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Customs & Traditions in Kazakhstan

Updated: May 5

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General Etiquette

  • Kazakhs are always respected and highly valued for their national customs and traditions.

  • They are generally modest and hospitable.

  • They respect the elderly, Younger generations value and respect their elders, who often live with their children or grandchildren.

  • Kazakhs will politely offer tea or meal firstly to the older people. Usually, the elder members of the family are firstly seated and then the rest will be seated cross-legged or on knees around the table. The best meat is served to the elderly.

  • The Kazakhs believe that Tuesdays and Fridays are unlucky and they will not go out these days.

  • They pay great attention to odd numbers, especially 7 and 9. The number 7 is the most respected number in their opinion. For example, Kazakhs hold cradle and naming ceremonies on the 7th day after the baby is born. Intermarriage is forbidden within 7 generations, while two families who are connected by marriage should be 7 rivers apart from each other.

  • As an Islamic Society pork should not be consumed and alcohol is forbidden for Muslims

  • For highly honored guests or relatives that haven’t met for years, mutton and horse are brought out.

  • Before eating, the host will firstly bring water, kettle, and washbasin for the guest to wash their hands, and then serve the plate with sheep head, rear leg, and rib meat in front of the guest.

  • The guest should firstly cut out and eat a piece of meat from the sheep cheek and then the left ear, and give the sheep head to the host.

  • Then everyone can start eating together.

  • As in all social situations 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 too public.


Family

  • The average family in Kazakhstan has two children.

  • Fathers are the primary income earners, but most mothers also work outside the home as well as perform the bulk of child care and domestic tasks.

  • Extended family ties are highly valued.

  • Grandparents and grandchildren often develop especially close bonds.

  • Members of the extended family network support and rely on one another. Relocation within Kazakhstan is uncommon. Young adults usually attend local universities or schools, although some go abroad for more opportunities.

  • Newlyweds often live with their parents until they can afford an apartment of their own.



Naming

  • Names consist of a given name+ a patronymic+ a Surname.

  • Almost all first names are single. Doubled first names (as in, for example, French, like Jean-Luc) are very rare and from foreign influence. Most doubled first names are written with a hyphen: Mariya-Tereza.

  • Given names are provided at birth or selected during a name change.

  • Most Kazakhs have a first and patronymic name (the father’s name followed by a suffix -ich or –ovich for son of or daughter of, respectively).

  • It is customary to use patronymics as middle names. Patronymics are derived from the father's given name and end with -ovich or -evich. The female patronymics end in -ovna or -evna.

  • Most surnames end in -ov or -ev. Surnames derived from given male names are common. Female forms of this type of surnames end in -ova or -eva.

  • The birth of a child is the biggest event in a Kazakh family so they choosing the names of their newborn children very seriously.

  • Traditionally, it was the privilege of a grandfather or another respectable person, so that the child would grow up to be as good as this person.

  • Sometimes, Kazakhs would even ask a guest to give a name to their child.

  • Kazakhs also have numerous other ways to name children. They may be inspired by the seasons, weather, local sites, health and body features, various omens, expensive fabrics, or famous events.

  • They believed that the evil eye could not harm girls and therefore could choose for them the most beautiful, tender, and easy to pronounce names.


Meeting & Greeting:

  • Greetings are formal in Kazakhstan.

  • The common greeting is the handshake, two hands are often used with a smile.

  • Maintain eye contact during the greeting.

  • Close friends and relatives often kiss cheeks when arriving at or leaving someone's home

  • Shake hands at the end of a meeting, prior to leaving.

  • If you meet someone several times in the same day, you should shake hands each time.

  • Men will not shake hands with women. A woman should extend her hand, but if it is not accepted, she should not be insulted.

  • Men shake hands with other men, each holding both hands around one of the other's hands, and often slap one another on the back as a sign of friendly respect.

  • Once you have developed a personal relationship, close friends of the same sex may hug each other rather than shake hands.

  • Wait until invited before using someone’s first name, although the invitation generally comes early in the relationship.

  • Academic and professional titles are used in business.

  • Wait to be introduced to everyone, usually in the order of importance.

  • People are called by their title and surname.


Visiting a home

  • Hosts work hard to be hospitable to their guests, preparing a full table of food, or, at a minimum, offering tea, bread, fruit, nuts, cookies.

  • Visits, whether prearranged or spontaneous, are always welcomed.

  • Many hosts prefer prearranged social calls so they can prepare well.

  • Friends and neighbors who simply drop by are usually offered tea and a snack. Offering food and drink is a way of expressing love and respect.

  • Guests bring their hosts flowers, candy, or a bottle of wine or spirits. Flowers must be in odd numbers. (Even numbers are considered a sign of bad luck.)

  • Shoes are left at the door. Most households provide house slippers for visitors.

  • Guests should not sit on a bed when in a yurt or house; instead, they should be seated on the floor mat with legs crossed instead of extending the legs.

  • If a guest has to stand up and go somewhere he or she should not walk in front of people but rather behind them.

  • When food is being prepared, the guest should not enter the kitchen or the place where food is being prepared.

  • When invited to someone’s house for dinner, it is polite to bring something for the hostess such as pastries.

  • Dress conservatively in clothing you might wear to the office. Kazakhs value dressing well over comfort. To dress too informally might insult your hosts.

  • If the host asks a guest to stay for the night, do not refuse the bedclothes of offered by the host, otherwise this will cause serious loss of face.

  • When a new settlers came to a village "erulik" was arranged in their honor, i.e. a small celebration that allowed newcomers to quickly adapt to the new location, also, they will provide them with firewood, drinking water, etc. for the time being.


Giving gifts

  • There is not a great deal of protocol in gift-giving.

  • When invited to someone’s house for dinner, it is polite to bring something for the hostess such as pastries.

  • Practicing Muslims do not touch alcohol, so do not give alcoholic beverages unless you know your host drinks.

  • Gifts are usually opened when received.

Dining & Food:

  • You will be served tea and bread, even if you are not invited to a meal. Since Kazakhs consider bread to be sacred, serving bread is a sign of respect.

  • When served tea, your cup will often only be filled halfway. To fill the cup would mean that your host wanted you to leave.

  • It is not important that you arrive on time, although you should not arrive more than 30 minutes late without telephoning first.

  • Before and after meals, the host will pour water for the guest to wash his hands. Do not slosh after washing hands; wipe hands dry using towels and politely return it to the host.

  • Table manners are not formal in Kazakhstan.

  • Table manners are Continental the fork is held in the left hand and the knife in the right while eating.

  • Some foods are meant to be eaten by hand.

  • Your host or another guest may serve you.

  • In more rural settings, you may sit on the floor.

  • You will be given a bowl to drink broth or tea. When you do not want any more, turn your bowl upside-down as an indication.

  • If alcoholic beverages are served, expect a fair amount of toasting.

  • Meals are social events. As such, they may take a great deal of time.

  • Leave something on your plate when you have finished eating. This shows you are full, whereas if you finish all the food it means you are still hungry and you will be served more food.

  • Expect to be served second helpings.

  • In rural settings, it is a sign of respect to offer the most honored guest a boiled sheep's head on a beautiful plate.

  • The guest then divides the food among the guests in the following form:

  • The ear is given to the smallest child so that he or she will listen to and obey the elders.

  • The eyes are given to the two closest friends so that they will take care of the guest.

  • The upper palate is given to the daughter-in-law and the tongue to the host’s daughter so both women will hold their tongues.

  • The pelvic bones go to the second most respected guest.

  • The brisket is given to the son-in-law.




Communication style

  • Kazakhs are generally reserved in public.

  • Smiling is saved for important occasions. However, in their apartments and in the company of friends, people are warm and cheerful.

  • Men usually are polite and attentive to women. They open doors, help women with their coats, and offer to carry heavy bags.

  • During dinner parties and celebrations, men often pour drinks and dish up food for their female companions; large portions are a sign of affection.

  • Women and girls commonly link arms as they walk along the sidewalk. .


Other considerations

Weddings

  • Before all, according to Kazakh traditions, a man and a woman wishing to marry each other had to prove they weren’t relatives in seven generations.

  • There were two ways to achieve approval – either parents of both negotiate, kuda tusu [offer of marriage] or the groom steals the bride at her will, alyp kashu [grab and run].

  • Kazakh groom asks the bride's father for her hand in marriage. The groom's parents visit the bride's parents and bring gifts for each member of her family.

  • A delegation may consist of five to ten persons. Meantime, the young man stays at home.

  • During the wedding, the bride's parents give her dowry to the married couple.

  • Rural Kazakh weddings often include other traditional rituals and can last for three days.

  • Urban weddings are conducted in a “wedding palace.” After the brief civil ceremony, the newlyweds visit local landmarks and take photographs outside while relatives set up a festive reception banquet.

  • Before the main wedding [the groom’s wedding] the bride’s side arranges kyz uzatu [farewell].

  • After kyz uzatu the groom’s wedding starts. In the eve, the groom’s sisters-in-law bring to the bride’s home a wedding dress and shoes he bought for her.

  • During the first week after the birth of a child, a party called a shildekhana is held for relatives and friends, usually only women.

  • The guests bring presents of clothes and other items the family may need for the baby.

  • On the seventh day after the birth, especially among Tartars, the name of the child is traditionally chosen by the father's family, and is whispered three times into his or her ear.

  • On the 40th day, the family holds ceremony of bathing the baby and cutting the baby's hair.

  • When a child takes his or her first steps, the family asks a respected person to cut a string tied around the ankles of the child. It is important to choose the right person for this ceremony, called the tusau kesu, as it is believed that the child will follow in the footsteps of the person who does the cutting.

  • When a person dies, the body remains at the home for 2 or 3 days. Relatives and friends visit to offer condolences to the family and to say goodbye to the departed.

  • On the first or second evening, a large meal is served with help from relatives, friends, and neighbors.

  • In keeping with Muslim tradition, family members wash the body and wrap it in white cloth for burial. Only men attend the burial. Memorial services are held on the seventh and fortieth day after the death and on the first anniversary. Smaller commemorations are held on each subsequent anniversary.



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