A few of my favorite things

The handshake: In Mongolia, when someone’s foot is stepped on, or bumped under the table, the two people shake hands immediately. No words are needed. I did it with my host family pretty frequently since our dinner table was cozy for the usual 3, sometimes 5, of us. I’ve also done it with strangers on a crowded bus. Some people are more casual about it, others are super serious. Either way, it is an easy habit to develop, and an easy way to impress the locals.

The touch: In Mongolia, when the candy dish is presented (and even when the candy dish is already on the table), the guest first touches the side of the dish with the palm up, before taking a piece of candy; always with the right hand. Our instinct seems to be to grab (or at least take) what we are given. I’ve witnessed this appreciative moment, this reflective pause, taught to small children. I love it.

The sniff: Americans kiss one cheek. Europeans, kiss twice (sometimes, thrice). Mongolians sniff. Similar to smelling the clothes of a loved one to trigger that scent memory (the one that Fergi sings about). I think of it this way: a kiss is from me to you, but a sniff is from you to me. It’s a completely different sentiment. Almost like the difference between “remember me” versus “I want to remember you.” When I left my training site, my host mom sniffed me goodbye. Some of the other moms did, too, as they called me sain ohun (“a good girl”).


Sunlight: The days are getting longer now, but without Daylight Saving Time and only one time zone in Mongolia, sunrise in my Southwestern Aimag is around 8:45am (sunset is around 6:45pm). It is incredibly difficult to wake up (at 7:30am) in what looks to be the middle of the night. But, this is The Land of Blue Sky!!  And my apartment makes the most of that. It is perfectly situated, such that one window gets the morning sun, and the other window gets the afternoon sun.

4 Responses to A few of my favorite things

  1. Rachel Morales says:

    It was a perfect way to begin my morning – reading about a few of your favorite things. Thank you for that. 🙂

  2. Maryse says:

    I love the idea of the sniff. How charming. OMG! We miss you.

  3. Priscilla A. Arsenault says:

    Like Maryse, I too like the “sniff” thing. Could you expound a little more about the “touch” thing? I think I get it but I want to make sure. By having your palm up and open, empty, before you take a piece, instead of just diving in and grabbing one (or two or three!), that’s to show a respective pause, as if you’re saying to yourself, “I’m about to have a piece of candy and I appreciate it,” to not look greedy or selfish, correct? Almost a non-verbal sign of “Thank you?” I guess what I’m asking is by doing this gesture, does the guest feel more towards themselves (it forces them to think about what they’re doing, getting, they appreciate it, not take it for granted, shows restraint, etc), or does the guest feel more towards the host (it forces them to think about about their host and the host’s generosity and the guest’s own thankfulness towards the host for the candy)? I know what I mean but not sure it’s coming out correctly in my words, sorry about that.

    • eelevol says:

      Priscilla, I understood your question perfectly and I hadn’t put it into so many words, myself, so I wanted to ask my CP before trying to answer. I had thought of it in only the first way (feeling toward yourself, rather than toward the host), but I loved the flipside in your question. Assuming I expressed it understandably, my CP says “the touch” is an appreciative and/or reflective moment toward yourself. (I’m curious whether there’s consensus, so maybe I should continue to ask around.)

      I should also state that, as with many traditions, not everyone follows it and for some of those who do, it has become a perfunctory gesture so maybe there isn’t the intensity of reflection and appreciation each time.

      But, I would never intentionally not do it, and I’d love if I continued long after I’ve gone.

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