shake hands with other men. Even if you are not introduced to everyone, a simple handshake substitutes for a formal introduction. A woman visitor may not receive a handshake unless she herself extends her hand. For the woman traveler, do not feel offended that you do not receive the same attention as the males in your group. As odd as it may seem to us in the West, it is only out of respect that you are not included in the hand shaking ritual. Women will often greet you with a big hug, and definitely with a handshake. For the winter traveler, gloves should be removed when shaking hands. [Source:orexca.com ==]
“Etiquette is important and strictly followed. There are a multitude of ways to greet strangers, acquaintances, or even lifelong friends. Close friends or family members of the same sex will often greet each other with a more vibrant display of affection than a simple handshake. Kissing is the most common greeting seen among people of the region, and depending on where you are traveling, this is most often done two or three times on alternating cheeks. However, when a pair is exceptionally happy to see each other, or when one is showing a deep respect for the other, the exchange will most definitely continue past the requisite two- or three-kiss norm. As a sign of respect, elders will often receive a kiss from their less mature counterparts, whether acquainted or not. ==
According to orexca.com: Hospitality is one of Uzbekistan features. Hospitality in Uzbek families is appreciated higher than the wealth of a table and prosperity of the family. Not to receive a guest means to disgrace the family, kin and mahallya. Hosts welcome esteemed guests at the gate. As a rule, men shake hands to each other and show their interest in each-other's health, business and other things. It is appropriate to greet women with slight bow, attaching right hand over the heart.[Source: orexca.com ==]
“Then guests are invited inside and to the most honorable seats at the table, or dastarkhan in Uzbek. By the ancient custom men and women should seat at the separate tables, but this custom is preserved in whole only in suburbs. The head of the family himself seats guests round the table, and the most honored guests are seated away from the entrance. Any meal begins and ends with tea drinking. At the beginning the table is served with sweets, baked goods, dried fruits, nuts, fruits and vegetables, then it is served with snacks and at the end – with pilaf or other festal dish. ==
“The host of the house pours the tea. The traditional element of hospitality is the peculiar small amount of tea to be poured: the more honored guest, the less amount of tea is in his cup. This custom is explained in such way: the more guest asks the host for more, the better. It is the sign of respect to the house. If tea is remained in the bottom of the piala, the host pours it out and again fills piala with tea.” ==
Silk Road Hospitality
According to orexca.com: Through the cities along the Great Silk Road, such as Naryn, Bukhara, Samarkand and Khiva, passed hundreds and thousands of tradesmen and the many helpers who accompanied the caravans of ancient times. They were of the most diverse origins and backgrounds. They whole caravan would settle down for a number of days in commercial capitals, since dismounting their camels, storing the wares, trading and re-loading all took time. Those who had a profound interest in making the caravan's stay a comfortable one were the local tradesmen. For good business relationships, and also to secure the best deals, it was vital for these local business entrepreneurs and their families to entertain their guests sumptuously. This meant a table covered, on every inch, with a dizzying variety of delicacies, which would all be pressed upon the guest, with second and third helpings being de rigeur, and plates never being anywhere near empty. [Source: orexca.com ==]
“Subsequently, foreign tradespeople, belts loosened, regally propped up on large, soft, beautiful pillows, their bellies stuffed with the most delectable cooking, served on beautiful china, were most likely in a feeble position to close a deal. The concept of the business lunch or business dinner is therefore not recent. Food, drink, and a banquet enjoyed together set the stage for negotiations. By creating a hospitable ambience, by making their guests feel at ease inside the own private home, a relationship would turn from strictly business to one of lasting friendship. ==
“ The days of the caravans are history but the Central Asian art of hospitality and the ancient custom surrounding the table are very much alive. Yes, in the last 100 years, more European menu items have been added to the menu, however the traditions formed during the bustling days of The Great Silk Road still apply and creating bonds and forging friendships through culinary occasions is still the essence of Central Asian hospitality, and its friendly and peaceful people. The ancient custom around the table are still very much alive!” ==
Uzbek Social Customs
Male social activity revolves around chaykhanas (tea houses). According to Oriental Express Central Asia: “If you have never lived in Central Asia, I need to explain what "gap" means, it's translated from Uzbek as "talk", but it has a slang meaning - chat. However, in Central Asia this word is used to define a small friendly party held for any reason. A "gap" is an event for men and usually it takes place not in houses but in chaykhanas or some other place. Plov at a "gap" is cooked by the participants themselves and not by a master. [Source: Oriental Express Central Asia orexca.com |~|]
Hospitality is expressed with warm welcomes and giving guests the place of honor at the table. An invitation for tea can result in a feast. Some people complain that Russian and Central Asian hospitality is too much. They end up drinking more than they would like, eating things they don’t want to and spend more time with their hosts than they would like.
Show respect towards older people by shaking their hands and offering them your seat. Old men, called aksakals ("white beards") are treated with great respect. Eye contact is important among some groups.
Sometimes when walking down the street Central Asians, particularly Uzbeks, place a hand under the elbow of the person they are walking with. Westerners have speculated that maybe one reason they do is to offer support of the person is drunk or as a sign of respect.
It is common for people of different status and ranks to sit around and eat with each—office workers with their bosses, guides with their drivers and factory workers with their supervisors—more than in the West where people of the same rank and status tend to separate into groups and eat and social with people of the same rank and status. Among Central Asians lower ranking people often are quiet and do not speak until spoken to first by high ranking people.
One of the most beautiful features of Central Asian culture is found within one simple little gesture, this "silent bow". Often accompanying the handshake, men will place their left hand over their hearts and offer a slight, almost indiscernible, bow to their counterpart in a gesture of deep respect. This subtle bow or slight inclination of the head is also displayed in a variety of other exchanges among people. However, when not shaking hands, it is the right hand that is placed on the chest. You will most definitely encounter this when someone is offering thanks, saying goodbye or parting ways, or even when a younger man passes an elder in the street and wants to show his respect. [Source:orexca.com]
According to Islamic dietary restrictions pork should not be consumed and alcohol is forbidden. In Uzbekistan the restriction on pork is closely adhered to, with people eating lamb, chicken, beef, even camel and horse meat. There are also of taboos against eating the meat of dogs, donkeys and mules. Kyrgyz and Kazakhs eat horsemeat but Uzbeks don’t. Uzbeks are very picky about cleanliness. They generally wash their hands both before and after meals. After washing their hands, they wipe dry their hands with towels rather than shaking their hands. Sometimes, before having the meal, the host offers a hand-washing pot and a basin to the guest. The idea is the guests can wash their hands, which are then clean enough to grasp food directly from the plate without using serving spoons.
Any meal begins and ends with tea drinking. At the beginning the table is served with sweets, baked goods, dried fruits, nuts, fruits and vegetables, then it is served with snacks and at the end – with pilaf or other festal dish. Guests are given the most honorable seats at the table, or dastarkhan in Uzbek. In the old days, men and women sat at the separate tables. This custom is preserved in some rural areas and among conservative Muslims but otherwise is not adhered to so much anymore. The head of the family himself seats guests round the table, and the most honored guests are seated away from the entrance. [Source: orexca.com]
When having meals, the senior is seated on the distinguished seat while the young ones are seated on other seats. In a family consisting of many people, they will eat on separate tables. In this case, the children and the women will have meal at the same table. In the past, the Uzbek people ate food with their hands, so they had to wash hands before and after meals. Nowadays, except in some rural areas, where people have kept this habit, most Uzbek people eat with a forks, spoons and knives and, in China, with chopsticks. During the meal, people are forbidden to take off their hats or cough while eating at the table with guests. [Source: Chinatravel.com chinatravel.com \=/]
During feasts and large meal, tradition demands that the table be covered with food at all times. When guests arrive, all cold food items are on the table, served on small plates, namely the appetizers, salads, cakes and cookies and a fruit arrangement in the center. Only completely empty serving plates are cleared. Guests' plates are changed after every course.[Source: orexca.com]
Morning Plov in Uzbekistan
One enduring custom in Uzbekistan is morning plov. The big plov is cooked for dozens, even hundreds, of guests when a child is born or a boy circumcised or to honor a man returning from the military service. It is also held in the early morning of a wedding day, when one turns the age of the Prophet (63 years old), after a funeral and many other major events. The day of the morning plov is fixed in advance and organizers give invitations to their relatives, friends, colleagues and neighbors. [Source: orexca.com]
On the eve of plov ceremony there is a rite called ‘sabzi tugrar’, which means carrot chopping. Carrots are one of the main ingredients of plov along with rice and meat, Uzbeks say carrots give plov its rich taste. After carrots are chopped, refreshments are served, and the elderly distribute duties among men as only men may cook, serve and take part in the morning plov ceremony.
Morning plov is served right after the morning prayer — ‘bomdod namozi’ — that ends with the sunrise. As soon as the morning prayer is over, the first guests arrive. The table is served with non (bread), dried fruits, snacks and tea, and musicians play traditional Uzbek instruments such as the karnay –surnay to announce the start of the morning plov. Large dishes (lagan) of plov are served. One lagan is usually for two persons. Before the meal, guests read a blessing prayer for the hosts of the event and repeat it after the ceremony.
On the morning of memorial plov ceremony, other surahs from Koran are read, for the peace of the soul. There are no musicians and the table is served modestly. Morning plov is a relatively quick mass event, usually taking no more than an hour and a half. At the wedding plov organized by the bride’s side, the most honored guests are offered chapans (national gowns) by the groom’s side at the very end of the meal.
Drinking and Toasting Customs
Alcohol is part of daily life for many people in Uzbekistan — particularly Russians. The Soviets introduced vodka and other alcoholic drinks and today it forms a part of the culture; only the strictest Muslims refrain from drinking alcohol. The Uzbeks have a long tradition of drinking. A British traveler in 1900 commented that he was expected to drink a pint of brandy with every meal less his host “appeared greatly hurt.”
Uzbeks often drink vodka from porcelain tea bowls. Sometimes a moderate amount of alcohol is consumed. Sometimes huge amounts are. Toasting is sometimes a big deal. Some social gatherings and parties seem to be an endless stream of toasts and speeches. Philip Glazebrook wrote: at the party “there was less conversation than speech-making. First comes the formal addresses made to me by each of our three Uzbek hosts, which followed the well-trodden path through parleyers of welcome and good wishes to the fountain of vodka at which a toast could be proposed and bowls thirstily emptied.”
At large gatherings, every guest takes his turn as toast master. The toast master stands up, his glass of vodka in hand and delivers a short speech, which ideally includes the following elements: thank you, praise of the host, something witty, and best wishes to all for health and prosperity. Then everybody clinks their glasses in the center of the table and drinks (you may be expected to not leave anything in your glass). When invited to a banquet it is advisable to rapidly lay a strong foundation of bread and cheese since the first toast will be given within minutes.
According to Oriental Express Central Asia: You should never drink vodka after plov. You can drink it before, but under no circumstances afterwards. Only green tea and such is the tradition; a very sensible tradition, mind you, since only a very healthy person can drink a 40 percent alcoholic drink after a heavy plov. [Source: Oriental Express Central Asia orexca.com |~|]
Uzbek Tea Drinking Customs
When guests visit an Uzbek house, the host of the house pours the tea. A peculiar element of Uzbek hospitality is that only a amount of tea is poured, with the honored guest receiving the least of all. The reason for this that the more a guest asks for something from the host and the more the more complies, the better. This reflects on respect towards the house and hospitality by the host. If tea remains in the bottom of the piala (tea bowl), the host pours it out and again fills the piala with tea. [Source: orexca.com]
During the Uzbek tea ceremony, tea is poured from ceramic pots into small piala bowls. The precious liquid is poured into the clean piala of the host and poured back into the chainik (teapot). This is repeated three times. The fourth time round, a half filled cup is offered in the guest's piala, allowing for the tea to cool down rapidly so as to quench one's thirst immediately. A bowl filled to the brim goes against all standards of hospitality and good form. Tea is served with homemade jam or honey, which acts as a sweetener. [Source: orexca.com]
Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, U.S. government, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.
© 2008 Jeffrey Hays
Last updated April 2016