Mongolia Miscellany

I’ve encountered some interesting tidbits my two years in Mongolia, but some were not enough to stretch out into an entire post. Here’s a few bits of miscellaneous items I’ve learned about Mongolia and Mongolian culture.

1. There is a superstition that if silence befalls a group of friends or acquaintances, it means that a baby has been born.

2. When tripping or startled, Mongolian people will sometimes call out ээжээ ( Ejee! {My mother})!

3. The garbage trucks in the capital, Ulaan Baatar, play music when they are approaching. The running joke for most foreigners here is that the jingle sounds reminiscent of an ice cream truck. To me, the jingle they play sounds like Arirang.

4. There are many things you cannot do in your bed, such as sing, cry, or whistle. I am told that the old superstition surrounding whistling is that it invites snakes into your home.

5. It’s considered rude to hand items, like money, to people between your index and middle fingers. This is how people have traditionally handed things to dogs, so you can see the implications.


6. Having a 20,000 tugruk bill with the serial number starting with “AZ” is considered very lucky. You should not spend that bill, but rather, keep it for the good fortune it will bring. Az, or аз, is Mongolian for “luck.”

7. When you go to shake someone’s hand, you should always remove your glove first. Even if it’s -40 outside.

8. Some students don’t wash their hair before a big test, like the Olympics. They avoid this because the superstition says that you’ll wash the knowledge out along with the dirt.

9. What we consider to be the peace sign is actually used as a symbol for victory in Mongolia. It’s a “V” for “victory.” It’s actually this way in many Asian countries (a great blog post about the history and usage can be found here).

Super lucky, and wind-resistant!
Super lucky, and wind-resistant!

10. Corners are not considered desirable: Some say that gers were made round because ghosts live in corners. Another corner superstition is that it is considered bad luck to sit at the corner of a table (some say it means you won’t get married).

11. When Mongolians play half-court basketball, they don’t take it back. Instead, everyone crowds under the hoop and tries to sink a layup. Personally, I find it incredibly frustrating to watch.

12. If you step on someone’s foot, you should touch or shake their hand as an apology.

13. People call cows that stand in the middle of the street and refuse to move, no matter how many times you honk or how close you get in your car, police (tsagdaa / цагдаа). The implications are obvious.


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