The Tour The Guidebook Greetings and Civilities


   In 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.


   Age 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 brother’.
   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.

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