Crossing the Threshold

Enter and exit here.
Enter and exit here.

One of the more significant architectural choices I’ve noticed in Mongolia is having a prominent threshold in just about every building. Shops, homes, and most businesses with have a threshold that you will have to literally step over in order to enter the building. As it turns out, it’s more of a cultural expectation than design aesthetic.

Some important things you should know about entryways in Mongolia include the following:

  1. Tripping when you come inside is not only hilarious, but good luck. Tripping symbolizes bringing something with you. Thus, when you trip while entering, you are bringing something from the outside into the home.
  2. Conversely, tripping while you exit is considered bad for the same reason: You are taking something out from the house. Ways to remedy this include coming back in and putting a piece of wood into the stove fire, or simply coming back in and trying to exit again. It depends on the owner of the home and how much stock they put into this, really.
  3. You shouldn’t stand in the entryway, most obviously for safety reasons. You should probably avoid stretching your arms out if you’re standing in a doorway as well. It is considered bad luck because at one point or another, having a cross or the “t” shape on your doorway signaled to those outside that someone had died in that home. Recreating that “t” shape invites death, some might say.
  4. Don’t stand on the threshold. It’s there for you to pass over, not stand on. Plus, it blocks the doorway.

There are also quite a few rules and traditions that are rather interesting about living in a ger, but since I live in an apartment, I’m not made privy to those rules. One other behavior related to entryways worth mentioning is the door knocking. You can tell if a Mongolian person is at your door by the lively rattling of rat-a-tats you hear. Most Americans will knock two or three times, wait a while, knock similarly again, then be on their way. Not so in Mongolia. I believe it may come from the herding lifestyle of old, where the one ger you find while riding in the countryside is literally your last bastion against dying from exposure, so you make sure your presence is known. I have had Mongolians knocking at my door for 30+ minutes, and when I say knocking, I mean knocking for almost the entire time. Persistence is definitely one of their strong suits. I still didn’t answer the door, however.

Does everyone in Mongolia follow these (non door knocking related) rules? It would be a stretch to say that they did, but most are aware of these rules. It’s like the “no elbows on the table” rule back home. I know the rule, but I also know that I most certainly put my elbows on the table.

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8 thoughts on “Crossing the Threshold

  1. Ahh, the knocking! So true! It drives me crazy, I don’t know how you could tolerate 30 minutes of it… 30 seconds and I’m peeking out the window to see who it is and let them see me so they’ll stop.

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  2. The only rule on thresholds that I know, is that in Asian Buddhist temples it is considered extremely disrespectful to step on the threshold, instead of over it. Will keep your rules in mind, thanks. Love the one about entering. The intercom at the entrance to our apartment block is even worse than knocking. People press any of the buttons and keep on pressing it, while you get the same Chinese message over and over in your apartment

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  3. There are plenty of ger rules… and they are mostly followed when you are at an elders ger or at some sort of celebration in a ger. The big one everyone seems to follow regardless of whose ger you’re in for what purpose is not walking between the poles as they symbolize husband and wife holding up the family. Little kids will lean on the poles though.
    I’m really glad I have a sturdy ping and a lock on my ping. I don’t get a knock, I get someone trying to open the door and a thud as they run into it! And then a knock… or if it’s the neighbor kids, I get “Mike… Mike… Mike… Mike…” until I come to the door… they know I’m home because my lock isn’t on the outside of my ping. =P

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    1. Interesting stuff, Mike! The pole thing was something I always wondered about in terms of how strict people were with it. I suppose because I’m an adult, they’d be a bit more stringent with me, haha. I have seen gers with a single pole, so I’m guessing they might be more upset about you leaning on it.

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