Some Kazakhs Brush Off Borat Shtick, but Others Fume

"I hope that people in the U.S. are clever people and understand it's not true," Kairat Nitkaliyev, 26, originally from Almaty, Kazakhstan, said of the movie. (By Nikki Kahn -- The Washington Post)
By Tara Bahrampour
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 3, 2006

So you're an immigrant from a place in Central Asia few Americans have heard of, when suddenly a movie comes out and all anyone wants to talk about is your homeland.

You'd be happy, right?

Well, suppose the movie depicts your homeland as a semi-feudal village with rituals such as "the running of the Jew" whose most successful state television reporter, Borat, wears his underwear (or less) in public while on a cross-country quest to have "sexy time" with Pamela Anderson.

Not so happy now?

"Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan," which opens today, is the latest from British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen, who uses the "Kazakh" character's politically incorrect (and often blatantly racist and sexist) attitudes to elicit similar sentiments from Americans he meets.

If the movie shows Americans in a bad light, it also poses a challenge for the 600 or so Kazakhs in the United States, half of whom live in the Washington area. Most take it for granted that Americans have no clue about their country, a former Soviet republic that borders Russia, China and three other "stans": Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. It has 15 million people and is four times the size of Texas.

"I say I'm from Kazakhstan, and they say 'uhh,' " said Kairat Nitkaliyev, 26, a graduate student at George Washington University. "There is no reaction."

"The blackboard is pretty blank on Kazakhstan in this country," said John Towriss of Silver Spring, who has three adopted Kazakh children. "I might as well say I adopted them from the planet Zorgon."

Soon, though, that might no longer be an issue. Americans will hear plenty about Kazakhstan and its (fictional) traditions of drinking fermented horse urine, awarding trophies to prostitutes and hitching women, instead of oxen, to carts.

Because the movie targets a young audience, it will fall largely to young Kazakhs to disabuse Americans of these "cultural learnings."

"Kazakh people don't have cows in their house," an indignant Aliya Winker, 13, a Kazakhstan-born eighth-grader at Thomas Jefferson Middle School in Arlington, said after watching a clip from Borat's Web site. "They don't drink water from toilet bowls. . . . It's hurtful, and it makes me feel a little upset."

Gerda Khodorovskaya, 14, a ninth-grader at Arlington's Wakefield High School who moved to the United States from Kazakhstan six years ago, does not plan to see the movie but plans to set people straight about her country.

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