Sumpteretc's Blog

What's on my mind at the moment

Month: June, 2010

Customs Nightmare

A couple of weeks ago, my mother-in-law generously sent us a package via FedEx, as she has done several times since we came to Mongolia. We have had a few situations where the packages got hung up in customs, but it has not usually been a big deal. This time, the package never showed up, even though we were sure it must have arrived, so we called FedEx. They told us they had tried to deliver a notification on Friday, albeit to a different neighborhood. Street addresses here is a wholly other subject. At any rate, the box was now at the customs office near the airport.

So, yesterday afternoon, I went to the FedEx office in town to pick up the necessary paperwork. After about a 45-minute wait, the FedEx guy showed up at the office and gave me the papers. He said I would need to go to the airport and pay the appropriate customs fees. I asked if I could just give him the money and let him pick it up. He said, “sure” and picked up his calculator. After some rapid calculations, he said I would need to pay $48.The items were valued at $85, and he was estimating the shipping at $225 or so. We needed to pay 15.5% of the total of those two. I was incredulous. We’ve never paid any customs fees. He said it was a new law. Any gifts under $1,000 were previously tariff-free but now subject to import taxes.

We decided to handle it ourselves. Tiffany went to the customs office with her teacher. There was a lot of bureaucratic nonsense, but a couple hours later, they walked out with the box, not having paid a dime.

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Mongolian Greetings and Farewells

In Mongolia, guests are welcomed and seen off in various ways, based on their age and social rank. If the guests are older or more respected than the head of the household, he may go to the gate of the fence or to the main door of the building to greet or see the guests off, or he may only go to the door of the tent or the room. If the guests are younger or of lower social rank, he may stand up in his tent without going outside to greet or see them off, or he may simply remain seated.

When greeting or saying goodbye to a guest, one may kiss those who are very close, such as the immediate family members. Parents and older siblings kiss one cheek of a child or younger sibling when saying goodbye to her, and the other cheek when greeting the person on her return. Most Mongolians are not comfortable with giving kisses to departing friends. Among Mongolian men, it is almost unheard of. An elder may kiss a son or younger sibling, but it is uncommon for a younger person to kiss an older one.

When greeting or saying good-bye to someone, a Mongolian may look at him, put his hands together and make a bow, raise his hand or shake hands; but hugging is almost nonexistent. This is considered a custom for lovers that should be done away from other people. Due to European influence, hugging and kissing have become more common; but they still convey the idea of a very close relationship. When greeting in this way, it is common to give a red holiday flower.

When greeting a father or mother or an official or honored person, the aforementioned customs are suitable. In the same way, when seeing a respected person off, ceremonial tea prepared in a special place is served or the person is seen off in the place where they were first greeted. When seeing someone off like this, those younger than the guest get off of their horses and bow; those of the same generation pull their horses’ mouths and cause them to bow and stop; older people make a way for them and raise their hands to bid farewell. According to the ceremony for guests, it is improper for the head of the household to wear clothes more beautiful than those of his guest.

When greeting or saying farewell, tea and food is ceremonially prepared in a respected place and as a good omen, the best part of it is given. But there is a tradition of tasting dairy products, starting with the person who is arriving or ending with the person who is leaving. Also the person who is leaving must go around the tent or the fire in a clockwise direction. If at the greeting time many people are gathered, a party is held and blessings are spoken. When leaving also, blessings of the traveling road are spoken and the traveler is greeted with a ceremonial scarf.

At this time there are particular words that are spoken. They are:

When greeting: Did you go and come tirelessly on a road that was comfortable and nice? Did you go and come well? Did you go well? Did you come well? Or, to a person who is coming from an event or school:

Did you study books and knowledge a lot? Are the scholarly books high? If the person is coming from work: Did you do the event well? Did you work with success? Was your work successful? Did you do your work? When such questions are asked, the person arriving answers them all with, “fine” and “nice.”

When giving farewells: May you ride comfortably and tirelessly on the road you travel! May your golden way be filled with prosperity! Please go easy and well on your way! Please go well! are said and the person who is going says to all of them in return: Please sit well. Goodbye.