Travelling In Mongolia: A List Of Cultural Quirks

Nick Wharton Author Bio Picture

So far our trip to Mongolia has been amazing! We’ve spent 6 days on a Gobi Desert tour, watched the Nadaam festivities in the countryside, witnessed a captivating Monk ceremony at a beautiful monastery and wandered around the capital city of Ulan Bator.

dinosaur skeleton mongolia
We saw this Tarbosaurus Dinosaur skeleton in Ulan Bator, a special species of T-Rex…found in Mongolia!

While traveling Mongolia, we’ve learned a lot about the Mongolian people, their way of life and their culture. It’s one of the most fascinating and different places we’ve been. There’s so much to learn when travelling in Mongolia, there’s even a whole different set of rules when staying in a family ger, which we’ll tell you about later!

For now, here’s a run down of some of the main cultural quirks you’ll find while travelling in Mongolia:

Mongolians are a nomadic people. They move about the steppe with their livestock in search of grassy areas 2-4 times a year. They pack up their home (ger) and all of their gear and set it all back up again when they find their new home for the next 3(+/-) months.

ger building in mongolia
Building a traditional ger home. Doing this 2-4 times would be exhausting

Mongolian women run the show! Unlike many other parts of Asia where men “wear the pants” in a relationship and are of a higher importance when it comes to family and business, things are different here. The women of Mongolia make most of the important household decisions, run businesses and do the typically male jobs as well – like being tour guides, drivers, running hostels and gutting goats. They also hold 70% of the skilled jobs in the cities.

Stepping on someone’s foot means war. If you step on, or kick someone’s foot accidentally, you have to immediately shake their hand. If not, it means that you want to wage war with them!

Mongolians have a strong connection with their horses. Not only is it the main form of transportation out in the countryside, but it is also considered a part of the family. They learn how to ride one at the age of two! There are definitely a lot of bow-legged men around here. There’s an old Mongolian proverb: “A man without a horse is like a bird without wings.”

riding horses in mongolia
Mongolians have a strong bond with their horses…they start riding as early as the age of 2

While eating a meal, never sit with your legs crossed or pointing straight out. Always sit with your knees together and if you’re sitting on the floor, just fold your legs under you.

Flicking Alcohol around is customary. When drinking vodka, you have to dip the ring finger of your right hand into the drink and flick the booze into the air 2 times – as an offering to the sky and the earth, then you rub a bit of vodka on your forehead before drinking.

When passing around a glass of vodka, only one person can do the pouring, and that is a man’s job. When it comes to his turn to drink, someone else has to pour the booze for him.

If you don’t want to take your turn in doing a shot of vodka, all you have to do to show respect is put your lips to the glass…and then pass it on. The same goes for the famous fermented mare’s milk, called arak.

You shouldn’t touch another person’s hat. It’s very disrespectful.

Always accept food, drink and a snuff bottle (tobacco) with your right hand while bracing your elbow with your left hand. Never accept anything with your left hand.

mongolian customs
Always accept food and drink with your right hand

Don’t hold a glass by the rim, always hold it by its sides or the bottom (no matter how hot it is).

When offered tea, always sip it before putting it down. This tells the guest that you appreciate and enjoy the generous offering.

Don’t say sunbanu (hello) more than once to the same person. The Mongolians will think you have a mental problem.

We think it’s really important to be aware of the dos and don’ts of a country before travelling there. By knowing these quirks before heading to Mongolia, not only will you be more respectful, but you’ll impress the local people as well!

Have you been to Mongolia? If not, do you think you’d like to travel there? Leave a comment below!


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Travelling In Mongolia- A List Of Cultural Quirks

Nick Wharton Author Bio Picture

Written by

Nick Wharton

Nick is the co-founder, editor and author of Goats On The Road. He contributes to numerous other media sites regularly and shares his expert knowledge of travel, online entrepreneurship and blogging with the world whenever he can. He has been travelling and working abroad since 2008 and has more than 10 years of experience in online business, finance, travel and entrepreneurship.

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11 thoughts on “Travelling In Mongolia: A List Of Cultural Quirks”

  1. It’s true that in most Asian countries, men take the responsibility of fending for the family including running business. So I find Mongolian culture quite interesting, especially that part about women acting like heads of the family. I have learned quite a lot from this post, and I will definitely add Mongolia into my bucket list. Thanks for sharing.:-

  2. I find your list of do’s and don’ts very informative as well as fascinating. Thank you for shedding light on an area of the world that most of us know very little about.

  3. Thanks for the comment Fon. I also found that really interesting about Mongolia, it’s probably the only Asian country we’ve been to where women were head of the family, or at least equal with the men.

  4. Thanks Joanne! There were so many dos and don’ts here, it was hard to wrap our heads around them at first 🙂 Mongolia is a fabulous country, hopefully you will make it there one day!

  5. I think I would have problems with the repetitive sunbanu thing. Love all the tips to ensure one is respectful!

  6. Love the hat one: we noticed they take great pride in their hats and have some of the most dramatic ones we’d ever seen. You can get a photogenic one at the black market in UB.

  7. Hey, My name is Ankhaa and I;m from MOngolia. It;s very pleasant to hear that you like Mongolia so much. About the part where woman is the head of the family, it’s wrong. The head of the family is man, and is always be. It;s true that many Mongolian woman are run the household works when men go to herd their cattles, But the head of the family is man, we have to respect man, and follow him. because we believe that man is our protector, even in my family I have to respect my little brother and not to touch his forehead or not to let him to wash the dishes after we had our meals. We pour the meal into the bowls and serve the head of the family, our husband, our father, brothers and then comes guests, and finally to ourselves. It is man;s job to talk to the guests, and woman do the meal to serve the others. We respect highly our man but that doesn’t mean we have to trust them blindly, if they trip or making wrong decisions, we have to support them, and advice them, try to help to not to falter, because man’s fall indicates whole family;s fall. Hope it makes sense. Have a good day.

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