Although home to a number of nomadic peoples, the land that is now Turkmenistan has been mostly a Turkmen nation since the eighth century C.E. Throughout their history, Turkmen survival has rested squarely with the clan and extended family. The Turkmen’s sense of identity still comes from tribal ties. These ancient tribal loyalties proved strong enough to withstand Soviet attempts to destroy them, and the strong commitments to and value for family remain firmly entrenched.
Turkmen, like other Central Asian peoples, have a strong tradition of hospitality. Guests and even strangers may be invited to share a meal with a family. The Turkmen are gracious, modest, and hospitable people who respect others. They value community and family before the individual.
When meeting, males will generally shake hands and say “Asalaam Aleikum.” Women will generally shake hands with other women but not with men. Direct eye contact is expected, but men should avoid too much direct eye contact with women lest it be mistaken for inappropriate advances or attention.
A woman may politely acknowledge a social greeting from a male with a nod. She will never initiate a greeting or handshake with a male outside her family. A foreign male should not greet or make overtures to Turkmen women.
It is still acceptable to refer to a woman as khanym or “madam” (e.g., Khanym Rejepow or Mrs. Rejepow). In less formal social settings, visitors will hear younger members of society referring to older and senior members as yashuly, meaning “respected one.” Occasionally elders will address younger or junior members as jigi, or in some dialects as ini.
Turkmen are quite a hospitable people and believe that guests should be warmly received. Turning a guest away is shameful even if they arrive unannounced. If invited to a home, it is customary to take a gift. Turkmen do not usually open gifts in public, so your gift may remain unopened in your presence. It is appropriate to wrap gifts and make sure they are not too expensive. Chocolates or other sweets make a nice gift. Food made from wheat is also appreciated because wheat represents the source of life. Flowers are always acceptable, but bring an odd number of them because even numbers are used in funerals. Alcohol is not advisable, but gifts from a home country are enthusiastically received. At the door, one should remove one’s shoes, but leave socks on, taking care to point the shoes toward the interior of the house.