Khiva to meet and greet a friend or acquaintance is quite an occasion
with established procedures for both what you should say and what you
should do. Verbally, both individuals begin with a barrage of questions.
“How are you? How’s your health? Is your work going well? How is your
family? Are you not tired? Etc.” These questions are usually asked by
both parties simultaneously and require no answer other than a few words
of gratitude for asking.
Body language when greeting is also important. When
men and women greet each other they will rarely shake hands but instead
will nod their heads to each other, putting their right hand on their
heart in a gesture of peace and respect.
Men greeting men will usually shake hands and older
men will then pass their hand over the chin as if stroking a beard. If
one of the men is younger then he will place his hand on his heart and
nod his head in respect before shaking the older man’s hand. Close friends
will often continue to hold each other’s hand in handshake position for
a while into the conversation and the speed by which Westerners shake
hands but then let go would be considered cold and abrupt by most Khivans.
Women greeting women will also shake hands and while
doing so will kiss each other two or three times on each cheek. Again,
a younger woman greeting an older one will put her right hand on her heart
and nod her head before shaking hands.
When arriving as a guest, it is important not to shake
you host’s hand on the threshold, as this is considered bad luck, but
rather shake hands outside or inside the house. On arrival other guests
and family members will stand up and, if they are of the same sex, shake
hands. If your hand happens to be covered in food or is otherwise un-presentable,
it is quite acceptable to proffer your wrist to be shaken instead.
Tourists can expect raucous greetings from children
who will yell ‘Good Morning’ at you regardless of the time of day, and
possibly experiment with ‘Bonjour’ if that elicits no response. By far
the most bizarre greeting is when children shout ‘Aiwa! Aiwa!’ This is
not a greeting in the Khorezm dialect but rather a fascinating example
of brainwashing. In the early nineties as Uzbekistan experienced its first
taste of global capitalism, the electronics firm Aiwa broadcasted a series
of adverts. In them, Aiwa users passing each other on the street would
say ‘Aiwa’ to each other, with the slogan, ‘Aiwa in any language’. Children
assume that this is an international greeting and call ‘Aiwa! Aiwa!’ to
passing tourists. They, in turn, assume that it is a local greeting and
shout ‘Aiwa’ back, thus perpetuating the myth.
is valued in Khivan culture and older people are treated with respect.
When speaking to an older woman you can either use her name followed by
‘abke’ or simply call her ‘abke’, which means ‘older sister’. Similarly,
when speaking to an older man you can call him ‘agha’ which means ‘older
Whilst most civilities are similar to western concepts
of etiquette, there are some differences. If you give a gift to your host
or to a friend you have made during your time in Khiva, do not expect
a profusion of gratitude. Open appreciation of gifts is considered impolite
and gifts need only a cursory ‘thank you’ from the receiver. Often a gift
given by a visiting guest will be left unwrapped until the guest has left.
One major difference in civilities between Western and
Khivan traditions is what subjects are considered appropriate or inappropriate
to ask. Questions that are often considered intrusive and private in some
cultures are usually the first questions asked in Khiva. “How much is
your monthly salary in your home country? How old are you? Are you married
and if not why not and when will you get married? Are the girls more beautiful
here or at home? How did you become so fat? What about the standard of
living, is it better here or there? How much did you pay for this and
how much did that cost?” All these questions and a good deal more, are
considered perfectly normal to ask. If you would rather not answer them
then simply explain that in your own country you don’t ask such questions
and therefor do not wish to give a reply.
For foreigners visiting Khiva, there are a few taboos.
In general it is good not to compliment the beauty of your host’s children
too much as this might cause the evil eye to strike. It is also important
not to compliment anything in their house too much as they may feel obliged
to then give it to you.
In general, the people of Khiva are warm, friendly and
extremely hospitable. Whatever your style of greeting, as long as they
see your sincerity and friendliness, they will respond likewise.