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Social Life in Turkmenistan

Behavior

According to Islamic dietary restrictions pork should not be consumed and alcohol is forbidden (see our Turkmenistan Dining & Food Page). In Turkmenistan the restriction on pork is closely adhered to, but partially due to convenience as lamb, chicken, and even beef are more common. 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. Again, 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.

Additionally, 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 dress is still alive in Turkmenistan, in part because of former President Saparmurat Niyazov, who re-introduced numerous historic cultural elements to the people since the fall of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s. This dress, which can still be seen in many towns and at traditional events, includes a long dress for women, simple white shirts for men and the famous telpek hat for men. This dress for women tends to be loose-fitting, typically in red, with a great amount of ornamentation on the front, including stones, beads, and other decorational items. The men tend to wear simpler outfits, which are long robe-like clothes, but their tall black sheepskin hats make them unmistakably Turkmen.

Today much of this traditional dress thrives, but some not so traditional, or newly traditional items have been added to the dress and appearance of the people. The local men must not wear beards or have long hair and today most men wear western clothing, but still wear the telpek. Likewise, women also have dress "recommendations," especially girls, who should wear braided hair and a traditional Turkmen hat. These rules came from President Niyazov's ideas of what an ideal Turkmen should look like.

Fortunately, foreigners don't have to wear these traditional items and the people are friendly enough to use this differentiation in dress to welcome foreigners to their country. Because of this, and few conservative Muslims, Turkmenistan has few dress restrictions for the tourist. Although shorts and short-sleeved shirts are not common in Turkmenistan, there is no cultural or religious reason for this so wearing shorts and short-sleeved shirts is acceptable, although you may get some strange looks. Only the most devout Muslim women cover their hair for religious purposes and this is a rarity in Turkmenistan today.

This page was last updated: November, 2013