I was taken slightly aback the other day when Aminaa from work suddenly grabbed my hand as we were walking along. I wondered what I could possibly have done to have prompted such an unexpected display of affection. Turns out I hadn’t done anything except step slightly on her foot, which in Mongolia causes offence unless you immediately clasp the person by the hand.
This is actually proving to be slightly inconvenient. For example, Ted and I were walking along chatting to each other when all of a sudden, he was no longer there. I looked behind to see him ten or so yards back, hand outstretched to another Mongolian. As it happens, Ted’s spatial awareness is particularly poor, which means that I have to factor in grace time for any journey I go on with him, since he will inevitably brush feet with four or five Mongolians en route and delay us considerably. It makes me wonder what happens when Mongolians find themselves in large crowds…Maybe they just hold hands with each other in that situation…I don’t know. I don’t suppose they play many games of Twister here.
Another thing that I’ve learned is that you mustn’t wear your shoes inside people’s homes. I understand why – shoes are dirty – but it’s a real pain if you’ve left something in the apartment and have to go back for it. One of the other volunteers told me that her host left the house one day last week and had to come back for her mobile phone. With not enough time to take her shoes off again, she reportedly walked through the house on her knees.