How do I welcome two teenagers from Kazakhstan?
December 16, 2013 9:14 AM   Subscribe

For Christmas my family is hosting two teenagers (~12 yrs old) from Kazakhstan. They are in town for a hockey tournament, and the place where the team is staying is closing for the nights of the 24th and 25th, so we are taking them on while other families take other members of the team. Help us make them feel welcome while being so far away from home!

We would like to make them as comfortable and welcome as possible, but we know next to nothing about Kazakhstan. We also have no family members around that age -- we are all much older (~mid 30s) or much younger (low single digits).

Any tips?

Specific questions:
- would a dog in the house be a problem?
- any particular customs we should be aware of?
- any aspect of North American culture that may seem very odd to people from Kazkhstan?
- what stocking stuffers might they like?

[Please keep the Borat jokes to a minimum]
posted by TheyCallItPeace to Human Relations (9 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
The first thing you want to know is that if they're Christian, they'll be celebrating Orthodox Christmas when they get home, in January, so no need to be worried about the poor things missing out on their family Christmas, if they celebrate it at all. If they're Muslim, you might want to see if they'll be affected by dietary restrictions. If so, have some things that are familiar to them. Kosher food is pretty close to Halal,

Here's a site that tells a bit about customs. Don't fill up the tea cup!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:30 AM on December 16, 2013

Firstly what a great experience for them. I'm assuming you are in North America and I'm sure the boys will actually appreciate a real North American experience even if they might find it odd! So you could do some typical Western things that they might not have done before. Go to a professional hockey game, ice skating outside, American football game, big American meals, and a traditional Western Christmas.

I was lucky enough to go on some sports tours like this and always enjoyed getting stuck into the local customs while we were away.
posted by JIMSMITH2000 at 10:44 AM on December 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

The Kazakhs I know are Muslims and avoid pork, but don’t seem very hung up about dietary restrictions in other ways.

[My son taught English in Kazakhstan briefly a couple of years ago. The kids he was teaching were inquisitive and rather confused about Borat (still banned in Kazakhstan I believe) — they didn’t seem to understand that it was more about us making fun of people in the US than about our real perceptions of them. It would not be totally out of the question for them to bring it up.]
posted by Quinbus Flestrin at 11:16 AM on December 16, 2013

Honestly, they are 12 and a lot depends on their particular family vs. traditions and customs of the country. They might be scared of the dog (if it is bigger) or they might be fine with it. They might find your bedding weird, they might not. Just ask them how they like things, if they want to sleep in the same room, what they'd want to eat.

I bet they would love to experience "American" things they know from TV shows and movies. Have some marshmallows handy, for hot coco and smores. And other junk food / convenience food as seen on TV. :-)

Take a few pictures together. I would opt for small possibly edible things as stocking stuffers and rather take them out on the town so they have cool memories and stories to tell once they get home. There recently was an askme about small gifts for a 12 y.o. boy, maybe take a look.

I think it's great you're taking those athletes in, sounds like crappy planning to board them in a place that shuts down for two days. Wish you a great time together!
posted by travelwithcats at 11:42 AM on December 16, 2013

I bet they would love to experience "American" things they know from TV shows and movies. Have some marshmallows handy, for hot coco and smores. And other junk food / convenience food as seen on TV. :-)

Yup, anything "as seen on TV" is probably going to be a huge hit. Sometimes that's weird stuff that seems ridiculously ordinary in the US, like Solo cups! Also, clothing and accessories branded with sports logos/slogans/place names specific to your area are likely to go over well. I'm not sure if this necessarily still applies, but they also might want to pick up some CDs in the US, because not all American music is available abroad. Also, try to take them to all the "normal" places as well as the more touristy sites while you're out and about with them -- the grocery store or wherever is actually pretty interesting, when a country is totally foreign to you.

Dietary restrictions aside, definitely try to cook them some "American food," especially things that would probably be really exotic to them, like Kraft mac & cheese, PB&J, sweet potatoes, bagels, pizza, US cereals (Lucky Charms, etc), microwave popcorn, soft pretzels, cookies, hot dogs, etc. The kids will probably have a lot of fun following your usual routines and eating your regular dishes, though, too, so don't feel like you need to change *everything* up. On the other hand, if you want to try your hand at a Kazakh dish or two they'll probably also get a huge kick out of that, because, no offense intended at all, but you'll probably Americanize it like crazy by accident and they'll find it funny/sweet.

Personally, I would do all of your family's Christmas traditions for/with them, whatever those traditions are. It doesn't even matter if that's going out for Chinese and a movie or it's a tree and Christmas stockings, they'll probably love being included in a "normal" American Christmas and talk about it to all their friends when they get home.

Also, try to pick up little souvenirs for them to take back for their parents. Their parents are likely to have sent some small Kazakh souvenirs along with the boys for you, as well. Keep things light, have a lot of activities and plenty of food flowing, and don't worry if they can't/won't speak a whole lot of English (it doesn't mean they're not having a good time).
posted by rue72 at 12:36 PM on December 16, 2013

Kazakhs and central Asians:

- Both men and women tend to talk forcefully.
- They speak bluntly, very easily sacrificing any shred of political correctness.
- They consider American mannerisms puzzling and/or ridiculous (ex. our greeting of, "how are you? ")
- They don't have the same preoccupation with hygiene as us
- They treat hosts, elders, those in authority with considerable respect (they may be alarmed by how American kids deal with their parents)
- They are nowhere near as opened minded towards gays.
- they treat religious and cultural symbols with way more intensity than we do. There are "sacred cows."

I have interacted with them in my travels. Enjoy the experience and good luck.
posted by Kruger5 at 1:43 PM on December 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

Kazakh Muslims that I've met are not that cool with dogs as inside animals. No pork, but otherwise pretty relaxed. Ethnic Russian Kazakhs are different again. Kazakh cuisine isn't that great in my opinion, but plov as a side dish, authentic as you can make it, would be a nice little reminder of home. They'll probably be pretty quiet and respectful, don't take it as aloofness.
posted by nicolas léonard sadi carnot at 7:08 PM on December 16, 2013 [1 favorite]

I don't know about Canadian cuisine, but a lot of Kazakh (and Russians and Belarussians and Kryrgs and Uzbeks) I've met think the standard American diet is kind of gross. Italian food especially seems just not popular. They use different oils for cooking and ones that impart a distinct and foreign flavor (like EVOO) seem to not really be liked. Our dairy products might taste like crap to them. A lot of North American food will probably just seem really sweet to them. For two nights, i think you'll just be dealing with an general ongoing shyness and awkwardness at the whole situation and those nights are clearly not nights where you're going to do major historical sight seeing so I would make food the biggest comfort priority.
posted by WeekendJen at 10:24 AM on December 17, 2013

Thanks for all the inputs! It all went very smoothly, and everyone enjoyed themselves. They did find some of the food kinda weird, but enjoyed most of it. They did not have any issues with the dog either.
posted by TheyCallItPeace at 6:38 PM on January 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

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