Mongolians are very tolerant people and most will not be offended by foreigners who are unfamiliar with their customs. You will not be expected to know all the traditions of the Mongols, but hosts will be very appreciative to anyone trying to acknowledge Mongolian customs and traditions, especially by foreigners. As the famous Mongolian proverb says "If you drink water from the land then you must follow the custom".
Here are a few "rules" to follow when staying in a ger:
- Never lean against a support column (Mongolian: bagana) while inside a ger (this is mostly for your safety), the walls, or the furniture.
- Never stand on, or lean over, the threshold between the two columns.
- Do not walk between the central supports of a ger, or pass something between them to another person.
- When Mongols first arrive at a ger, they yell, "nokhoigoi khorioroi!" or "Hold your dog!", in case the ger is protected by guard dogs, and so that the family knows someone is there and can prepare themselves to come out and greet them.
- Do not attempt to pet Mongolian herder’s dogs, they are not pets but guardians.
- Knocking on a ger door is not necessary, if you are staying with a family, just enter.
- Mongolians do not speak to each other across the threshold of the door, or stand on the threshold of the door.
- When you enter a ger, do not step on the threshold.
- Usually, guests move in a clockwise direction when entering a ger, first to the west and then north (ger doors always face south). The east side of the ger (on your right as you enter) is normally where the family will sit and the west side (on your left as you enter) is for guests. Food and cooking implements are stored on the right side, or women’s side of the ger, saddles, bridles, and things associated with men’s work on the left or men’s side.
- Sitting on the beds in the ger is not considered rude, these double as seats, sometimes even if someone is sleeping in them.
- Hats should always be placed with the open end down. A man's hat and belt should never be placed on the floor, and should not touch other hats or belts.
- Women do not sit cross-legged in a ger.
- Do not whistle inside gers or any kind of building.
- Avoid standing up when drinking tea or eating.
- If food or other items are placed out when a group sits together, they become communal property.
- Do not throw any trash or litter into the fire. This is disrespectful to the fire. Put the trash into the fuel bin or the metal pan in front of the stove. It will be saved to start the next fire. ‘Trash’ is transformed into ‘fuel’ by this brief stop in the fuel bin.
- Last but most importantly never refuse the hosts offerings. Every time you visit a family the host will offer you tea, candies or dairy treats or even a meal. It is polite thing to do to accept it taste it at least and put it down if you can't finish. Remember they don't ask you if you want some as it is considered rude so they just hand it to you.