This afternoon in Ulaanbaatar I was sitting in a coffee shop in a shopping mall trying to make the best of the flaky Wi-Fi there.

A local guy who was obviously slightly drunk arrived and joined my table and decided to befriend me even though we did not have a language in common.

The guy was in his thirties, had a family, and was an artist and rock musician. Once he decided we were now friends he put his hands around me and made an action like kissing my cheek. My policy is when in Rome do as the Romans, and go with the flow. Instead of making contact with my cheek it seemed he took one sniff.

This took place one or two more times before he left. Once while the waitress was there serving as interpreter. She didn't change her expression to suggest it was something unusual, or more unusual than a drunk customer.

Is this a customary thing between men in Mongolia? I hadn't seen it before and I've spent a day or two hanging out with local truck drivers. What was this guy doing? Where can I learn about this?

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    You mention he did this two or three times before he left. Did he sniff your cheek as well those other times? Or was that an actual kiss? If it's sniffing, I suspect it's more "a drunk custom" than a local custom because I've encountered this in The Netherlands as well, but then again, I might be wrong or misunderstanding your description. Dec 8, 2013 at 15:10
  • Each time was the same, a sniff rather than a kiss. Dec 8, 2013 at 15:17
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    The way I visualize this (drunk guy, being friendly, hangs around my shoulder, tries to kiss me/places his face against the side of mine) I think you're over-interpreting this and it is just the connecting power of alcohol showing. This site has some more info on Mongolian customs and says Mongolians greeting one another rarely kiss each other on the cheek. Dec 9, 2013 at 0:07
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    @jcm: That doesn't stop someone who's drunk and wants to talk (-: Though it does stop the other person from actually understanding everything fully. It's 7 years ago so I don't remember fully. I do remember that I was in Mongolia for a month and Google Translate started to support Mongolian half-way into my trip. Also lots of Mongolians have varying degrees of ability in Russian. So we might have used Google Translate, and might have done so via broken Russian. But some things can be communicated via gestures. He might've showed me a photo of his family, etc. Mar 14, 2021 at 3:07
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    A fun story, regardless!
    – jcm
    Mar 14, 2021 at 3:19

3 Answers 3


Yes, it is. You can read so on some pages, for example this one:

Mongolians greeting one another rarely kiss each other on the cheek. An older person will often grasp the head of a one younger during the greeting and smell their hair or face.

This book has a whole section of the meaning of body odors in the Mongolian culture.


I am from Mongolia. Mongolian's do tend to sniff cheeks as a lovely gesture. For example, I would sniff my parent's cheeks and my family's cheeks.

  • Thank you so much! Does this gesture have a name in Mongolian? I can read the Mongolian alphabet and would love to know. Sep 1, 2016 at 4:00

Traditionally Mongolians don't kiss, they do kind of sniffing. I find it nicer and cleaner rather than to be kissed and feel someone's saliva on my cheek.

  • 1
    Isn't that kissing all the same? Who “kisses” by actually pressing the lips against the cheek?
    – Relaxed
    May 16, 2015 at 9:58
  • "Sniffing" doesn't involve lips. They would slightly touch your cheek with the point of the nose and do a kind of quick sniffing.
    – Joy
    May 17, 2015 at 10:48
  • If a foreigner did it, would they appreciate it or be offended?
    – WGroleau
    Mar 3, 2023 at 17:24
  • I don't see anything wrong with that. Probably they will be amused.
    – Joy
    Mar 6, 2023 at 11:07

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