Memos from Asia

10 Stereotypes about Kazakhstan that are Erroneous

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Majority of countries and nationalities has stereotypes. However, a generalization of one idea to a whole country is not always true. Here we will talk about the most interesting stereotypes about Kazakhstan and Kazakhs.

Have you ever heard about Kazakhstan?

Kazakhstan is a Central Asian country, bordered with two large economies – Russia and China. Around 130 nationalities live together in Kazakhstan. However, the Kazakhs are the ethnic majority with the largest share – 58.9% of the population. (Embassy of Kazakhstan)

What do the common but overgeneralized ideas exist about local Kazakhs?

1. Everyone can ride a horse

Almaty, Kazakhstan – August 23, 2015: Kazakh father and son on his horse in traditional dresses pose and look, at Kazakh show of national games in Almaty, Kazakhstan.

Yes, Kazakhstan was home to many nomadic tribes who are the best in horse riding. However, it was in the distant past and people no longer ride horses today. Currently, the Kazakh people are almost the same modern people like Russians or Americans. (Weproject, https://weproject.media/articles/detail/kakim-kazakhstan-predstavlyayut-inostrantsy-stereotipy-i-realnost/)

2. Everybody speaks in Russian

Sunny autumn morning at St. Basil’s Cathedral on Red Square

In Kazakhstan, the state language is Kazakh, though many locals can speak in Russian, which is also the official language. However, it is an oversimplification to say that all Kazakh people are bilinguals. (Astana Zagranitsa, https://astana.zagranitsa.com/article/4998/my-drugie-8-stereotipov-inostrantsev-o-kazakhstane)

Kazakhstan was a part of the Russian Empire and the afterwards Soviet Union before declaring independence in 1991, so it is not astonishing that Kazakhs can speak in Russian.

3. Nur-Sultan is the only city in Kazakhstan worth visiting

Beautiful cityscape of Astana with modern high-rise buildings on the background. Astana is the second-largest city.

Increased attention of the government to the tourism is making it obvious that Kazakhstan has far many destinations and places worth visiting. For instance, the city Almaty is can become a famous destination for gorgeous views, Taraz for ancient sites, Baikonur for the large space launch facility and Tamgaly-Tas for religious sanctuary. (Travel Triangle, https://traveltriangle.com/blog/kazakhstan-tourist-places/)

4. Kazakhstan is an underdeveloped country

Landmark Baiterek tower at sunset in Astana

Kazakhstan is one of the developing countries in the world. Many factors and indicators define whether the economy is developed, developing or underdeveloped. Yet, the GDP per capita is one of the important elements. According to the World Bank records in 2019, the GDP per capita of Kazakhstan accounted for $9,731 US, which is higher than Brazil, India, Indonesia, Iran, Serbia, Thailand and Turkey. (WorldBank, https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GDP.PCAP.CD)

5. People live in yurts (local tents) and ride camels

Kazakh people in traditional costumes in a nomadic tent known as a yurt, in Almaty, Kazakhstan.
Yurts in the mountains, Kazakhstan

This stereotype is far from reality. Kazakhs have long been living in modern apartments and drive popular brand cars such as BMW, Audi and Toyota. You can find yurts in the suburbs but they are build due to interests of locals or because of festivals.

6. Kazakhs only eat heavy food

Nationally Kazakh dish beshbarkak

Yes, the majority of Kazakh dishes can be too heavy for Europeans or other non-Asians. But Kazakh people love their traditional meals. However, it is not the entire menu of the nation. International fast-food chains like KFC, Ketchup, McDonald’s and Burger King have popular branches in Kazakhstan. (Tripadvisor, https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurants-g298251-c10646-Almaty.html) Hence, it is clear that Kazakhs also love dishes from other international cuisines.

7. Kazakhs are unsociable

Another common stereotype is about the personality of Kazakhs. The local Kazakhs are friendly. I have visited Kazakhstan more than 3 times and found that it is not fair to say that Kazakhs are all unsociable and unpunctual people.

8. All families have more than 3 children

Kazakh family sits in nature with a man playing accordion and a kid playing a local instrument of Dombra in Saty Village, Kazakhstan.

Kazakhs live together in big families like the majority of Central Asians. Some families have even 10 or 11 children. But the stereotype that everybody has at least 3 children is not true, especially in large cities. Many young families preferring to raise fewer babies due to influence of western media.

9. Kazakhstan is dangerous for foreigners

Many foreigners, especially those who never visited Kazakhstan think the country is very dangerous for non-Kazakhs. The rumours like murder are common crime or murderers gather in sidewalks waiting for people to ask for belongings are not true. Yes, the level of safety may not be the same as European countries like the UK or Iceland, but it is much higher than Greece, Argentina, China, Armenia, India or Russia. (WorldPopulation, https://worldpopulationreview.com/country-rankings/safest-countries-in-the-world)

10. Movie Borat

The most widespread and erroneous stereotype about Kazakhstan is the movie “Borat”. In the film, Kazakhstan was described as a very backward country. The movie was initially prohibited in many countries. In the movie, the role of Kazakh people was played by poor gipsies in a small Romanian village.

The president of Russia stated: “After watching the film, it became clear that Mr Cohen (Borat) had never been to Kazakhstan”. (Astana Zagranitsa, https://astana.zagranitsa.com/article/4998/my-drugie-8-stereotipov-inostrantsev-o-kazakhstane)

What other stereotypes do people in your country have? Share on the comments!

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