Customs and traditions of Uzbek people, national dishes and practical advice for foreign entrepreneurs.
People from Uzbekistan can be chiefly described as hospitable Ė Uzbek hospitality is something to be experienced. You will certainly find yourself as a guest in an Uzbek house. These guidelines should help you to know what to expect and what to do :
Lunch or dinner
If you are invited for lunch or dinner, please accept the invitation and arrive on time.
When visiting a local family it is acceptable to bring the bottle of good wine or other drink and some kind of gifts such as chocolates, pens, books, records, videocassettes etc. which will be enjoyed by the hostís family.
The greeting "ceremony" takes a long time. Handshaking is usually done by men only and with women if they are the first to offer their hand. For people who are sitting further away, a gesture of greeting is made by putting your right hand on your heart, making a slight bow with your head. During the greeting "ceremony", questions are asked about hostís relatives, health, work, home, and just about everything else concerning him and his household. Admiring the ladies is not public in Oriental countries.
Traditionally, the shoes are left when entering the house. If the meal is served in the garden, everyone sits on a low supa (it looks like a double bed), covered with flat mattresses called korpas. In that case, you should better to take off your shoes and sit down as pointed by the host. The further you sit from the entrance to the room or garden, the more honoured you are. You may stretch your legs under the table and support yourself with cushions behind you and under your elbow.
The traditional respect for elderly people and the superiority of men is obvious. In rural areas, when entertaining guests, women do not usually share the table with men or take part in their conversation. They have a separate table. The larger cities are, however, more liberal. If you are going to visit within your "partner", she could sit next to you at the menís table, and the host will invite his wife to join this table as well.
First the candies and tea will be served. Then, not before long, the table will be covered with various hot dishes, vegetables, fruit and a variety of cool drinks, and sometimes alcohol.
The most popular Uzbek dish is Pilav. Pilav is served on a large dish (lagan) placed in the centre of the table. Usually everybody eats from one dish, since eating from one dish in considered making people feel intimate, like one big family. You will not offend anyone, however, if you serve some pilav onto your plate from the nearest dish. Sometimes pilav is eaten with the right hand, but eating with a spoon or fork is common.
Be prepared to eat a lot of food! It will be very tasty, since Uzbek food developed during the time of Great Silk Road and has combined the best ancient tastes of Asia.
During the meal special round bread, called non, is served. There are many traditions connected to Uzbek bread. It is never cut with knife. At the start of the meal, it is broken into pieces by hand and placed on the table near each place setting. Try not to place bread upside down (with its flat side up), by placing it the right way up will earn you the respect of the host and those around you. Uzbek people consider brad to be holy and greatly respected.
While at the table you may smoke under hostís permission or if he starts to smoke first. Smoking is usually done outside. There is a rule to thank the host far tasty meal, nice party and kind regards within his guests.
Drinking strong alcoholic drinks is accompanied by toasts for friendship between people, mutually beneficial co-operation, the host, and his familyís health. After the spoken toast, you need to clink your glass or piola (Uzbek teacup) with all the guests and drink to the end, especially if you are the person raising the toast. If there are number of guests present, you may clink your glass only with those around you.
Another feature of Uzbek people is their appreciation of humour. Most Uzbeks appreciate good joke, they are also enjoy it if you combine a funny story with your toast. You will be served tea throughout the meal (coffee is not very popular in Uzbekistan, though it may be served if you request it). The host fills your piola (Uzbek teacup) by himself for only one-third. The fewer is tea, the sooner its cools down. This is also the sign of respect in hot Asian climate. Always take your piola from the host with your rights hand, with your left hand on your heart and thank him with the key word "rakhmat" Ė "thank you".
Foreigners are usually fascinated by the tea ceremony. The host first pours the tea into the piola and then, back into the tea port. It is done by 3 times. The reason is to stir the tealeaves, making the tea stronger. Then the host fills each piola, serving every guest with the greatest respect one at the time.
Be prepared to be offered mountains of food, midnight will come and go unnoticed around an Uzbek table. Uzbek people will always accompany you (where possible) to your home or try and persuade you to spend the night. This is part of Uzbek hospitality. If you need to leave early, you need to ask the host giving him a plausible excuse so as not to offend him. Donít be in too much hurry to leave the table. Before leaving the table, the host, is usually the oldest men at the table, will say a prayer for the success of future co-operation, peace and friendship. Sometimes a prayer is also said at the beginning of the meal. If you are the oldest guest at the table, you could offer, or you might be requested to offer up a prayer yourself.
Morning pilav is usually prepared for special celebrations such as weddings, the circumcision of a son or in respect for someone who has died. Only men attend this early morning function (osh). It is considered bad manners not to respond to an invitation. It is not necessary to bring any gifts. Dress neatly, with cloths that arenít too bright, it is not necessary to wear a tie. Morning osh tarts around from 6 am until 7 am. Approximately 200 people are invited, depending on the family and occasion. Guests take their seats in turn, arrive, sit and while, eat some pilav and then leave. No strong drink is served and toasting is not allowed. Smoking at the table is not recommended.
If you live in Uzbekistan for a long time and make many friends, you will sometimes be expected to visit two or three families in a day for morning osh! Undoubtedly you and your image will increase among your Uzbek friends if you attend these functions.
The Wedding Ceremony
If you are invited to take part in a wedding ceremony that starts, for example, at 7.00 pm, do not rush to be there on time. You have the time to buy flowers, prepare a gift and arrive as late as, say 9.00 pm. Dress is formal. The bridegroom might be dressed in dark European-style suite, light shirt and dark tie, and the bride will be dressed in beautiful long white wedding dress and veil. There will be no less than 200 guests at the wedding. Music will be playing and there will always be lots of dancing, Uzbek people love to dance! You will be to a table where you and the other guests at your table will drink few glasses of Champaign or other drinks to the health and happiness of the newlyweds. The bride and the groom arrive later. You can present your flowers and gift to the couple when they arrived.
Every time the young couple is congratulated, they are expected to stand up. If you are asked to congratulate them, you will have to make a short speech using the microphone. It is also interesting for other guests if you tell them that you are a foreigner and that this is your first wedding party. Tell them of your impressions at the end, congratulate them and give them your good wishes. Remember that married couples do not kiss each other in public.
You are not expected to stay until the end. It is possible to leave at any time, just excuse yourself from the guests at your table, thank the hosts and leave.