14

"Culture Smart: Mongolia" (page 86) says that shaking hands has "become usual between men, and with some women".

However, no other guides to Mongolian etiquette I could find mention any gender issues with shaking hands, and they all talk about shaking hands being the normal way to greet, as opposed to bowing or anything else. I also suspect that some of the info in this book is dubious.

Is it ok for men to offer to shake hands with Mongolian women in Mongolia? In case region matters, I'll be in the Mongol part of it, within driving distance of UB, rather than in the Kazakh part.

  • 2
    Even by the rules of European/American social etiquette, it is never proper for a man to offer his hand to a woman: it is always up to the woman to offer her hand. (If a man slips up, though, politeness obligates the woman to go ahead and shake his hand, since it's never polite to cause someone embarrassment.) I have no idea of the women of Mongolia know this, however. – Martha Jul 24 '16 at 2:12
  • 2
    It might be worthwhile to have a look at what is the norm among buddhists as that is the predominant religion in Mongolia. – Burhan Khalid Jul 24 '16 at 5:19
  • 4
    @Martha That is certainly not true in business contexts and varies in personal contexts. – JonathanReez Jul 30 '16 at 22:04
  • 1
    @JonathanReez: I did specify social etiquette. Business etiquette is, you treat men and women identically, and it's up to the higher-ranked person to offer a handshake. But that hardly applies in the context specified in the question. – Martha Jul 31 '16 at 2:36
5

There is a very detailed list of Mongolian customs at Mongolian Ways (interesting reading). Amongst numerous snippets of information and advice is:

Mongolians touch each other more than Anglo-Saxons do. It is normal to see men or women holding hands or putting their arms around each other's shoulders. Mongolians tend to touch one another, even those whom they do not know.

So I very much doubt offering to shake hands with man or woman would be taken badly. The list is introduced with:

Mongolians are very tolerant people and most will not take offence when a foreigner is unfamiliar with local customs. It is not possible or even expected of you to know all the customs of the Mongols in the course of a short trip.

So it seems even what might be a social faux pas in Mongolian culture would be forgiven from a foreigner anyway.

However, there is also mention that "Mongolians are always happy and appreciative when a foreign visitor takes the time to learn some of their customs and shows this during greetings or visits." so it may be worth bearing in mind that the Mongolian custom when greeting strangers is, informally as may be more relevant for you, :

a nod and a smile, with the greeting , "Sain bain uu?" (Are you well?') usually suffices. The expected response is “sain” (well), even if you are not feeling your best that day.

or if formal ("during Tsagaan Sar"):

roll down your sleeves and extend both arms. The younger person should support the elder person’s arms below the elbow. The older person will ask “a-mar bain noo?” (how have you been?) and the younger responds “a-mar bain aa” (well). If a khatag is being offered, fold it lengthwise and hold each end in your extended hands as you give the greeting, then place the khatag into the person’s hands afterwards. 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.

Note that neither includes a handshake.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.