Do’s and Don’ts in Mongolia
You can visit a Mongolian family at any time during ordinary days because Mongolian people are always hospitable and friendly. They offer food and drinks for guests who have arrived from far places. Hosts at the ger will want you to feel at home. Please remember the following:
DO watch out for dogs, especially around a nomadic family. They are there to provide security and take their role very seriously. Do not try to pet them, they won’t get the message and Mongolian dogs are never vaccinated. When you arrive at the home of a nomadic family, first word to say is “Hold your dog!” or “Nohoi horio!”. It is also meant to give a noise to the people inside the ger even when there is no dog outside.
DO walk over the threshold with your right foot first. Don’t step on the threshold.
DO accept tea, food or dairy products. It is not polite to say no when the host offers tea, food or dairy products.
DO be ready for an elbow in the side in crowded areas. It is common to shove a little in Mongolia, but don’t get carried away.
DO everything sun-wise. When you enter a temple, follow the crowd and walk around sun-wise.
DO sit if there is seating in someone’s home. Greet the family members and sit down. Mongolians show respect by sitting, but Europeans show respect by standing.
DO remember, if you are giving a gift do so when you’re leaving and not when you are arriving. This is customary in Mongolia. Mongolian people do not expect to get gifts from the visitors, but they will be happy if visitors give candies or gifts to their children.
DO be aware that it is customary for Mongolians to offer tea and food to guests. You do not need to say “thank you” each time it is offered or give money, but give your thanks when you leave.
DO use two hands or the right hand to give or receive something.
DO be patient and expect the unexpected. It will always come.
DO try to speak Mongolian if you know some basic phrases
DO flick alcohol in traditional manner when appropriate. When offered vodka or fermented mare milk, do accept it. Drinking it is not necessary, but you should touch it to your lips as if tasting it, and return the cap or bowl to the person who handed it to you.
DO shake the hands of someone who you have accidentally bumped feet with.
DO establish a proper area to go to the bathroom or wash clothes and dishes. Do always go to the bathroom downwind while out in nature.
When given knives or scissors, offer the handle, but not the blade.
Passing a snuff bottle is a formal occasion. You may actually take a pinch or sniff the bottle’s top. Before passing the bottle to another, you should offer it back to its owner. If you sample the snuff, do not screw the cap back on – simply leave it on the bottle neck, with the snuff blade inside.
DON’T say “Thank you” all the time even in small things. Mongolians don’t say “Thank you” constantly.
DON’T underestimate the local homemade vodka…
DON’T point at people with your index finger while talking. It is thought that pointing at someone brings evil to them. Also don’t point at a portrait of their beloved or any Buddhist thangka.
DON’T wash dirty dishes or clothes directly in a body of water.
DON’T expect to eat lamb, do expect to eat lots of boiled mutton full of fat.
DON’T say no when people offer you tea or food. You should accept it and taste it (or pretend to do) before placing it on the table. Don’t even show them you are smelling it before tasting. Hold a cup by the bottom, not by the top rim.
DON’T drink untreated water. Try to find bottled water or boil the water yourself.
DON’T urinate in or next a river or lake.
DON’T sit with one leg over the other or people will think you are looking down on them.
DON’T cross your arm over your chest or people will think you’re sick.
DON’T walk over a man who is lying on the ground.
DON’T talk or joke about bad things that may happen.
DON’T point your feet at someone or show your soles.
DON’T touch a man’s head or shoulder without permission.
DON’T whistle inside home. It is thought that it will bring bad wind into the home.
DON’T let blood touch the ground or drop in river/lake.
DON’T compliment a child repeatedly with strongly positive words like “Oh very cute.” Too much is bad luck.
DON’T place a hat or other “open” object face up. Don’t take off your hat and put it on the bed unless you want to stay overnight there.26