Should We Have Gone Home With A Persistent Uzbek Man?

This won’t come as a surprise, but I’m a skeptic. When anyone approaches me who I don’t know, the first thing I think about is what their motive is. In general I think if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

I know there are good people out there, so it’s a shame I feel that way, but when you’re a tourist, the reality is that a vast majority of people who approach you have some ulterior motive — to ask for money, to scam you, or something else.

Yesterday we took a day trip from Tashkent to Samarkand, and on our return train ride we were seated across from two guys who lived in Tashkent. They started interacting with us right away — one guy was trying to communicate with us, while the other guy was giggling uncontrollably.

The only problem was that he didn’t speak any English. Like not a word. The closest thing he did to speaking English was saying “Trump” and then putting his thumb up, “Obama” and then putting his thumb up, and “Bush” and then putting his thumb down. Alrighty then.

Even though we were trying to work on our laptops, the guy kept trying to engage with us. We tried to listen, but he really didn’t speak any English at all. But that didn’t stop him from trying over and over and over.

Eventually he called someone up on his phone, said “USA,” handed the phone to Matthew, and that person spoke more English, which is to say that he could say “hello.” But he still didn’t really make it clear what was going on. That happened twice.

Then the guy tried to find a translator. Eventually he got the train attendant, who he sort of held against his will.

“He is saying he wants you to go home with him and have food.”

We said we already had plans for the night, and he said “then he will go with you and you can go clubbing and have wodka.” I could tell the train attendant was really embarrassed by having to be translator here, but the guy wouldn’t relent.

I’m torn here. On one hand a lot of people said that Uzbekistan is better if you have a local showing you around (though I think that’s true of just about anywhere). Maybe he was just truly nice and had good intentions. On the other hand, the guy really didn’t speak a word of English, so while the concept of going out with someone might be somewhat appealing if there was a chance to have a conversation with them, learn about their life, etc., that wasn’t an opportunity here.

While we weren’t trying to be rude, there wasn’t really an opportunity for us to communicate, so we tried to deflect the situation given that it was going nowhere. We were working on our laptops and he’d keep touching our knees to get our attention, and then would make the gesture for having shots, and then also the gesture for eating (at least I assume that’s what he was going for, though it looked more like what many might consider the gesture for snorting coke, since he was basically running his finger underneath his nose).

After about 30 minutes he finally quit, at least for a while. Then for the last 10 minutes of the train ride he started up again.

What should we have done? Is this some well known scam in Uzbekistan, or was the guy just genuinely nice? And if he was being genuinely nice, is there really any value in spending a night with someone you have no shot of communicating with?

I’m curious to hear what you guys think (especially resident Uzbekistan expert, Imperator).

Comments

  1. Lucky I think you did the right thing even if he was just a genuinely nice guy going out with a stranger who doesn’t speak your language in a forgein country you’ve never visited before so many things could go wrong

  2. One thing you could have said to him is that “Thanks for the invite though I already have plans. I appreciate the offer though!”

    Just a thought! Enjoy Usbekistan!!!

  3. I don’t think it’s a shame, sad or inappropriate for you to be wary about going to a private location with a person you know nothing about. I have certainly did things with people outside my comfort zone at home and abroad, but in those cases I had time and an opportunity to assess the person/people for trustworthiness. You couldn’t have done that because you had no idea what he was even saying.

  4. Most likely not a scam, he was probably just trying to be nice but this doesn’t mean you should have gone with them. It is culturally appropriate there to invite complete strangers to one’s home to show your hospitality. It doesn’t mean that it would be enjoyable for you under the circumstances.
    Look at it this way – if a purple man from Alfa Centauri sat next to you on Amtrak, you would be excited about it and would probably try to engage him in some sort conversation even without speaking Centaurian 🙂

  5. You could have missed out on the best night of your life! Haha just joking. Good call. Would be exhausting spending all day with someone you are unable to communicate with even in the slightest

  6. @Lucky – how did you get the photo of these guys? Must have been inconspicuous.

    You did the right thing I think, I am exactly like you and always skeptical given how many times I have seen/been scammed in a foreign land myself.

  7. @Lucky – In these places, it is common to invite complete strangers to each other’s houses. It’s also common for people to come into people’s houses unannounced. I am a Pakistani descendant (As well as an Usbekistan descendant) and I know that this is the culture there.

    Though you still handled it well and people there understand that some outsiders aren’t used to it!

  8. Not a scam. Uzbeks (there are no Uzbekis or Uzbekistanis) are truly a hospitable people. They do not feel it odd to invite strangers to their homes. Sharing with others is normal and expected. He probably liked the idea of taking his “American friends” out, too.

    Finding a translator on the phone is pretty typical. However, the translator usually finds the job a bit uncomfortable because they usually know that the foreigner really doesn’t want to do it. The conductor would have known that, too.

    Not having a common language does not have to be a problem, but it would probably have made for an awkward evening. You probably didn’t insult him by not going.

    (I have lived here for eight years and have had tea in numerous homes of strangers, been to the wedding of complete strangers (and turned down the invitation to another), shared restaurant meals, and many conversations. I have turned down offers because they weren’t convenient, because the language barrier seemed like it would make for a tedious visit, because the people just didn’t seem that interesting to me, or I just didn’t want to.)

  9. Hello
    Thanks for reviewing our region’s airlines . I was flattered when i read your report on Air Astana. Made me so proud of my homecountry! We do beat aeroflot! Yeahh! This said, Azerbaijan and Uzbekistan are no strange countries to me.
    The latter is only openning up to the world both culturally and economically. So people are still very excited when they meet foreigners and badly want to please them . You are a globe trotter , you ve seen many countries and experienced different cultures . This guy may never have been abroad and never interacted with an english speaking person – hence the excitement. While he need to learn some manners , am sure his intentions were good.

    Thanks agaian for your work. You re openning up the region to the world. Good or bad reviewes are always helpful. There is an awful currency exchnage / control regime in Uzbekistan, but after Christine Lagarde’s visit they are due to free float their sum in sept – October. So get on that Air astana flight and visit Tashkent next year 😉

  10. Agree with some of the commenters that most likely it was a legit invite. Foreigners, especially Americans, are rare in that part of the world, so these guys most likely were just genuinely curious. Hospitality is a major part of that culture, too. There’s a small chance it was some kind of a scam, but VERY, VERY unlikely.

  11. In March we were treated very well by a young bellman at a major hotel in Luxor. He was the person sent by the hotel to pick us up at the airport. The tourism situation in a Egypt is dismal and everyone went out of their way to be kind and helpful. But, a month or so after returning home, this young bellman send me a message via Facebook Messenger telling us how much he missed us and asking us to write back. While his communication may have been completely innocent, we decided not to reply. I feel bad being so skeptical, especially when directed towards someone who was genuinely kind. But, in this case I felt it best to to engage with this person through electronic communication. We feel very strongly that good behavior by Americans when traveling abroad can have a positive effect on the people we interact with. But, you have to take care of yourself first.

  12. Might have been a genuine person, but it would have just been too difficult with the language barrier. Perhaps he was hoping that the universal language of alcohol would solve all problems, but that would have been a boring night to me.

  13. With the amount of international travel that you do, don’t you have a translation app on your phone (and a data plan that allows you to use it)? They’re no substitute for actual language proficiency, but I’ve found that they make very basic communication possible. You could at least have found the words for “no, thank you.”

  14. Yes. I might have went over to his home for dinner. He may have had kids that speak english and are obsessed with the Kardashians lol

  15. Hey. I’m an Uzbek. The answer to your question is yes. But only if a person easily speaks your language and understands you well. It’s a pity that such people are few. You could feel the real culture and our life. We have many interesting and beautiful places where he could lead you. And we apologize that they brought you inconvenience. They probably did not see foreigners. But they certainly would not harm you like other Uzbeks too. He was very interested in talking to you and learning more about your life. Thank you for visiting us )

  16. I would never agree to meet up with strangers at their home, however I have met locals and tourists on trains in Europe and agreed to meet for lunch or dinner at a restaurant. Most of the time these meet ups turn out great but a few ended up in a discussion of politics which isn’t my favorite topic of discussion.

  17. See, you pretend to travel to all these countries but get scared when you come face to face with their culture.

    Like the teenage boy who obsesses over pretty girls but shits his pants when one actually talks to him.

  18. Just say tks but not tks!!!! Tell him your mom told you since you were a little one: “Do not talk to strangers”. 🙂

  19. I strongly urge you not to leave Uzbekistan without checking out Bukhara, Khiva and Nukus at a minimum. The role of these cities in the Great Silk Road is good to hear and the sites and monuments are quite unique. And don’t forget to try the plov (its a bit heavy, rice based with meat).

  20. The level of spontaneous hospitality in Central Asia and the Caspian region can be overwhelming sometimes. I’ve had similar situations in Turkmenistan (although folks there are often a bit more cautious about direct approaches to foreigners), Uzbekistan, and Azerbaijan (also in Georgia although that’s distinct from the Turkic republics). In Baku in February I accepted such an offer to have dinner in a restaurant, admittedly with someone who spoke someone English and I speak some Turkish, and a had a great evening at a place I would have walked right past if I hadn’t had a local guide. But sadly I agree about being wary of going to private homes. Among other things I would feel very rude turning down home-cooked food but might feel compelled to do so depending on what I was offered.

    These encounters are also interesting if you don’t drink alcohol. I categorically do not, and often when I make that clear the level of interest in extending the invitation declines significantly. So I often use that to test how genuinely interested in meeting me (as opposed to having a new American drinking buddy) someone is.

  21. As a gay man, I would not accept such an invite in a country where homosexuality is generally seen as a disease, and gay sex is punishable with prison.

  22. @Debit, what’s wrong about being careful when in a foreign country? The guy is a stranger, and you shouldn’t expect a visitor to know every single thing about the culture of the country. Lucky wants to learn, and that’s why he asks us in his blog.

  23. Lucky,

    I spent 3 months there and many of a night I jumped in the car with someone I didn’t know or speak the language and never felt threatened in any way. The Uzbek people I met truly enjoyed meeting Americans and wanted to share their culture. I went to Samarkand loved my time there, partied like a rock star and would go back in a heart beat. Typically I would agree with its shady but after being there you probably missed a night to remember.

  24. I think it wasn’t a scam. In Central Asia, most middle class population are trying to be very friendly with tourists.
    The reason to do that, they would like to get more information about you, country, culture, your opinion, how much you making, your occupation and so on.

  25. My partner and I recently traveled to Uzbekistan and by far the best country we’ve been too. They have the nicest and most hospitable people we’ve met in Central Asia. We spent New Year’s Eve there. It is in there culture to offer meals, drinks and invite you to their home for their meal. It is their way of welcoming you to their country not to mention showing off their new friends. We found most of the Uzbeks have an admiration for US as a country even in rural Bukhara and it’s such a treat for them to find American tourists in their country. Obviously one should exercise some street smarts and if you have a bad gut feeling, then decline but from our experience, they have all offers to host us have been genuine and sincere. Enjoy the country!!

  26. “…especially resident Uzbekistan expert, Imperator”

    Hrmmph.

    Ben, are you poking fun at your poor, old, crippled Imp?

    I am hardly an expert. I’ve been to Uzbekistan once, with my boss, at the invitation of the government. So I certainly did not have a typical tourist experience. I had the advantage of having an exuberant host, who loved showing off his country and telling of its history. Because of him, I developed a love for Uzbekistan; it remains the most fascinating place I have visited. I will be eager to read of your impressions and hope that you share my enthusiasm for the country.

    As to your new found friends…

    This is a tough call, especially since the younger one seemed sort of cute (personally, I can’t resist hanging out with cute, local guys). I suspect your friends were well intentioned; and, you could have had a really amazing, enlightening experience, the kind of experience you retell with relish to your grandchildren. Or it could have been just horribly awkward given the language barrier and your unfamiliarity with everyday Uzbekistani traditions. I am imagining you visiting the guy’s house, doing the customary shots of vodka and ending up passed out on his floor. Just awkward, though more so for you than for your hosts (yes, I’m speaking from personal experience).

    It was probably best to have erred on the side of caution.

  27. All I know about approach is a big scam in Istanbul estiklal street, other than that I might give it a shot.

  28. Yah I don’t trust anyone from that area of the world as far as I can throw them, especially if they support Trump.

    On a side note, when will your Spirit review be posted?!

  29. Maybe a “daddy” three way?

    If YOU guys went home with that person, you would have been on the news the very next day…..missing a kidney and a liver. OF COURSE YOU DON’T GO HOME WITH HIM! What is there to feel conflicted about?

  30. It doesn’t matter whether he was legit or dodgy. Who would want to hang out with someone who doesn’t speak a single word of their language? What were you supposed to do all night? Sign language?

  31. Welcome to Eastern Europe. These situations are not uncommon. Better to leave it alone IMHO. On the other hand, the guy on the left looks quite cute.

  32. Hi, thank you for visiting Uzbekistan.
    We have a saying ” mehmon otangdan ulug” which more or less translates as ” the guests are to be respected as you would respect your father” in saying that I would say that you have missed out on a great day of your life which you would tell stories about. Even though these guys didn’t speak any English I believe that their intentions were pure. Uzbekistan is just opening up to the world and you dont see many tourists there so I think he wanted to show you our culture and get to know yours. And I can guarantee you Dan Allens comments are very inappropriate in Uzbekistan

  33. Uzbek’s door always open for guests and tourists. You can knock any door and ask help. They don’t reject you. They are toooo nice. That’s Uzbeks culture. They don’t think about your germs( they can hug you friendly, giggle you, shake your hands.)
    But still be careful. If you don’t know their language or Russian(they all can speak Russian) don’t risk.

  34. You missed out on a totally authentic and normal Uzbekistan experience. Sometimes gotta put down the laptop and go hang with the locals.

  35. Hello.
    I am originally from Uzbekistan, and currently live in NYC.
    If you were after learning real people and culture, you made mistake. Since, he did not speak English at all, I am 100% possitive that no scam involved. Uzbekistan heavily regulated state with very low crime rate, and usually not many people try to take advantage. In comments above, it was rightfully pointed that our culture is friendly and inviting. It completely normal to be invited by total strangers and attend events uninvited. Also, there is not many tourist in Uzbekistan; and of course, people very excited to meet foreigners. However, most of people try keep feelings in bay. Most will throw looks your way and smile, nothing more.
    Going back to question itself. Like I said, if you wanted to see how people really live, how wait greet guests you committed big mistake. I am sure you could have good time, even you did not speak same language. When I arrived in US, I been completely new places with new people and learned from experience and it helped to adopt American way of life and understand people here. I met same curiosity here in New York, hospitality almost on par to Uzbekistan. There is still a lot of people wants to know, where I am from, how long am I been in US and sutra. Believe it or not, yesterday, I was invited by completely strange women to go somethere with her and continue our conversation, which started few minutes ago about what kind accent I have.

  36. You did the right thing ben.
    I lived in fear several years ago in algeria checking into hotel the hotel staff carried my luggage to my room and door closes.
    Here i am with this young man standing in front of the mirror with his cock out.
    I nearly died thinking about being locked away in an algerian jail.
    In the end i polished him off and gave him stupidly $200 usd fearing he would report me.
    That could have been you Ben.

  37. @Ben,
    The answer on your question is very simple based on the pic which You had took in the train. We still dont know which of these two Uzbeks wanted to spend night with you. If it would be the men at the window (sleeping), your answer should be ‘yes’; if the men at the ailes – “no”. Simple? I think so.

  38. Woody Allen. I think your style of asking for opinions on unusual encounters when traveling is unique. The topics are a little strange and not seemingly interesting at first. But your request for advice or comments give rise to responses that can be a hoot to read. Debit’s response is the definite winner for best, almost comical, rudeness. Reading responses to these types of blogs is like watching a Woody Allen movie.

  39. Uzbekistan is one of the safest country in the world ! I can’t say hospitality is number one in the world I believe it is not last one also! Try to get experience with local with gold heart ! I am uzbek too I don’t talk with strangers ! But anyway there are a lot of opportunities to explore the world Why not !?

  40. Got invited in to a friend’s home in Kazakhstan. It was probably the most unique and memorable thing I have had happen to me in most of my travels. We were treated like kings. Basically they rolled out the red carpet for us and they barely knew us. kept their kids home from school so that they could meet “important foreigners”, etc. It was amazing. However I did trust this person a lot and had random interactions with or Kazakhs where I was going “WTF!?”

  41. As an Uzbek you can’t judge all Uzbeks are good. One of Japanese woman (tourist) got killed and looted by Uzbeks. I never can’t entire nations good or bad. We have assholes and good people too same as every nations. Don’t trust someone who is from the city. Be careful especially in train from coucasic people (Georgians, Armenians) They vandalise trains kill the polices.Also don’t trust in any train station in Uzbekistan. Gypsies also looter. Also don’t trust Russian s in Uzbeks are not 100% good people too.

  42. Hi. I am from Uzbekistan. I just want to agree with some opinions here and add some more…
    Uzbekistan is a truly hospitable country,hospitality runs in the blood of Uzbek people. They will share with you everything their home, food, culture, etc… Majority of the people with good intentions, they don’t see a lot of foreigners there, so when they meet someone for instance from Europe, USA or some other country they want to make friends with them and they want to show them hospitality. In your case I guess you made a right choice by not communicating further with them, since they didn’t speak any English. And once in a while there is a very small chance that you meet someone who wants a friend with benefits… And even with them you’re safe, since they just want to have a contact person from abroad. I apologize for his behavior which made you uncomfortable, but don’t be discouraged by this, and as I said earlier there a lot great people out there with really good intentions, so spend some time to see and enjoy all of the historical cities such as Samarkand, Bukhara, Khiva, Nukus which are very rich in history and historical monuments. Because not too many people know that in middle ages between IX – XII centuries the First Renaissance occurred in Central Asia, when a lot of great Encyclopedic scientist came forward and set foundations for the later Renaissance in Europe, and their findings still being used in the a modern day science and technology… And a heart of that Civilization was located in the modern Uzbekistan region.
    And if you really want someone with English to show you around, there a lot paid Guides, whom you can find at the travel agencies, and who for the small fee could show you surroundings… Thanks for your comment here, and I wish you a enjoy full traveling.

  43. I would do the same, gotta be careful, you never know if they will kidnap you or something. Unfortunately in the world we live in we gotta suspect the worst in people first. (in situations like these ofc)

  44. Travelers have to be cautious, they are the favorite targets of many criminals. For all those genuinely interested in foreign visitors and don’t have a gram of malice in them, there are those who try to win the trust of travelers with the sole purpose of nefarious aims. The more persistent they are, the more I wonder about their true intents. Anyone with empathy and good motives would see the traveler feeling uncomfortable and back off.

  45. I’m an Uzbek, we are always welcome tourists but some people unfortunately can’t speak English and they over trying to invite you because our culture is like this, I’m apologize about them but I think they had no tension to harm you, have fun in Uzbekistan

  46. Again as an Uzbek you could go this guy’s house. The Uzbek people’s 1# concerns are; You was tourist they knows you don’t have shelter. Having a hotel for 200 or 300 a day is they can’t imagine it’s too big money to spend for shelter. In Uzbekistan avarage salery 200 300$ a month. Again 70% of Uzbeks are good people.The bad people in Uzbekistan for Americans are pro Russians or Religious people. However 00000.1 person are relegios but most of them athiest or agnostic people.

  47. Where’s your sense of adventure?

    Reminds me of Zimbabwe where I rented a car to drive from Bulawayo to Harare, this was before Mugabe completely destroyed the country and it was customary to pick up hitchhikers….best adventure ever. I picked up a number of hitchhikers, one showed me the way to a beautiful out of the way church I was looking for.

    Another trip to Syria I was on a bus for day trip to Bosra (forgetting it was a Friday) Seated next to a university student. He offered to show me around but first had to go to a wedding reception and Friday prayers. It was quite an adventure as well.

  48. I think the likelihood of a scam is reduced by the fact the meeting took place in a totally unpredictable location, rather than, for example, someone in a plaza scouting for foreigners to approach. The fact they apparently didn’t know any English is also a good thing regarding scams –
    if they were seeking to prey on tourists, I think they would learn at least a little bit. That said, I’ve been robbed twice by people overeager to meet me, so my guard is up. I’m sure I’ve passed up some great experiences, but no, I don’t accept invitations from random strangers that would involve leaving a public location.

  49. Hi! as an Uzbekistan resident my advise is never ever go out with such a person! the way he was interacting with you I can tell that you can not predict what will happened.

  50. Uzbek people very simple and friendly
    Probably they need a reason to drink vodka
    And show off they have an american friends. But other hand if they don’t speak English it’s not fun at all.
    I recommend you if any chance to go and enjoy beautiful Tashkent capital of Uzbekistan.

  51. We had a similar strange situation some years ago traveling from Espana to Tangiers. We met and visited with a very nice Morrocan who worked as a prison guard in Tangiers. It mad for a very nice and fun visit on the ferry ride over. On return to the USA, we received a note (having exchanged addresses) asking and wondering why we had not sent him a photo of our entire family. It made my husband and me feel a little uncomfortable, but we knew it could also be the customs, and though he spoke English well, still not knowing how it comes across when written. We instead just sent a photo of the 2 of us…we never heard from him again.

  52. Being an uzbek and living abroad for the last 7 years, i came to know that start talking to stranger is quite odd. However in Uzbekistan it works completely opposite direction. Sometimes we cheer up with poeple that we have seen first time in our life and we sometimes forget to ask their names even.
    When someone is inviting you to have dinner, they are completely honest. Like other toursitic destinations, Uzbekistan haven’t developed yet and maybe that’s why we never squeeze the money out of the toursit. I strongly suggest you to have some time to spend with locals out there. Believe me you only make friends by doing so.

  53. As an American who lived in Central Asia for 10 years, I can understand why you responded the way you did and had the concerns that you did; it’s pretty normal. I can also tell you that you probably missed out on a fantastic experience. I would expect that you would have met the extended family, where at least one person was proficient in English.
    The Uzbek people are fantastic hosts, and some of the most kind, generous people I have ever come across. Again, I understand, but I lament your missed opportunity.

  54. I’ve been working in Central Asia for about 20 years. Never in Uzbekistan, but virtually all neighboring countries.

    I think it was the right reaction to turn down politely this invitation, in the described circumstances. Really the giggling irritates me, I never had this before …

    Nevertheless, there are circumstances, in central asian countries, in which you can’t turn down an invitation. In particular if you visit a rural place, say a remote village, you will definitely be invited for lunch/dinner. And in this case, you can’t turn down the invitation. Not even using the argument of having other plans. Villagers will expect that you made the necessary provisions for being invited. If you don’t make the provisions, don’t visit rural areas.

  55. Haven’t been to Uzbekistan but its not known for having a high crime rate compared to other countries in the region. I can tell you in Russia people would just join me for lunch at restaurants or in the train pass around food and drink to everyone in the car. There really is no telling and I wouldn’t be going anywhere with him even though he may have been harmless. In fact since he was on the train and its not someone coming up to you on the street he probably was harmless since it wasn’t a staged meeting.

    In some other countries people in that situation end up getting drugged and robbed or taken to a bar/restaurant where they get a massive bill at the end because it was all a scam. Sadly I don’t see how you can afford to take a chance on people when you travel, so you did the right thing.

  56. Hello from Uzbekistan.
    I think before visiting Uzbekistan you have learned about Uzbekistan. If you know Uzbek people they like hospitability, they are so kind and they always welcome foreigners.
    But it does not mean that you should go with anybody which you do not know him or her well.
    I think you did well. If i were you i also did not go with them.

  57. Hi, I am from Uzbekistan, I am an ethnic Uzbek, and I want to apologize for the actions of that person. Probably that guy just did not see a foreigner in his life, at least at that close distance. It is true that people in Uzbekistan are known for their hospitality. But it’s not that they invite complete strangers everytime to their home. But when it comes to foreigners, they are more willing to do so, because it is a rare opportunity to interact with a foreigner (since Uzbekistan under late president I. Karimov, was not that open for visitors from abroad), and also because they want to show a foreign guest how people in Uzbekistan live, tell them more about local traditions, let them taste Uzbek food, etc. But that does not explain that guys intentions, and is not an excuse his annoying behavior. And even though it is not taboo in Uzbekistan to touch or lightly tap a person to get his attention, from what you are saying it looks like he was overdoing it. And it is not OK. We are not all like him. He seems just to have no manners. Again, please accept my apologies for that person’s behavior.

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