Customs of the Far East: Mongolia

by Matthew Jones
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camels in mongolia

Mongolia is one of the few (relatively) untouched places left on Earth. While the capital city of Ulaanbaatar is one of the most polluted cities in the world, the rest of the countryside is sparsely populated. The rolling hills and seemingly endless tundras are home to nomadic people whose customs and culture have hardly changed over the centuries.

Mongolian culture can be traced back thousands of years, though the Mongol Empire was officially founded by Genghis Khan in 1206. When the Mongol Empire collapsed in the late 17th Century, the land fell under the control of China’s Qing Dynasty. It would take almost 250 years before Mongolia became an independent nation once again.

A lot of people dismiss Mongolia even though it is one of the top-20 largest countries (in terms of land area) on the planet. The low population and small, isolated economy give it a relatively insignificant role on the international stage. Nonetheless, Mongolia is a country that is rich in history and culture. So, let’s take a look at some of the most unique and interesting customs practiced today in Mongolia!

No Personal Space

If you find yourself in a crowded area like a local market, expect to get jostled. In the Mongolian culture, this is not considered rude. The Mongolian people don’t generally like to form lines, so this is just their way of getting things done!

They are also quick to get impatient if they need to wait. Since this is a cultural norm in Mongolia, it won’t do you any good to get upset. Instead, just go with the flow!

Little Concern For Time

Life is a little more easy-going in Mongolia. People are rarely in a rush, especially outside of the capital. If you try to organize a meeting with a local Mongolian, expect them to arrive well past the agreed-upon time.

Just like their dismissal of personal space, this habit is not considered rude. In fact, many cultures throughout the world (including much of Latin America) take a similar attitude towards time and punctuality. Mongolians simply don’t see the need to rush through life.

Mongolians Like To Listen

The Mongolian people are known for their wit, but they are also known for their attentive listening skills. When someone else is speaking, especially in a public setting, most Mongolians prefer to sit quietly and listen to every word. They are not inclined to interrupt or add their own opinion.

Not only do Mongolians like to listen, but they’re really good at it, too. Foreigners have witnessed locals reciting entire news stories verbatim, even if they’ve only heard it one time. This is likely due to the tradition of oral history passed down through the generations in Mongolia.

Shamanism

Mongolian beliefs are rooted in many different sources, including local superstition, Buddhism, and even Russian Orthodoxy. However, traditional shamanism is still practiced throughout the country, especially in rural steppes. These traditions are unique from the shamanistic rituals practiced in many other parts of the world.

One common practice is linked directly with Mongolian food and resources. Mongolia is known for its pastures and livestock, which make up the majority of the Mongolian diet. As a result, milk and mutton are frequently used during spiritual ceremonies. While traveling through the countryside, you might see someone dip their finger in a bowl of milk and flick it up toward the sky. This practice is meant to celebrate the local spirits of the land.

Conclusion

Mongolia is a wild frontier of nomadic people and rugged landscapes. Nonetheless, if you have the chance to visit this wonderful country, you can expect the Mongolian people to treat you with great respect and hospitality. So, as long as you show respect for the local customs, you are sure to enjoy your time in Mongolia!

Look out for our next piece on “Customs of the Far East” as we explore the exotic customs of Laos!

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