For your reading pleasure, a few things to avoid next time you’re in Central Asia:
- Russian class can be a bit mind-numbing, as I’m sure you can imagine, especially as I enter into the third straight hour of it. So, like any good child raised on Snow White, I sometimes whistle while I work (or study as may be the case). But my teacher quickly put a stop to that. While in America, I might whistle while I work to help pass the time, in Central Asia, I will whistle my money away.
- This one happened a few times before I learned what it meant. I was sitting in the cafeteria, eating my food (probably rice with some form of chicken, and a side of bread), and a guy came and pick my notebook up off the floor and handed it to me. I thought maybe he was afraid I’d forget it, so I thanked him as he walked off. This happened a few more times to me and some of my friends over the next several weeks—picking backpacks, purses, even umbrellas off the floor. Finally, I discovered that here in Central Asia, leaving my bag (or whatever) on the floor means I might as well just burn my money right now. Sensing a pattern here?
- I personally haven’t encountered this one, and I honestly am not sure what the idea is behind it, but apparently, if money is going to be exchanged at night, it can’t go from hand to hand. It must be placed on a table and picked up; we can’t both be touching it at the same time.
- The only one of these interesting cultural differences I was aware of before I came was “squatting.” I didn’t know that it was prevalent in Central Asia, but knew that it was incredibly popular in the Middle East. Everywhere you go in Central Asia, you’ll see people (more often men than women) squatting down, rather than sitting on the ground. This is, of course, because sitting on the ground will make you sterile. Especially cold concrete. If you sit on something, even as thin as a newspaper, you’ll probably be okay, though.
- Similar to the previous one, warm clothing is especially valued here. Jackets, of course, but we have also been chided several times for wearing open-toed sandals. Not wearing warm enough clothing will make you sick, and maybe even sterile. A female friend of mine was also told that if she didn’t wear a scarf, she wouldn’t be able to breastfeed.
As you can see, life in Central Asia doesn’t only involve learning Russian to communicate. There’s also a sub-language of things that are bad luck one must avoid. Every day here is an adventure (and as my friend Scott Martin says, “Every day here is a privilege”).