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Social Life in Kazakhstan

Behavior

In terms of how to behave in Kazakhstan, most rules are based on the country's Islamic roots and come in the form of dining. According to Islamic dietary restrictions pork should not be consumed and alcohol is forbidden. In Kazakhstan the restriction on pork is closely adhered to, but with many Christians, pork is at times available. For the locals, alcohol is now a part of the daily life as the Soviets introduced numerous drinks to the people and today it forms a part of the culture; only the strictest Muslims refrain from drinking alcohol.

To a degree the people also maintain the Soviet mentality as they rarely get involved in other people's personal affairs and tend to keep to themselves when in public. Due to this attitude, the people take offense at few things. Although everyone will notice odd behaviors and cultural abnormalities, rarely will anyone point out your cultural mistakes.

In addition to following the dress restrictions mentioned below and following the local dining etiquette (see our Kazakhstan Dining & Food Page), the most important behavioral restrictions tend to be common sense. Avoid sensitive conversation topics, such as politics, finances, religion, and business unless initiated by your local counterpart. Also try to avoid being loud, rude, showing off wealth, or getting noticeably drunk in public.

Dress

The traditional clothing in Kazakhstan has been heavily based on the seasons and use. For men this traditionally meant clothing fit for horse riding, while for women it was more significantly based on the seasons (although most often this just meant more clothing when it got cold). For women, some of this clothing included the koilek, which is a tunic-like shirt, a collared-dress, which came in multiple styles and colors, but tended to include a bodice, which tied the dress together in the front, perhaps a coat, and boots were the most common form of footwear. For men, the traditional clothing also included a koilek, as well as pants called shtany, boots, a belt, a hat, and generally another layer of outer clothing for riding or for the cold. Among this outer layer of clothing is the kamzol, which is a sleeve-less vest, but was primarily for homewear, and the shapan, which was a large gown with long, loose-fitting sleeves.

Today the traditional clothing of Kazakhstan is only worn for special occasions or holidays, although some people, especially more rural people, do still wear aspects of this traditional dress on a regular basis. For most Kazakhs today, especially urban Kazakhs, the clothing is western-styled. However, no matter what clothing is worn, the dress tends to be fairly conservative as most Kazakhs are Muslim, so they cover up to their wrists and ankles. However, few Kazakh women cover their hair and no non-Muslims in the country (about half the population) follow these conservative dress rules.

As a visitor to Kazakhstan you are free to wear just about anything so long as it isn't too revealing or provocative. Although many locals cover up, no one takes offence if you don't since the large ethnic Russian population doesn't cover up when the weather is nice and you are under no obligation to do so. However, be respectful of the people's traditions and always cover up in mosques (or churches) and when visiting important sights of when in other formal settings. Just try to dress for the occasion, but if in doubt dress on the more conservative and formal side.

This page was last updated: October, 2012