Uzbekistan Etiquette: Do & Don’t Part I

First things first: Uzbekistan is by no means Japan. Your Uzbek colleagues and partners don’t expect you to be very familiar with all the subtleties and refinements of Uzbek culture at the beginning of your stay. The situations described below are only of an ideal type, ie deviations from the “canon” are possible.

  1. Reception and farewell for guests

Reception and farewell for guests always takes place at the courtyard or apartment door personally by the host or hostess, even if he / she is busy with something else when the guests arrive. It is considered impolite to send a younger family member or the wife or husband to greet or say goodbye.

  1. How to shake hands

The following informal rules apply when shaking hands: Shaking hands is rather unusual among women, they are more likely to hug. They hold out their hand to men first, if at all. A woman is therefore usually not greeted by a man with a handshake, unless the woman is very emancipated / Europeanized, but with a slight nod of the head and by placing the right hand on the left side of the chest and the customary greeting “Assalomu alejkum ! ” (German: “Peace be with you”). If you are greeted first, you answer with “Wa alejkum assalom!” (Eng. “Peace be with you too!”).

A firm handshake with direct eye contact is a must among men; a sloppy one is considered rather impolite or “unmanly”. Shaking hands is also common when saying goodbye. No matter how close individual men to be greeted are to you in a room or on the street, you have to greet the oldest person and / or the “alpha animal” first and only then greet his entourage. From a European point of view, this leads to embarrassing situations if you head straight for the “alpha animal” and “ignore” others present. However, it would be a mistake to greet the “little man” first, while the oldest person or the “alpha animal” waits impatiently when it is their turn.

A handshake can be repeated during the day: if you have greeted one of your contact persons / acquaintances etc. early in the morning, it is not wrong to shake hands again at a meeting at the end of the day.

  1. Which table and seating arrangements are correct? How do I optimally place my guests?

According to franciscogardening, the Uzbek table and seating arrangement, be it at the round or square table, is very simple in all regions and all social classes: the further from the exit or the toilet, the more honorable the seat is. The seat furthest away from the exit is reserved for the “highest ranking” male (sic!) Guest. He is followed by other male guests, who in turn are to be ranked according to their status. The host assigns the seats and either takes a seat near the exit to pass food on or to ensure a constant supply from the kitchen, or a seat opposite the guest of honor so as not to “leave him alone”. In the latter case, the place from which the culinary “mediation” between your guests and the kitchen is be occupied by a lady of the house, a family member or a younger helpful Uzbek colleague. If the host remains as a mediator between the kitchen and the guests, he / she should ensure that the main guest has a “same status” interlocutor as his / her counterpart.

In the “ideal case” strange men and women sit in two separate rooms or at two separate tables (please click on the picture “Uzbek wedding “). But these days, in most cases, this is not possible. But this “gender segregation” can also be organized at a single table, namely by an exclusively male or female side of the table. This “gender segregation” is all the more important if the age difference between male and female guests is considerable. With male and female guests of the same age or if the age difference is minimal, things can be more relaxed, mixed table sides are also possible,

  1. Can I blow my nose while eating? How do I behave correctly?

In Uzbekistan it is still an undisputed faux pas to blow one’s nose at the table in the presence of others (regardless of whether it is a short nose, constant pulling up or a vigorous “blow concert”). If possible, you should get up every time, leave the table and go to the washrooms, if available, or go outside so that your business partners or guests do not hear any accompanying noises. Discreet dabbing of the nose while eating is also to be avoided, because all openings in the human body are considered “unclean”.

Uzbek wedding

  1. Famous right hand man

In Uzbekistan, as in other Islamic countries, the left hand is considered “dirty”: In Uzbekistan it was / is still customary not to use paper after using the toilet, but to clean oneself with the left hand and plenty of water. You should therefore refrain from eating with your left hand during a meal in the so-called “tradition-bound” Uzbek families (it can remain on the table during meals, see the picture on the left) or handing them out as a greeting.