The Ossetes are an Iranian ethnic group who speak Ossete, a language which is believed to be a direct descendant of the Scythian, Sarmatian and Alanic languages. 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 its 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.
Ossetians are very hospitable people and are well open to foreigners. Foreigners visiting North Ossetia are usually so surprised by the Ossetian hospitality. Ossetians usually say: "Even if your enemy entered your house without any bad intentions, you should treat him as a honorable guest".
The Ossetian culture is understandably traditional and conservative, which may tend to confuse visitors from time to time, so you do need to be able to look out for yourself whenever you feel you are in trouble. If you are in doubt, feel free to ask someone.
Pride and vindictiveness is strongly rooted in Ossetian culture. This doesn't really mean that Ossetes are arrogant or temperamental by nature per se, but this is just to say that they are strong believers in honor and dignity. Ossetians do not judge people's behavior by their words, but by their actions. Hats are considered to be a sacred and untouchable thing. Ossetes have zero tolerance towards others' touching people's hats, and this can lead into some unwanted quarrels. That said, visitors are often given the benefit of doubt. When greeting people, you need to greet the elders before you greet any others, just as a form of respect. You do need to understand that Ossetian culture revolves around placing immense importance on respecting the elders than any other person. Keep opinions about their customs to yourself in order to avoid any unnecessary conflict.
If invited over at someone's house to either eat or hang out, Do be sure to dress appropriately (i.e. no shorts, sportswear, saggy pants) as they do pride themselves on etiquette and presentability. The table is considered a sacred place; As a general rule, do not smoke, leave without informing your hosts, drink excessively, use swear words, or talk negatively about someone or something.
A great deal of respect is needed when discussing the Beslan Hostage crisis; It is an understandably touchy subject in North Ossetia.
Do not make any comments about the very bitter Georgia-South Ossetia conflict. These people are supportive of their southern counterparts struggle against Georgia and do not have a favorable perception of Georgia at all.
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. UPDATE: As of 2015, the security situation along the highway seems stable and travelling directly between Vladikavkaz and Dagestan is perfectly feasible. Just use common sense as always, and you should be fine. Derbent might have some military checkpoints at the entrances to the city proper; however, these are friendly soldiers which appears to stop you briefly and then let you pass through. As always, speaking some Russian is a tremendous help in these regions, of course.