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Culture Shock in Kazakhstan Part 2

aneeshaneesh 1 year - Expatriate
Part 1 -

Business culture in Kazakhstan

Kazakhstanis want to be perceived to be helpful and always avoid letting people down. The Soviet legacy also means that peoples' roles within an organisation are very heavily defined with a clear chain of responsibility.

This combination means that people will often avoid giving a negative answer to any question and will simply ‘table’ difficult issues hoping that they will be resolved by someone else. This can be very frustrating for the newly arrived expatriate and therefore adapting to Kazakh business practices can be a challenge. Make an effort to understand the structure of any business, who is responsible for what areas and address all queries to the appropriate person. Expats will also have to get used to repeating their queries a number of times without getting frustrated.

Hospitality in Kazakhstan

People can appear superficially rude on the streets so do not expect people to hold doors or help carry a pram. However, expats will soon see that this is very much a superficiality, as Kazakhstanis are extremely friendly and very hospitable.

New arrivals should not be surprised if they get invited to the home on a Kazakh they’ve recently met. If invited for a meal it is polite to bring a small gift for the hosts and to try a bit of every food offered. If offering flowers to a host, never bring an even number of flowers.

At any gathering almost everyone will be expected to make a toast. Expats invited to a function will not be expected to make their toast in Russian or Kazakh, the simple act of making the toast is usually enough. However, if you know in advance that a toast will be required it is worth getting a local to teach you a short sentence or phrase in one of the local languages. The extra effort will always be noticed and appreciated.

Dress in Kazakhstan

Kazakhstanis tend to dress a lot more formally than most Americans or Europeans. As such, casual clothing, particularly technical outerwear in the cold winter, will immediately identify someone as an expat. Most nightclubs will have a dress code so don’t expect to go dancing in jeans and trainers. Women face few social restrictions on dress, at least in the cities.

The temperature range, particularly in the north of the country, is extreme (-40 to 35° Celcius), and as such Kazakhstanis have learned to respect the weather. It is not unusual to see people, particularly children, bundled up in thick coats, scarves, hats and boots in relatively warm temperatures. If your children are not similarly attired expect to be stopped by the older generation and gently advised to dress them in warmer clothing.

The importance of family in Kazakhstan

Family is very important in Kazakhstan; elders are respected as wise and knowledgeable and children are cosseted and adored. The idea of a child-free wedding or celebration would be anathema in Kazakhstan so expect to see children at all large events from weddings to New Year’s Eve parties. Do not be surprised if invitees bring young toddlers to your home for an evening meal.

Religion and race in Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan is a secular state, home to people of many different ethnicities. Kazakhs are proud of the diversity of their population and the country strives to promote peace between religions worldwide.

There is freedom of worship but expatriates should not proselytise. The majority of the population (about 70 percent) are Muslim with the second largest religious grouping being Orthodox Christian. Both Eid and Orthodox Christmas are marked as public holidays.

Alcohol is freely available, although imported wines are extremely expensive. Pork is also available, but only at certain stores. Furthermore, pork products are always kept separate from the other meat products. Most Kazakhstanis will enjoy a drink or, if not, will not object to your drinking. When inviting people for a meal do check their dietary preferences beforehand to ensure that they can eat the food you are serving.
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