Abhishesh Adhikari | KF19 | Kyrgyzstan

When you live in a new culture for a long enough time, you start to realize subtle cultural norms that you wouldn’t have necessary learned by reading a book about the country. I have now been in Kyrgyzstan for exactly 2 months. Here are some interesting facts about the country and its culture that I have noticed after arriving here.

1) Manas: Manas, a warrior who united Kyrgyzstan, is undoubtedly the most popular folk hero in the country. You see this name everywhere. There are streets, statues, universities, radio stations, national parks, and many other things that are named after him. Even Kyrgyzstan’s main airport is Manas International Airport. During one of my borrower visits, I visited his final resting place, Ala Too mountain, in the northwestern city of Talas. There they have Manas Ordo, a historical park and museum built in his honor.

Manas Ordo, the burial place of Manas. Legend has it that, as a kid, Manas regularly lifted the huge piece of rock shown in this picture (center right)

2) Tea: People in Kyrgyzstan love tea. It is like a replacement for water here, and you drink tea with pretty much every meal. The amount of tea I drink everyday has probably quadrupled since my arrival here. Tea is served in small bowls instead of cups, and you almost always order traditional Kyrgyz bread with the tea.

Black Tea in Kyrgyzstan

Kyrgyz bread

3) Tipping: It is not common to tip in Kyrgyzstan. However, a lot of restaurants add an automatic 10% service charge to the bill.

4) Influence of Islam: The vast majority of people in Kyrgyzstan are Sunni Muslims. However, you don’t see obvious signs of Islam while walking down the streets of Bishkek, partly due to its Soviet history. After the collapse of communism, the influence of Islam has slowly been coming back into Kyrgyz society. A lot of my Kyrgyz friends don’t drink alcohol or eat pork, and some even skip lunch on Friday to attend prayers in the mosque.

A mosque in Osh

5) Handshakes: Handshaking is a very important part of Kyrgyz culture. Every morning when I see my male colleagues, we always shake hands. While I was used to shaking hands with people I am being introduced to, or people I haven’t seen in a while, it took me some time to get used to shaking hands all the time with people you constantly see.

However, while shaking hands is really big among men, it is not very common to shake hands with women. Once, when I was introduced to an old woman in rural Kyrgyzstan, I extended my arm expecting to shake her hand. Instead, she gave me a very confused look (even though she turned out to be really friendly.)

6) Focus on Cleanliness: People value cleanliness a lot here. You need to always take off your shoes before walking into anyone’s house.

7) Very few street lights: Kyrgyzstan is generally a safe country, but there aren’t very many street lights. Even in the capital city of Bishkek, the streets are barely lit at night.

8) Environmentally friendly: A Kyrgyz friend of mine told me that Bishkek is one of the greenest cities in the old Soviet republics, maybe even in the world. Most of Bishkek’s streets are wide and lined with trees and bushes, and it actually looks really pretty.

A typical street in Bishkek


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Comments

Great read, Abhi! I was wondering how you were doing in Kyrgyzstan and what it was like. Now I know - very informative.

Hey Abhi, thanks for the insights, it looks like Kyrgyzstan is quite a sophisticated place. Enjoy all the handshakes! I still haven't figured out how they do it here in Bolivia, the Quechua locals have a strange custom of greeting with one hand on the shoulder then a lean, even after 2 months it feels really odd! Enjoy your remaining weeks my friend!

So interesting Abi! I too love tea, what is it like? Do people put special things in it? My colleague here made me the best cup yesterday. It wasn't typical Indian tea with milk, but black tea with a bit of sugar, black pepper, and a few drops of lemon, it was heaven!

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hello

Kyrgyzstan. It is not sophisticated, but a mountain region with magic landscapes, virgin nature and great hospitality of Kyrgyz people. You will discover so much along the great Silk Road, enjoying exciting hiking in magic gorges of Kyrgyzstan’s ranges, or you may enjoy mountaineering of different difficulties and other kinds of active rest. You will learn more about life and culture of nomads, about flora and fauna of this mountain region. But to fully enjoy your stay, thanks Abhi for their great advises. nomadsland.ch

hi Abhi for the information.i live in Kg

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Abhi is interested in leveraging technology to empower local communities with financial literacy and economic development. He completed his undergraduate studies from Carleton College with a degree in Physics and Computer Science. After graduating from college, he has been working at an investment management firm in New York, focusing on portfolio risk analysis. Having lived in and experienced completely different cultures of Nepal, rural Midwest, and New York City, he also really appreciates the importance of experiencing new cultures. Having finished his first fellowship in Kyrgyzstan, he is excited to be continue with partners in the Ukraine.
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