As the popularity of the region increases it has become apparent that the guidebooks don’t always give you a complete picture of the region’s culture. Hence I would like to present some updates and revisions of relevant terminology.
We all know the circus comes in a tent, so with a region dominated by nomadic culture, where the tent like yurt has for centuries been the preferred form of accommodation, it seems entirely logical that the circus would be housed in a concrete spaceship. The underlying reason for this decision must be so obvious it doesn’t seem worth mentioning so I will leave you to peruse some examples below.
Cosmopolitan cuisine is a term that does not exist in any Central Asian language. Please be aware that just because a restaurant has the word “Italian” on its sign does not mean that they will have ever heard of mozzarella cheese or Salami. When ordering foreign food you are advised to expect an imaginative interpretation of what you asked for.
The regional classic is Plov, which is essentially rice with carrots and lamb. Every town will insist that they make the best plov in the whole of Central Asia but you will still get rice with carrots and lamb, although on occasion you may find an errant ingredient such as a chick pea. Remember to bring some soft bread or a large sponge with you to soak up the excess oil.
Every country has a infeasible supply of certain shops and services which can in no way be supported economically. It cannot be that Uzbekistan requires that many wedding dress shops, when divorce is frowned upon so can hardly have a higher marriage rate than anywhere else; or flight agencies, when most people need permission from the dictatorial regime to leave the country, even if in the unlikely event that another country is prepared to give them a visa. Kazakhstan is over run by legal services, a function usually performed by handing over a large bag of cash to the appropriate official. Xinjiang must have the worse dental hygiene in the world to support the streets full of dentists.
This essential English expression is a fine tribute to the quality of language education, as it is commonly used at all hours of the day, particularly after midday. In Tajikistan it is generally reserved for use in the hours of darkness.
These are an alien concept throughout the region unless you like cucumbers. There is no point in learning how to say, “what kinds of salad do you have in Turkmen or Kyrgyz”, as it will not be understood, you will always be given tomatoes and cucumbers. Occasionally you will find a small quantity of a greenish material as an accompaniment, this is a raw item resembling a cross between a radish and a turnip but as it possesses all the culinary characteristics of the latter it cannot be classed as a green vegetable.
Hand on heart
The action of placing your right hand on the heart is a welcoming means of displaying sincerity to accompany your chosen words when interacting with the locals. Especially useful when confronted by vendors of tourist paraphernalia and saying, “I have absolutely no intention whatsoever of buying your worthless, third rate tat”. The gesture, used on its own when confronted by beggars pleading for money, conveys the simple message, “I am sincerely concerned for your plight but I have absolutely no intention of giving you any money, so please go away”.
When explaining your route or asking directions, under no circumstances try to assist the process by showing anyone a map. Representing a place using a scaled diagram may seem like a basic concept to a westerner but here you may as well be showing them a potato. A Uzbek will happily scrutinize a map of his own country, holding it upside down or a Tajik will swear blind that the plan of his home town is completely wrong, despite conforming to all the cartographic requirements of the object.
Budget travelers will undoubtedly have to make use of one of the numerous canteen restaurants found throughout Central Asia. Unlike the foolish West, where food is kept hot to allow a quick and efficient service, everything is allowed to go cold so you can stand around in the queue while they put your chosen dish in the microwave, where, without fail it will be heated to an utterly unsuitable level of tepidness.
Russians have a reputation for being rude, unfriendly and inconsiderate. This is patently not true, they simply exported all the nice ones to Central Asia.
Decades of Russian occupation left a proud legacy in the Soviet states, particularly of brutal dictatorships and alcohol dependency, but it also left an additional system of taxis. Any car is potentially a taxi so simply hold out your hand, wait for someone to stop, ask if they are going in your direction and have a gentlemanly discussion about the price. You could of course use a normal taxi and spend ten minutes haggling with a money grabbing bastard and pay twice what the locals would.
All cafes and restaurants will sensibly provide these items but please be aware that it is the waitresses job to remove them the instant you have wiped your lips on them once.
Rome, as we all know was founded by Romulus and Remus, having been abandoned at birth and suckled by a she-wolf. Except it wasn’t. They just nicked the story from Central Asia, where it is far more ancient and exists in numerous variations and held in particular esteem in Tajikistan as part of the nation’s creation myth.
Guidebooks like to refer to the use of sheep’s tail fat as a cooking ingredient. Do not be fooled, it is sheep’s arse, large cubes of which are commonly found wobbling in plates of plov or floating in soup to give added flavour and textural variation.
Central Asian plumbers are completely unaware that taps come supplied with a mechanism to fix them firmly to sinks or that the value of hot and cold indicators on them are dependent on the appropriate pipes being connected to the relevant side of the taps.
These devices function as a means of providing vehicle users with a vague guidance as to the suitability of proceeding, but should not be considered as any kind of definitive statement. A flashing green man serves no practical function whatsoever, beyond informing pedestrians of a different phase in the likelihood of being run down. Kazakhstan is for some unknown reason the exception to this, where cars will even stop at pedestrian crossings.
These can be found throughout the region and are typically characterised by the absence of only one thing: water. Some exceptions can be made if the dictator is in town and in Uzbekistan they will even paint patches of lawns green if they are not sufficiently verdant for president Karimov’s visit.