• Bread is the main and the most respected food for Kyrgyz people; as a result, one has to be careful and respectful with it. Never put it upside down, as it is seen as disrespectful. It is preferable tear it with hands, rather using a knife. Bread is usually laid in the centre of the table so that everybody can reach. Once a guest is seated, they taste the bread first and then proceed with other food laid on the table. Kyrgyz never throw the bread in waste; they either try to eat it all, or feed dogs or domestic animals with what is left. They say “Kesir bolot” which mean “Famine comes”, a reference to the famines which swept Central Asia in the 1930s, locally called Golodomor.
• While seated at the table of Kyrgyz family make sure you have tasted a little bit of everything put on the “dastorkon”( traditional name for tablecloth), especially the butter for the reason that it is considered to be one of the main foods after bread (traditionally, cow’s melted butter is the first food that a new born child is fed with, preceding even mother’s milk!)
• If you happen to dine with a Kyrgyz family, and are offered a piece of food by them from their plate, don’t hesitate to take it. It is considered to be impolite to refuse the food offered by older people because it is given as a sign of friendsip, and represents wishing someone luck in their life. It is very common tradition in Kyrgyz families when a very old grandfather gives a piece of meat from his plate to his grandchild, saying “Menin jashyma jet” which mean “May your life be as long as mine”.
• If you have eaten everything on your plate the hostess will insist on having more and most probably will put some more food, so if you think you are unable to eat another portion of food, try to leave something on your plate to show that you are done.
• Tea is one of the traditional drinks that are served during meals. Therefore the hostess will always make sure that your drinking bowl is always filled with tea. Do not be upset when your bowl is filled only in half- that is one way of showing respect. It also allows you to drink fresh tea all the time, never hesitate to ask for more.
• Eating utensils are fairly recent to Kyrgyz culture, and most traditional food is supposed to be eaten by hand. However, if eating with a knife and fork, make sure that your knife is not laid down on the edge. This is considered a sign of expecting an enemy to come to the house.
• In Kyrgyz home people take off their shoes before entering the house. Make sure that your shoes are put together and not upside down. Otherwise it will mean that you wish unhappiness to the house you have come.
• If you are met by the older woman with a bowl in her hand do not be surprised by her actions. She will ask you to spit in the bowl, which will be filled with water, and then turn it around your head and pour it out to the place never to be trodden upon by any human being. Water is believed to have clarifying properties, so once you spit on it you release yourself out of bad spirits and negative auras. Kyrgyz do it to people who have come from faraway trips, to bless their safe homecoming and future travels.
• Though Kyrgyzstan is a democratic, unitary, sovereign state much of the patriarchal system has been preserved in Kyrgyz culture.
The position of woman in a family is if not inferior but underestimated.
There are several rules that each Kyrgyz woman has to follow:
1. She has no right to appear with an uncovered head in front of the parents and relatives of her husband.
2. She doesn’t have to sit with her back turned to them.
3. She never has to put her both hands in her waist that shows her disrespect and willful act towards her parents-in-law. Another interpretation of this gesture suggests that it is a bad sign. This is an action when one tries to stop the pain in his kidneys as a result of too much crying.
Prepared by Sergey of Nomad’s Dream www.mykyrgyzstan.ch/