The Ossetes are an Iranian ethnic group who speak Ossete, a language related to Farsi. As a small, Orthodox Christian group in the predominantly Sunni Muslim North Caucasus, the Ossetes were quick to ally with the Russian Imperial government in its conquest and annexation of the region. This alliance has endured to the present, where Russia tacitly supports its allies the Ossetes in their goal to reunify North Ossetia with Georgian controlled South Ossetia and in their ethnic conflict with the neighboring Ingush. This particular ethnic conflict has made North Ossetia a magnet for terrorist attacks, especially in its southeast, and has led to a tight security situation policed by often corrupt officials that is discouraging for travel.
Just to make sure you sound sophisticated, Ossetia is pronounced oh-SEH-tee-yah, Ossete is oh-SEET, and Ossetian is oh-SEH-tee-uhn (not ah-SEE-shuhn' or "ah-SEE-shuhn"')
While Ossetian is the official language, all Ossetians understand Russian. Even though English is becoming a necessity in Russia, Ossetia hasn't followed the trend yet, and English remains as good as nonexistent, which is why you will almost certainly be spoken to in Russian as a tourist. This does however go without saying that learning a few Ossetian words and phrases will be extremely highly appreciated.
Travelers will find pre-arranged travel with reputable agents to be far more convenient than independent travel on unreliable public transportation.
Ossetia is mostly famous for its delicious Ossetian pies, which while sometimes compared to Georgian khachapuri, are actually quite different in ingredients, cooking technique and resulting taste. Pies are the most common and traditional food of the region, and are indelibly tied to Ossetian culture and rituals. They can be made with quite a range of fillings. The most frequent are cheese and potatoes, beet leaves, meat (only beef), pumpkin, squash, beans or cabbage. However fizonag (similar to kebab) is also wide spread, like in the rest of the Caucasus. Also worth mentioning is dzykka, one of the region's most ancient dishes, and still very popular among Ossetians. It is most probably the easiest dish for a visitor to have occasion to taste. It is an unusual porridge made of semolina cooked in heavy sour cream.
Vladikavkaz, the capital city of North Ossetia-Alania, offers a large variety of traditional and international restaurants.
North Ossetia is famous for it's alcoholic drinks, very similar to Russia drinks. Locals prefer to drink an alcoholic drink called Arak, an alcoholic drink produced from corn grain, barley, or other grain crops.
North Ossetian State University-located in Vladikavkaz.
Because of the ongoing Ossete-Ingush ethnic conflict, regional instability, and proximity to Chechnya, travelers should consider North Ossetia a war zone and tread very cautiously, even though it is safer than its eastern neighbors. Avoid going near the border to South Ossetia, as the border is guarded by extremely corrupt army officers on both sides. On a significant notation is that North Ossetia doesn't experience terrorism frequently.
Ossetes are very hospitable people and are generally well open to foreigners. You do need to remember that this is a traditional and conservative society and that you need to look out for yourself when you feel you are in trouble.
Speaking out against a person's relatives, either alive or deceased, may make a local person act very hostile against you, which doesn't really mean that Ossetes are temperamental, but this is just to say that they are strong believers in honor and dignity.
Under no circumstances, whatsoever, will you ever touch a person's hat, because according to Ossetic customs, hats are considered to be a sacred and untouchable thing. Ossetes have zero tolerance towards touching people's hats, and can lead into some unwanted quarrels. When greeting people, you need to greet the elders before you greet any others, just as a form of respect.
Ossetes are very proud of their own culture and language, and may act generally very defensive if you speak out against their customs.
In North Ossetia there are three GSM operators (MTS,Beeline,Megafon), one 3G-UMTS operator (Beeline) and one CDMA 2000 operator on 450 MHz frequency (SkyLink) and they often have offers that give you a SIM card for free or at least very cheap. If you are planning to stay a while and to keep in touch with North Ossetian and other North-Caucasus people, then you should consider buying a local SIM card instead of going on roaming. If you buy a SIM card from a shop you'll need your passport for identification. It only takes five minutes to do the paperwork and it will cost less than $10.
As of 2012 the border with Georgia at Kazbegi was open to all third country nationals with no special complications apart from the need to track down insurance in Vladikavkaz if coming into Russia from Georgia. Travel east to Dagestan should be done in roundabout fashion through Nalchik, Kabardino-Balkaria to avoid extremely unstable Chechnya and Ingushetia. Expect shady border officials to question you at length as to your travels when leaving.