The ger, or yurt, has been the traditional dwelling of Mongolian nomads for centuries. It is particularly well suited to the climate of the steppes and surprisingly well protected against cold and winds. Its foreign name comes from the Turkish word "yurt". It consists of several layers of felt set on a frame of wood. The door is always oriented towards south. It takes no more than two hours to set up a ger, it is easy to transport and to dismantle and it offers an area of twenty square meters. Mongolian nomads are particularly hospitable and they never fail to open their door to visitors. Inside the ger visitors always sit on the left side while the head of the family stays in the back facing the door. If you are offered a different place just accept, always move around the stove in a clockwise direction and receive the tea that will be offered to you with both hands or your right hand.
Nomadic children learn to ride horses when they are very young and they take part into Naadam Festival horse races. During the day, boys and girls go about their respective tasks. Children must learn riding in order to help their parents taking care of their livestoc
k. A nomad family is made of three to five children and the grand-parents must take care of them when they are toddlers. At the age of seven, children start the compulsory school. Most of them sleep in dormitories and return home during holidays.
Compared to other cultures, Mongolian women occupy a very important place in society. They hold the purse strings, manage the family income, the education of children, they take care of the ger and of milking the livestock. Men are responsible for all the work outside the ger. Nowdays Mongolian women are more educated than men: 70% of women are enrolled in higher education against 20-30% of men. Many women are physicians, professors or directors of private companies. In Ulaanbaatar it is rather common for a woman to earn more money than her husband.
The deel is the traditional garb which can be worn all day long. It is long, wide and warm. Nowdays city dwellers tend to dress in a Western-style and they wear their deels only during traditional festivals. In the steppe it remains the preferred clothing of the nomads because it has only benefits. The decorative motifs of deels are different for men and women. Mongolian boots are beautiful too. They are made of leather and felt and they are perfect for walking in the snow and isolating from the cold.
Mongolian food is prepared with sheep, camel and beef meat depending on the season. To fight against the intense cold people must eat a big amount of fat. In summertime dairy products are the bulk of the diet. Fruits and vegetables have been introduced in the daily diet only a few years ago. People drink a lot of salted milk tea all day long. In wintertime there is no need to use a refrigertor, meat is frozen and stored in the open air, while in summertime it is dried and cut into small pieces.
MONGOLIAN LANGUAGE AND SONGS
Mongolian language is a mixture of Turkish, Kazakh, Uzbek, Tibetan and some Chinese languages. It is spoken by 7 million people worldwide. Until the beginning of the twentieth century Mongolian script was written from top to bottom and from left to right in a Uighur alphabet. With the Soviet Union occupation Cyrillic was imposed on Mongolian people as the official alphabet. It has remained the writing reference. Since the democratization of the country, governments have attempted to reintroduce the traditional script.
Music and songs are very important in everyday life, especially in the steppe where there are few distractions. People like to gather to play music and sing. Most of songs lyrics talk about nature, mountains, rivers, but they are mainly dedicated to the mother.
POPULATION AND RELIGION
The Mongolian population does not exceed 3 million. This is the lowest density in the world with 2.5 inhabitants per square kilometer. Life expectancy for women is about 65 years, however it is much lower for men mainly because of alcohol consumption, tobacco and lifestyle. More than half of the population lives in Ulaanbaatar and some small towns, but rural areas tend now to depopulate. Buddhism (Lamaism) is the state religion. During the communist period monasteries were destroyed and hundreds of monks were killed. Since it has recovered its independence Mongolia has been reviving Buddhism.
HABITS AND TRADITIONS
The Mongols are usually shy and quiet people but they can get excited under the influence of alcohol. They do not talk about intimate life because they believe it can bring bad luck. Never ask the travel schedule to a driver, he will be too afraid of having an accident or a breakdown problem on the way.
People greet each other with a "sain bainuu" (healthy), which is answered with "sain" (healthy). People never answer in a negative way.
Mongolians usually do not knock on the door of a ger. Instead you should always ask them to hold their dog. It is a gentle way to ask permission to enter especially if nobody has noticed you.
Tea is offered with both hands and the person who receives it should take it with both or the right hand supported by the left in sign of respect.
Many prohibited gestures and words govern nomads’ life. It is, for example, forbidden to touch the fire with a knife or to throw water or garbage on the floor of a ger. Do not touch the hat of somebody else and do not walk in front of others or of an older person. Nobody will really feel offended if a foreigner does not respect all those rules, however do your best to respect some of them.