Social Customs and Etiquette in Kazakhstan

kazakhstan customs

The population of Kazakhstan is incredibly diverse and covers a wide range of ethnicities with their own traditions and beliefs.

It’s important for potential travelers to have an awareness of some of these Kazakhstan customs and values in order to understand the culture in the country.

Therefore, before organizing a visa for Kazakhstan and planning a trip, all visitors should brush up on the expected etiquette and taboos to avoid, to ensure a smooth stay.

Respecting Kazakh Culture and Values

The first thing visitors to Kazakhstan should know is that it is an inclusive multicultural society, and many enthic and religious groups comfortably coexist within its borders.

It is important not to confuse the Kazakhstani people, which are all citizens of the country regardless of their ethnic group, with the members of the Kazahk ethnic group, called Kazakhs. Travelers who are not sure of a person’s ethnic group should refer to them as Kazakhstani.

The official language is Kazakh, although Russian is also widely spoken. However, people from Kazakhstan are generally welcoming and friendly and will attempt to communicate with most foreign visitors even if their English is limited.

Kazakhstan society has quite a hierarchical mentality, and older people in particular are well-respected and treated with reverence. The oldest person in a group is usually the first to receive a greeting from others.

Please consult Kazakhstan cultural information for tourists for advice about giving correct greetings in the country and appropriate conversation topics, as well as the clothing that visitors should wear during their trip.

Etiquette for Dining in a Kazakh Home

To avoid offending their hosts and to ensure a pleasant experience for all involved, travelers who are lucky enough to be invited to a Kazakhstani home for a meal should be aware of the following dining etiquette:

  • Do not arrive more than 30 minutes late without informing hosts
  • Dress to impress, as clothes that are too informal may cause insult.
  • Bring a gift for the hosts, such as sweets or pastries. Do not gift alcohol unless you know that the hosts drink.
  • Remove shoes at the door to the home.
  • Sit on the floor rather than pillows if visiting a rural home.
  • Accept the cup of tea the host will give you upon arrival and any refills. If you do not wish to drink any more tea during your visit, turn the cup upside down. The host will normally only fill a tea cup halfway, as a full cup signals that they wish you to leave.
  • Wait to be served by the host or another guest.
  • Follow the table manners set by the locals, as some Kazakhstan food should be eaten by hand.
  • Prepare to toast frequently if alcoholic drinks are served at the meal.
  • Accept second helpings as this is considered polite.
  • If you have finished eating leave a small amount of food on your plate, otherwise you will automatically be served another helping.
  • Expect the meal to take some time, as mealtimes in Kazakhstan are considered social events and may involve long leisurely conversations.

Even if you are not invited for a full meal, you can expect to be served tea if visiting a local, as well as bread. Accept any bread offered to you, as the food is considered sacred in Kazakhstan and taking a piece is a sign of respect.

Kazakhstan Rural Dining Traditions

Travelers who are visiting locals in a rural area outside of Astaná, the capital of Kazakhstan, or other cities, can expect to take part in the tradition of serving guests at the low table in a yurt, a common type of movable home in the country.

They may also come across the curious tradition of serving the head of a sheep to distinguished guests.

On such occasions, it is the most distinguished guest who is expected to carve the head and serve it in the following manner:

  • The second most respected guest is given the pelvic bones of the sheep
  • The son-in-law of the house should be served the brisket
  • Close friends of the guest should be given the sheep’s eyes
  • The host’s daughter should be served the tongue
  • The smallest child in the group should be given the ears, to symbolize that they must listen to their elders

Business Etiquette in Kazakhstan

Although many private companies operating in Kazakhstan follow more westernized business protocols, if travelers need to interact with public entities in a business capacity they should be aware of the customs traditionally associated with formal meetings.

One of the most important things to realize when doing business in Kazakhstan is that a strict social structure is followed. Someone higher up in the company’s hierarchy should never be contradicted or criticised in public by someone lower in rank.

Kazakhstan business meetings are usually conducted at a T-shaped table with the top ranking professional seated at the head of the table and those lower in rank given the remainder of the seats in descending order.

Tips for Attending a Business Meeting in Kazakhstan

Before attending a meeting in Kazakhstan, business travelers should keep the following advice in mind:

  • Get to know the hierarchy of rank of those attending the meeting in advance, as this determines the order in which participants are allowed to speak.
  • Print business cards establishing your title and position in the company. Print it in English on one side of the card and in Russian on the other, if possible. Business cards should be presented when trying to arrange appointments and given out freely at the meeting itself.
  • Make sure to sit in descending order of rank if traveling with a team, with the leader at the head of the table.
  • Wait for the most senior Kazakhstani to begin the meeting and introduce his team before introducing yourself.
  • Address participants of the meeting using their academic or professional title and last name. Do not use first names unless invited to do so.
  • Be prepared to spend more time than you may expect. Kazakhstani business meetings usually have a start time but not an end time, and the conversation can usually run long.
  • Shake hands with all those present before leaving the meeting.

It’s also important to keep in mind that Kazakhstanis appreciate those who take the time to build personal relationships before getting down to business. Be aware that an initial informal conversation may take place over tea.

This is an ideal opportunity for business visitors to prove that they are personable and reliable before their hosts in Kazakhstan commence any professional conversation.