Etiquette in Turkestan

The rules of etiquette in Turkestan are in most respects typically Central Asian.  There are several patterns of deference involved – to parents and grandparents, to elders, to the traditional nobility, and to those in various positions of authority.  A position of polite deference to elders and superiors comes as naturally to most Turkestanis as breathing; it is trained into children from a young age and backed with the typically Eastern shame-avoidance mentality.

Greeting and Meeting

When greeting someone, you will at least rise to your feet if you are seated, unless the person you are greeting is obviously much younger than you.  If the person you are greeting or being introduced to is more than half a generation older than you, you will place your right hand over your heart and bow to varying degrees depending on your relative status.  Formal introductions are performed by giving a person’s full name, including their patronymic and probably grandfather’s name, as well as any titles they hold and possibly their current position, if it is appropriate (e.g. if a person has a supervisory role in their job, that will be made clear by the introduction).  In very formal circumstances, the person being introduced will contribute their paternal ancestry for four to seven generations, depending on whether they are a Sart or a Nomad.  

Handshakes were not all that normal in Central Asia before the EBÜK period, but they have been picked up under Russian influence.  The particular form of handshake used is typically at arm’s length, clasping the other person’s right hand and placing your left hand gently over the handclasp.  Bone-crusher handshakes and vigorous shaking are both considered actively rude, especially to elders.  It is not considered especially considerate, but is not that unusual, for a round of handshakes between men to exclude any women present.

A more common greeting between people of the same sex is to embrace in a somewhat Muslim manner, giving a brief kiss of greeting on both cheeks.  This is never performed between a man and a woman in public, and would only be performed across the gender gap more privately by close relatives.


Guests are prized in Turkestan, and are considered a sign that God, the gods, or the ancestors, trust you to take care of them properly.  The whole business of guests is hedged about with custom, traditions and proverbs, both for the one being the guest and for the one receiving.  A “guest” as such is defined as someone who stays overnight.  Going to someone’s house for a meal or something is still being a guest, but isn’t quite in the same category.

In rural Turkestan, it is considered entirely appropriate, if you have the need, to knock on a stranger’s door and announce something to the effect that God has sent you to them as a guest.  They will take you in and feed you for up to three days.  After three days, it is time to either move on, or start contributing to the running of their household by working.  As the local proverb states, “Fish and guests begin to stink after three days”.  No-one would dream of imposing themselves on the sacred obligation of hosting a guest, however, because in some things the obligation goes both ways.  Local proverb states that “The guest is as humble as a sheep”; you must eat what is set before you and fit in with your host’s schedule without word or sign of complaint.

Being a guest, whether announced or unannounced, it is customary and polite to bring a token of appreciation, which is given on arrival.  Flowers in odd-numbered groups are customary for a meal guest, something more for an overnight stay.  The value of the gift is determined by the status of your host.

Hosting a guest, they get the best of everything as a matter of family honour.  They take the seat of honour at the table, and are served first and repeatedly.  Your aim is to anticipate any possible needs - they should not have to ask for anything at all.  A local proverb advises that it is better to strike your guests than ask if they need anything.  The seat of honour is the one furthest from the door; in a yurt, this puts the fire between the guest and the door, shielding him or her from the weather.  Their tea bowl or qımız bowl will be kept ⅓ to ½ full – filling the bowl all the way is a subtle way of dismissing a guest early, saying “and this is all you’re getting”.  One-third to half full is the customary way of saying “I am prepared to serve you as host by refilling your cup as many times as necessary”.

Entering a House

Shoes are removed on entering the home, and slippers will normally be provided, unless your host is very poor.  Many Nomads wear a type of footwear known as ''mäsi'', which are like slipper boots and have outer ''galoş'' overshoes worn over them for external wear.  Winter hats will normally be removed on entering the home, but ''tübeteyka'' skullcaps and female headdresses will not, and if you have removed a winter hat, you will customarily pull out a ''tübeteyka'' and put it on.

The toilet may well be outside the house, and is always separated from the bathroom.  You ask for the "necessary place" or the "little house", and don't refer to it in polite company beyond the absolutely necessary.  It is polite to approach any matter obliquely, particularly anything that requires some delicacy.

Modes of Address

If you are greeting the Keņesbaşı, or any of the various Xans, Emirs and Sultans of the Aq Süyük, it is customary to kneel on the left knee (for men) or both knees (for women), place the right hand over the heart and bow low.  Meeting the Ilxan, both men and women customarily kneel on both knees.  There are customary modes of speech that are employed when speaking to high nobility, including particular grammatical forms which are not used in regular formal speech.
X represents the person's given name, Y their patronymic or surname.  The varying levels of age-related honorifics and styles also denote different social positional levels.

The Ilxan:
  • Style:  X Y Ilxan
  • Direct address:  The Ilxan, X Ilxan
The Keņesbaşı:
  • Style:  X Y Keņesbaşı
  • Direct address:  The Keņesbaşı; X Keņesbaşı
  • Style: X Y Keņesçi
  • Direct address: The Keņesçi; X Keņesçi
Emirs and Xans:
  • Style: X Y Emir, X Y Xan
  • Direct address: X Emir, X Xan
Other Nobility:
  • Style: X Y ''their title''
  • Direct address: X ''their title''; X Ağa (more informal)
Religious Leaders
  • Style: X Y Ağa ''their title''
  • Direct address: X ''their title''; ''their title''
Male elders at least a generation and a half older than you:
  • Style: X Y Ata; X Y Baba
  • Direct address: X Ata/X Baba; Ata/Baba
Female elders at least a generation and a half older than you:
  • Style: X Y Eje
  • Direct address: X Eje; Eje
Male elders at least half a generation older than you:
  • Style: X Y Äke; X Y Ata
  • Direct address: X Äke/X Ata; Äke/Ata
Female elders at least half a generation older than you:
  • Style: X Y Ana
  • Direct address: X Ana, Ana
Male elders:
  • Style: X Y Ağa
  • Direct address: X Ağa, Ağa
Female elders:
  • Style: X Y Apa; X Y Tete
  • Direct address: X Apa/X Tete; Apa/Tete
Younger males:
  • Style: X Y
  • Direct address: Inim
Younger females:
  • Style: X Y
  • Direct address: Qarındasım (male speaker); Siņilim (female speaker)
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