Travel Tajikistan
Adventure on the Roof of the World [Atlas Silk]

Cultural Guidelines

Contents

The best way to learn a new culture is to participate in it. Spend time with people, observe and pay attention to how they interact and behave. The guidelines on this page are just a few hints to help you to get started.

Tajiks are, on the whole, very friendly and hospitable towards guests in their country. Most will quickly overlook any cultural misdemeanors. You can keep mistakes to a minimum and avoid causing offense by following these simple suggestions.

Bread

Non ham non, nonreza ham non.
Bread is bread, crumbs are also bread.
Tajik proverb

Bread is considered to have a life of its own. It must be treated with respect:

  • Never put flat bread (non) face down.
  • Never let bread (or breadcrumbs) fall to the ground, and don't throw it out with ordinary rubbish/trash. Leftover bread should be put on a shelf or windowsill or used to feed animals.

Behaviour in Public

  • Dress modestly. Shorts or short skirts are not recommended, especially in rural areas which tend to be more conservative.
  • Ask permission before taking photographs of people (unless you have a good zoom lens and can do it surreptitiously from a distance).

Being a Guest

You probably won't have been in Tajikistan for very long before someone invites you into their home. Accept the invitation; there is no better way to get to know the real Tajikistan. The Tajiks take hospitality very seriously!

Do be careful, however. Make sure someone knows where you are going, and don't reveal too much personal information, especially about money or your travel plans.

When in a Tajik Home

  • Tajiks normally sit on thin matresses (korpacha) on the floor around a large tablecloth laden with food (dastarkhan).
  • The guest of honour is normally seated furthest from the door.
  • When finding or leaving your place, do not step on the tablecloth or across the legs of another seated guest. Walk behind other guests, not in front.
  • When a new guest arrives, the seated guests will stand and shake the hand of the new arrival. Shake with your right hand, and put your left hand on your heart as a sign of sincerity. Greet people with the words, Salom alekum (peace be to you).
  • Tajik tradition dictates that a visitor is a guest for three days, after which they become a member of the family, with their own share of household chores!

Gifts

  • If you are presented with a gift, plan on giving something in return in the near future.
  • It is usually appropriate to give a gift when you visit someone's home. Gifts from your city or country will be treasured. Postcards or other small cultural items would be appropriate, or small toys for children. Local people often give chocolates, fruit or flowers as gifts.

Men and Women

  • Men usually only shake hands with other men.
  • Women are not obligated to answer a question from a male stranger.
  • Physical contact with the opposite sex in public is not acceptable. Even between you and your spouse or a good friend, it can be misunderstood.

Offensive Behaviour

  • If you step on someone's foot, an apology is required.
  • When you are sitting, don't point the bottom of your foot towards another person. This is very offensive to Tajiks.
  • Don't use your left hand for exchanges: money, gifts, shaking hands, passing food.
  • Blowing your nose in public is not acceptable.


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