Sunday, 29 March 2009

Like a Virgin?

Having lived in the UK for 8 years now, I have almost mastered the skill of a small talk. It is quite easy, really. All you have to do is talk about nothing you really feel or think, and you have cracked it. Occasionally, I still manage to blab something out. I had that problem all my life, really. But it just seems worse in this country, as people are so PC, and all subtle and polite.

Take yesterday, for example.

We are up in North Wales, for my in-laws 50th wedding anniversary. That is understandably worth a huge party (and a medal each).

So here we are, having one of these big English parties. I quite enjoy them these days. At first, when I just came over, I found them to be hard work for a scary azeri like myself.

To start with, they play games. Everyone has to participate, whether you are a child or a geriatric- there is no escape. Have a few drinks, and stick your face in flour, water, or some other substance: great fun.

My other problem is that they have not ever seen any Azeries in North Wales. It is only when I come here, that I realize how easy it is to be a foreigner in London or around it. Up in North Wales, they don’t really have any foreigners, besides, of course the owners of Chinese restaurants and curry houses. So I always get this strange feeling when I meet someone new here, that they are not really talking to me properly, but just thinking to themselves ‘Holy crap, she can speak English!’ And that alone amuses them every time I open my mouth.

So we have the usual little chit-chat. About those cute bunnies and the little lambs in the field outside.
I managed well for most of the time yesterday, except for one silly joke about those little lambs probably tasting quite good on a BBQ. ( Was not entirely a joke, as being a scary azeri I could live on kebabs.)

But other than that, I did OK. I helped, and socialised. I stayed away from afternoon drinks, which meant I was still awake and sober by 10pm. And yet… in the end, when everyone left, and only the hard core remained, someone made a joke about losing virginity. They said it is a bit like losing one’s virginity: once you lost it, that’s it. Gone forever.

and I thought : Well, not to a good Azeri girl it isn’t!

Ha!- I thought proudly.- You average English guys have no idea what is going on in this world, do you. And how advanced our medicine has been for years.
Beat that, NHS- Getting your virginity back is not a miracle, but something totally possible and affordable back home.

Things must have changed a lot. I have not lived there for a while, and every time I go back, girls look more and more emancipated. So perhaps, this is a thing of the past.
Maybe, nobody needs to have anything stitched back up these days to prove they are pure.

But back then, in my young(er!!) days, there were all these stories circulating around:
What was the going rate, and what problems it might cause, should it be done badly, on the first night when a marriage is to be consummated.

What also always amused me is how any man can naively assume that:

virginity = innocence

I think it is quite funny, really. I knew a couple of so-called virgins back then, whose sexual experience would make a porn star blush. The imposed restrictions forced their creativity to blossom, so to speak.

But I of course, did not get into all these details as we joked about losing virginity last night. As I made a comment about it not being so difficult to become a virgin again, everyone smiled and looked at me. Probably thinking: ‘What on Earth is she talking about? Must be a foreign thing.’

So I just shut up and stayed quiet for the rest of the night. Some things just fall into a “untranslatable folklore” category.

But hold on a minute… Google is your friend, and I quickly discovered that the NHS are in fact, catching up on this front. Having looked the subject up, I came across some fascinating facts.

So they might not get many foreigners here in North Wales… yet, the influence of the foreign cultures establishing themselves in this country is staggering And things like virginity restorations, which were once unheard of, are becoming a common procedure on the NHS.

Oh, I am sure it is not only the barbaric traditions that we foreigners bring along, but something cool and useful as well. If I think of an example, I shall make it another posting.

Thursday, 26 March 2009

That poor, poor NHS....

There are two major types of us, ex-Soviets here.

The first type reminds me of what I always imagined immigrants to be. They stick together and hang out with each other. They don’t really strike up any local friendships. They watch programs from their home country on satellite dishes. They furnish their homes exactly like they would do back home. They cook their national dishes. Basically, they sort of relocated to another country…. but not really. They exist in their own micro-climate that they brought over with themselves.

And there is also another extreme- people who want to become locals. They work hard on blending in, imitating everything they think will make them look and sound more British. They proudly cut off all the past and announce they have nothing to do with it. They change dramatically in the way they dress, the way they act…what they watch, and what they eat. Their children have no clue where their roots come from.

And like in that joke…there are three types of people: those who can count, and those who can’t. So there I am, stuck in the middle again. Married into another culture, having assimilated pretty well. Living a normal local life, but trying to keep some sort of track of who I actually am.

There is this Russian girl I know. She is related to my mother’s friend from St Petersburg. Her babushka was a close friend of my babushka when they were very young. That was a strong enough basis for us to be put in touch by my mom and an auntie from Russia, who thought we ought to become close friends. Of course, it made perfect sense. We had lots in common, if you think about it:

1. We both spoke Russian.
2. We were both married to English guys.
3. We were both female.
4. We were in the same age group.

The only problem was that we actually disagreed on almost every aspect of …well life, really.

To start with, she thought Stalin was the greatest ruler ever known. Considering that Stalin had my great grandparents killed in a fit of paranoia, I was not too keen on the guy. She also believed that the Soviet Union was great.

Everything here she hated with a passion. I felt uncomfortable saying anything nice about my life in the UK. She would take it very personally. Every time we spoke, she complained how hopelessly wrong this country was compared to Mother Moscow. She particularly hated the NHS.

That poor, poor NHS. We have a saying back home, when someone is talking badly about you, your ears start burning hot. If NHS had ears, they would have turned into ashes by now. The amount of scolding and insults that organization gets from immigrants is beyond belief.

But let me just finish telling you about this girl. Once she got pregnant, she decided it was unsafe to not just have her baby here, but even be pregnant. She packed her bags, abandoned her poor English husband to pay the bills, and took off back to Mother Russia to spend the main part of her pregnancy there. She said she could not get all the tests she wanted on the NHS. And the overall lack of attention towards her pregnancy was unacceptable. She spent 5 months before giving birth, and about 6 months after in Moscow.

My own feelings towards the NHS are quite mixed, to be completely honest.

I think it is natural, like in any relationship, that when we just met we were in a “getting to know each other and trying to look our best” phase. I came to this country having just got engaged, so I had my rose tinted spectacles on.
I was on the pill then, and when I ran out, husband said- "Go to a family clinic, they will give you more."
What do you mean, give me more? - I thought.
Having found the nearest clinic, I was surprised to notice how shabby it all looked.
The decor, the carpets, the chairs…It seemed for a minute that I was in an old Soviet clinic back home. But that’s where the similarity ended.
I saw the nurse and she was lovely. I came with no money, no bribes, no connections of some uncle’s sister. And she smiled. And she was friendly. And she had time for me. She measured my blood pressure. She talked to me about methods of contraception. She discussed what different pills I had a choice of. And then, most shockingly, she gave me 6 months supply for absolutely free.

That was not the capitalist west I expected to find here. That was the best form of Communism. Just like we were taught as children we would live to witness one day.

But as in any relationship, that “want to impress you at the first date” phase eventually fades, and gives space to reality. And in reality, NHS showed me the other side of its smiley face.
It did not take me long to realize that everything free, whether back home or here, has its problems. Thus the decor and the shabby chairs in that family clinic back in Hampstead.
The only difference is that the system still works here. And when they claim it to be free it in fact, is.

So lets just see, what did I learn? I leaned that if I had more than one question for my GP I should not try to save his time, and go with all of them in one visit. Because they have a time slot per a patient. Back home because you pay, either openly or under the table, you can ask several health questions. Here, you will have to go back and queue again.

I also learned that because they have a time slot for you, they are distracted and not interested. (Also I am sure, has something to do with the number of idiots they have to see on a daily basis!) So they just smile and nod. But their eyes give them away. That can be pretty scary if you are really sick. But you can trick them into paying attention if you learn how to emphasise your suffering properly. That skill took me years to master.

They also don’t like giving you tests. Unless you are clearly dying. Back home they love tests! Every test means more cash. But not only that. Tests look important and make patients feel properly treated. You go with a sore throat- they send you for an MRI.

So.. I know there are still some ex-Soviets who prefer to travel back home to have their teeth fixed, or some tests carried out. And I know the NHS has its problems.
But I base my judgments on the two very memorable experiences in my life.

A long time ago, my father had a heart attack back in Baku. I rushed to a hospital, where I had to bribe someone to be allowed inside to see him. I then had to bribe a nurse to give him an extra blanket, as the room was not heated. I was later told that if I paid more, I could move him into a nicer room with a TV and no cockroaches. I had to buy his medication, disposable syringes and cotton wool from a shop downstairs.
And I am sorry, but I have not forgotten that hospital. And the cockroaches. And the greedy nurses. And the doorman who sneered at me, enjoying his power of making me wait and pay extra.

And when my 10-day old baby was critically ill, I saw just how the NHS can work to save a baby’s life. And for that I am forever grateful. And that is what really matters in the end.

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Sunday Stupor

Being married can be hard work. On Sunday, I got thinking about pros and cons of a married life.

In Russian, by the way the word marriage or brak is the same as defect. As my Russian friend puts it: If it had been so perfect, they would have chosen a different word.

Our weekend was unusually busy. Partially, due to Novruz- a big Spring holiday back home- the most fattening holiday in the year. So if normally we eat a lot when we get together, when it is Novruz celebrations, there is no stopping until you collapse.

So some of my Azeri friends gathered in the only Azeri restaurant in London. On Friday night, together with some other 10 couples and small children, we transported in time and space into Baku as we remembered it to be. The crazy disco lights in a dodgy basement cafe, the TV with Azeri singing in the background…and our children up at 10pm hopping to the music in the middle of the floor.
And of course, the yummy shashliks…. Great stuff.

On Saturday we continued partying at someone else’s house. So by Sunday, being the old married suburban woman that I am, I was worn out. But my eating and drinking chore was not over: a good family friend was visiting all the way from Canada. So husband lit the BBQ and I relaxed in my garden chair, sipping a glass of white wine.

But, it is a known fact that I can not drink. Especially, in the afternoon. And, after having had two nights out in a row. I mean, come on. What did you expect?

So after two glasses, I realized I was falling asleep and nothing or nobody could stop me.

I secretly sneaked into the living room and collapsed on the sofa, pretending to be watching Dora the Explorer with the child. For a little while, I forgot my usual duties, the fact that I have a husband, a child, and a visitor from abroad. I vaguely remember my bouncy toddler jumping up and down my stomach, and me telling her if she did not stop I would be sick right there. And that she should trust me- she would not like that. Despite her age, she is a very sensible child, so she left me alone.

But then this is where being married also becomes an issue.

Husband was not impressed. Our visitor was OK with me falling asleep, as he had been known to do that himself. But he had to go, and husband was left alone. Looking after the bouncy child. On a Sunday afternoon. And it was still sunny. If you live in the UK, you have not got the luxury of sleeping while there is at least some sun out there. You use every minute of it while it lasts.

So as I lay in my stupor, I could hear him complaining in the background. And I thought: this is when you want to be single and childless like my friend T. She can nap if she wants to, often till 4pm and then not go to bed till 2am. In fact, she can do whatever she pleases. Total freedom of choice. And nobody jumps on her full stomach or nags in the background.

-Just a minute....- I told them both- I will get up in a minute. And will you please stop this wriggling business-I begged the child, who made her way on my sofa again- I really don't like it!

- I personally quite like the wriggling business with mommy- sighed husband- but don't get to do much these days....

Oh, here we go again.

Sunday, 22 March 2009

The joys of simple life?

My auntie, may she rest in peace, was a bit of a taker. Some people just are. And my auntie was pretty good at that.

One of the nicest memories I have from my teen years, is that we often visited a picturesque village up in mountains. That fortunate escape from the dusty and hot Baku summer was all due to my auntie’s networking skills. She established we were vaguely related to this hospitable family in a pretty mountain village just a few hours away, and the friendship blossomed.

Since my mother had a full-time job, I often tagged along with auntie’s kids and husband in their little Zaporojets.

Ismailli is a pretty little village. Azerbaijan has some stunning nature spots, if you are ever brave enough to leave the city and go past the old soviet oil pumps.

So every now and again we would pack our bags, squeeze into the Zaporojets, and drive for a few hours: up and up, along the breathtakingly narrow mountain roads, past cotton fields- for a few weeks of doing nothing, but eating plov dishes and enjoying the peace and quiet of a village life.

I have always been a city girl. Baku is not as big as some other capitals, but it is big enough. And trust me, when I say that the difference between villages and the city back there is a lot scarier than in the UK. For me, going to a village in Azerbaijan for the first time was a quite an experience.

Firstly, I did not speak a word of Azeri. Being a native Russian speaker, I was suddenly immersed in an environment where I simply could not ask for a spoon at the table, without checking with my auntie first: to make sure I remembered the word correctly. Any pathetic attempts of mine to communicate in Azeri were greeted with bursts of laughter from locals.

My experience of a culture clash started back then, as all 5 daughters of the house would rush across the yard to welcome us into their home. I found all that passionate kissing and embracing from someone I could not even remember names of quite disturbing.

After a week or so, when all the excitement died down, we would settle into a relaxing state of doing nothing but enjoying clean country air, eating plov and sipping hot chai.

I would get up early and sit on the cool steps outside, watching the chickens and the lady of the house. I could not help it, but feel a bit sorry for her. In my eyes she had a wasted and pointless existence. She represented everything I was afraid might happen to me, just because I was born an Azeri female. She was only about 38 then, but she looked 60. Her once pretty face was covered in deep wrinkles. She got up at 5 every morning to feed the cows, and the chickens. Every day. For years. She had never left the village to visit anywhere else, even Baku. And she had 5 children, which alone would drive me insane. Not to mention, that she probably married whoever she had been told to marry. I was wondering how she could ever be satisfied with what she had. I think I was about 16 then. I kept dreaming that one day I could visit Paris. So as I watched this little woman dragging a heavy bucket of cow’s milk, I was thinking- So… this is all there is or ever will be for her. She will most probably, never get a chance to see Paris. Can she honestly be happy knowing that?

On the last night in the village, we got invited to yet another plov dinner. Due to no other forms of entertainment, such as restaurants, cinemas or bars, people in the village kept visiting each other pretty much every night.

As usual, women just started cooking as we arrived, which meant a couple of hours of loitering and getting hungrier.

With nothing else to busy myself with, I went on a tour around the yard and the pretty rose garden. That’s when I saw a local guy working on something. I had not been introduced to him yet, but assumed him to be one of the sons in the house. He was in his early twenties. I had never even noticed village boys before. But I noticed this one. He was wearing plain cotton tracksuit bottoms and a vest. Such a typical local man outfit.

But….. as my husband likes to say in Russian….”Oy, mama”!

He looked pretty good. He had a handsome manly face, and his body was naturally sculpted by living and working outdoors. We exchanged a quick glance, and he nodded and smiled, white teeth flashing on his dark face.

So as I continued my aimless journey around the rose garden, I allowed my girlie imagination wander: What would it be like? To suddenly fall in love with this village boy, with his strong arms and honest face? What would it be like to get married to him, move to this quiet pretty village, and have his children? And sit on the ground next to other women, making tasty flat bread.
Get up in the morning, feed the cows. Go to bed at 8. Make love to my village boy, in a missionary position. Eat homegrown vegetables, and visit relatives every day. Simple, peaceful life with its simple joys.

What if that is what happiness is all about? So what if I never get to see Paris? So what there is a whole huge world out there? What if the answer to it all is in simplicity and ignorance? The less you know, the less you want from this life?

So I toyed with the idea, my mind playfully bouncing from one image to another, as we sat at the dinner table that summer night, surrounded by the smells of rice, meat and wild Lilac trees around us. Men at one end of the table, women and children-at the other. I felt contented and full of food. What else do I actually need in my life, I thought to myself. What’s wrong with just living it?

But…If only I could be satisfied that easily. So we said goodbyes and the next day we were heading back to the city. A place with cinemas and theaters, and universities, nice cars and no cows to feed at 5am. A place where goals and aspirations are so much higher. And you consider it obligatory to achieve those in order to feel happy.

Oh, and a few years after that, I got to see Paris.

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

There is a f***** truck in front!

"I want to live like common people,
I want to do whatever common people do,
I want to sleep with common people,
I want to sleep with common people,
like you."

Pulp, “Common People”

Sorry, did I just use the F word? That is just too embarrassing. I hope none of my decent friends heard me!

I live in a wealthy commuter village. I learnt that concept in my stupid business school. Don’t ask me about that part, it was most probably a waste of time. Oh well, at least I know what to call this place. The majority of mothers stay at home with children, and husbands work for banks. Children are beautifully dressed, and are very cute. I don’t remember Azeri children looking this angelic. Whether it is the blond hair, or the Boden clothes but they definitely look like they just came off those old-fashioned postcards here.

I am well aware that I might appear snobbish in this posting. And being snobbish is not cool and is socially unacceptable. Also, more importantly, I am a Scary Azeri. How dare I be snobbish around here! That will annoy some properly snobbish people, who will think to themselves: - Look at her! She came out of some weird 3rd world country, and she is acting all snobbish! Ha! Azeri Master Race, my arse!- they will think.

And yet….…

About Chushkas.

I used to think in my younger days that if I leave Baku I will not suffer from chushkas around me. But of course, I was wrong. Because, such is a reality of life: Chushkas are everywhere.
Called by different names, but meaning practically the same. Rednecks or trailer trash in the States.. Common people here. Plebei in Russia. Chushkas in Azerbaijan.
I don’t know where the word originated from. I once heard it meant a pig in Ukrainian. However, having checked with my Ukrainian friend, I discovered it might not be the case.
Wherever it comes from, it is not an Azeri word. But we like borrowing words from all over the world, sticking Azeri-sounding endings and claiming them to be authentically ours.

Don’t bother googling it either, as some really weird stuff comes up.
And I have to say- I have a very strong dislike of these guys.

Back home, male chushkas drove me mad all my younger years. They are aggressive and bold. They come to the city and attempt to impose their own rules. They harass the city girls. They are ignorant and backwards in so many ways, it is frightening.
They spit on pavements, right under your pretty summer sandals. They stick chewing gum all over bus seats. They whistle behind you as you walk proudly by, and could even quickly grab your jopa and disappear in the busy crowd of similar- looking Azeri guys. Well before you know whose hand it was. Basically, not a pleasant experience. Unless, of course having your a*** grabbed by some horny local youth is your thing.

When I moved to the UK, I first thought I got rid of chushkas forever.

At the very beginning, everyone here seemed quite civilised. And there are some pretty civilised rules, like no dog poo on pavements. And you never notice anyone not picking it up. Whenever I see a nice old English lady walking her dog, she looks pretty innocent to me. But guess what, there is still dog crap everywhere.

So…time passed. And I have developed a strong dislike of the British chushkas now. I am quite fortunate I can live in this nice commuter village, and raise my child here. We don’t have as many chushkas here as somewhere else within the country. But yet, they infiltrate. Everywhere, like cockroaches, they creep into nice neighbourhoods and walk around proudly, shouting and swearing, spitting, drinking and chushkiying around, basically.

But I am still fascinated by what exactly makes them into what they are.
I mean, what exposes them so fast? Is it their clothes? Their manners? The constant chewing of a gum with their lower lip dangling in a relaxed fashion? Shouting at their badly behaved children? Tracksuit bottoms?

But hold on a minute! Let’s just analyse this.

I love chewing gum. And a sugar free version is good for my teeth.
My child can be naughty. And trust me, so can her posh friends.
I can (very rarely, of course!) raise my voice too.
So the question is: Does this make me a chushka? Or the fact I occasionally enjoy a dinner on my lap in front of the TV? And guess what. I might swear every now and again.

The last time I swore despite the fact my three year old was in the back of the car, was a few months ago. I was driving, and my visiting mom was in the front seat. The child was humming a song in the back. I felt peaceful and happy as was on my way to Costco. At a large and busy roundabout, an enormous truck was maneuvering and blocking my view. I sat patiently, waiting. And all of a sudden, I heard this car beeping me from behind.

I mean, come on! There is a f***** truck in front of me! Which is precisely what came out of my mouth, before I could control myself.

My child, in my unbiased opinion, is quite bright. It was obvious from her confident manner that she had clearly heard the word before:

- What did you just say, mummy?- she asked
- Nothing
- You said f*****ing truck?
- No- I said- not at all….I…..
And my mother came to the rescue:

- Mummy said sparkling, sweetie. A sparkling truck! Did you not see it???

Saturday, 14 March 2009

I should be so lucky....

Quite a few years ago, when I was relatively newly married and without a child, I had a sleepover at my girlfriend’s flat in Ealing.

This girlfriend of mine is also from Baku. We got married and relocated to the UK in the same year.

Our husbands happened to both be away for work, so we decided I should stay at her place that night.

We had a lovely time, chatting about our lives here, and difficulties of adjusting to the UK life. One could ask- Like what?? You relocated from a 3rd world country to one of the most civilized cities in the world. What the hell can you possibly complain about? Oh, where do I start.

People back home still seem to think that once you married a foreigner, you are sorted. Whenever I go back, and talk to my old neighbours or school friends, I can see it flickering their eyes: Jealousy. Curiosity. Questions. And answering those questions reminds me how lucky I am. I have a nice husband, a cute blond child, a house and a garden. With once green grass, that my imported from Azerbaijan Rottweiler wees all over.

To be honest, my garden is not that big. It is only when I had a visiting friend who had never been to the UK before, ask me- Is it all yours? All the way to that fence? Just yours? – that I realized how big it must seem to an average Azeri, most of whom live in the city flats with no gardens.

But such is human nature, that we always complain.

So I stayed at my girlfriend’s flat in Ealing. We had a fun night chatting in Russian. But then the morning came. We had to get up early to make it to our work in time, and it was still dark. And of course, it was raining. Oh, it was miserable.

We got up, showered, and walked to the tube station. We had to wait for our train which, of course was running late. We stood there, our eyes glued to the screen and then, as soon as they announced what platform the train was coming to, we had just a few minutes to run across the bridge and squeeze into it. Catching our breath, our hair all messed up in the rain, and already exhausted at 7am, we looked at each other. And I said:

-There you go. Married foreigners!

And we started laughing. We laughed so hard, my cheeks hurt. And there was no need to explain-we understood each other perfectly then. Two girls, both from the same town, having married almost at the same time, and having to adjust to this new life. We knew exactly what was so funny. I thought of all those people back home. My neighbours, my childhood friends…people who have no idea what it is like to relocate from somewhere like Baku to London.

And a long time ago, I myself, had no idea. I always looked at my British girlfriend who I worked with back home, and thought to myself… Oh, if I could just have her life. If I could just get into my own car and drive along-no matter where. To have what she had seemed like a dream. Nowadays, I have a lot more than she had back then. And what do I do? I moan. and I complain. I complain about the rain and the weather, the underground and the everyday routine of loading and unloading the dishwasher….Shouldn’t I just be happy I have a dishwasher? And electricity that does not get turned off by the authorities whenever they feel like it? And being able to say- “Just tap water is fine” in restaurants? Because it is safe enough to drink?

But such is human nature. That morning on the train, having made our way through the sea of commuters, and sitting there for as long as it would take to cross the whole Azerbaijan, we laughed at our own little secret joke.

Oh, and here is my sketch of what I think marrying a foreigner looks like to an average Azeri girl. Sun is shining, a happy carefree couple is smiling…and birds are singing. Quite a fairy tale, right?

And they lived happily ever after.

Thursday, 12 March 2009

No pain- no gain

Well I must say, this recession is not all bad. Sales are on everywhere, interest rates gone down and the local beauty salon offered me a free facial when I spent a silly amount on face lotions.

This sketch illustrates how blissfully relaxed and happy I must look while I lie there melting into the bed, this girl’s soft hands massaging my stresses away.
I think I might have even snored a little.

But I did not always love facials. Back home, a facial is not something you lie back and enjoy while listening to ambient music in the background.
We Azeri women, are trained to believe that we can only achieve beauty through excruciating pain.

Facials, manicures and pedicures therefore, are all forms of torture.

At my very first facial, I remember being led into a little dark room where the beautician took me without any explanation. She tossed a towel into my hands and pointed to a big old pan of boiling water. I pulled the towel over my head and sat there, leaning over it for what seemed like ages. After a while, I tried to get away, but she poked at my cheeks and sent me back.

What I did not realize then, is that that part was the best of the session. After about 20 minutes of steaming my skin off, she lay me down, and began the squeezing and pinching, and sticking metal needles in my face. And none of my whimpering noises stopped her. I felt abused. But my skin, once it grew back, looked pretty flawless. That was indeed, a very long time ago, so I am hoping the methods got more humane since then.

But in a way, having got used to enduring pain in order to become more polished I can no longer see the benefits of any other methods. It just does not quite do it for me. I feel ripped off if I don’t get to suffer a little.

Take a massage. I have this irritating inability of asking for what I want when it comes to such things. So when I pay £40 for a massage and get soft touching instead of a proper back rub, and a lovely lady asks in her specially trained super-sweet voice: “Is this pressure OK for you?” I say: “Oh, lovely thank you”. While I should really say- Are you kidding me? You call this a massage?
But I am afraid of hurting her feelings. The word harder also sounds too embarrassing so I just fake it. Typical woman, eh.

And OK, I might have had a G&T tonight, so I am feeling brave and can tell you that they also have no idea in this country what a Brazilian really means. When I first relocated here I did not know what it was called in English. I could not just pick the phone up and try to describe such a delicate procedure to a gay boy on the other end. It took me months to find a friend who knew what it was. She told me there were only two places in London that did that. When I got to Nicky Clarke in central London, the specialist beautician told me that she was from Iran. And that something that was quite normal there is a total shock to an English lady.

So imagine my excitement at seeing my old intimate beautician’s name mentioned as a celebrity favorite waxer in Harper's Bazaar last year! My bikini line was done by the same hands as Sienna Miller’s.

In the last few years most of the beauty salons, even in our village claim to know what it is. But let me assure you: they don’t. They just heard the name, and added it to their brochure so they could charge you more.
And when I told the girl it was not what they claimed it to be, she smiled sweetly and asked:- Is this not how they do it back home then? Oh, I just love the poise with which English women can deliver insults!

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Things I wish I could get honest answers to

I have been thinking….and before my husband comes up with his usual thing he has been saying for the past 8 years….NO! It does not f**** hurt.

I have been thinking that the best thing about blogging surely, is to say what you really think. One thing that bugs me these days is that there are things people do that I just don't get.
The fact they do those things does not bug me as much as the fact that, according to this reserved British etiquette, I can not turn around and tell them:

1. I can see what you are doing, my dear.
2. I am not a mug
3. How on Earth could you do this and feel OK about it?

I bet you are thinking- What the hell is she going on about?
Well, let’s just see.

Example No 1- Not Reciprocating.

I don’t remember far enough back into my childhood to claim I was brought up this way. I also know my mother complained about things like that all her married life. I therefore, suspect it happens back home too. Even though, it happens to me a lot more often here. Maybe I just notice it more as I get older.

So we meet someone. We like them. We invite them over to our place, say for lunch. It is a nice thing to do. We enjoy people visiting us. We spend a morning tidying up… Or rather, I do the tidying up and husband gives me his usual lecture about me wanting to appear middle-class, and that he does live here as well, you know- in response to me hiding his boots and paperwork away.

After that we cook (or to be more honest- husband does, as I am not a very traditional hmm…...Azeri wife, to be honest)
So, we all see that there is a bit of an effort involved. But it is lovely to have some friends visit you for lunch! And it is cheaper than going out, right? (Unless you are hosting an Azeri style lunch, as discussed before.)

OK so what is the matter with these people? Why would they not invite us back?

I really have a problem with that. So I get paranoid and think they did not like us. That we were too boring. Too rude. Too cynical. That they have better friends to hang out with (which probably is the case)

Don’t take me wrong. I don’t think it should be like a chess game: I go, you go, etc. I am happy to say: Oh, whatever. Come to mine again, you are so much fun to have around! And it is true. But after a while, if I never get invited back I start feeling that perhaps, you either think that you have it all sorted, and some mug is happy to keep going into all that effort for the ultimate honor of your company, or you just have more important people you spend your weekends inviting over. Or you don’t like me.

And here is the thing that I, as an Azeri, find annoying: I am British now. So I can not anyhow, in any possible way, show you that I noticed that. Show you that I think you are rude and ignorant. Also, I try to convince myself to be a cool person for whom this all is truly trivial. And I keep telling myself there must be some reason for your behavior. Especially since you keep coming back.

Which leads us nicely and smoothly into…

Example 2
….With empty hands

OK so if you are British you are probably well aware of people doing this to you, but you are too afraid to say anything. Not even to yourself. Because it is not appropriate. And it is a good person’s duty not to notice that. Well, I am sorry. I never claimed to be that nice. I do bloody notice. You come to my house to a dinner and you don’t bring a bottle. Or chocolates. Or a F@ing flower. Nothing. You expect me to cook, clean, do a desert…As per Example 1. For the sheer pleasure of your company.

And there are cases when I think it is acceptable: Your local shop was on fire at the time, or someone robbed you on your way, or you are pregnant (I have been pregnant myself and remember what that’s like. So I forgive anyone pregnant as they go a bit mental) Or have some other legitimate excuse. But to keep doing so on regular basis, like it is normal is....well, plain rude. So people might read this and ask: Why on Earth would you keep inviting these people over? Well, the answer is complicated.

I guess, mainly…I am still foreign here. That means, I lived on a different planet for the (I had to get my calculator out for this bit) 27 years of my life. So I have not got that many long-term friends here. Which means, when I meet someone who I think is entertaining or cool enough, I will try to force that person into becoming my friend.
My husband, unfortunately, also spent most of his adult life traveling and working abroad. (Or fortunately, since that got him to Baku and he met me. Depends how you look at it, eh)
We both therefore, have to try to establish some circle of friends all over again. So that on weekends we don’t feel like real CHMO’s… or saddoes with no one to see.

CHMO by the way, is a fascinating abbreviation we both love to use. There is nothing quite similar in English that could replace this expression.
In Russian, it stands for Chelovek Moralno Obosranniy.
In case you are one of my posh English friends, or ex-Soviet ones pretending to be the above, please do forgive me for using the words I am about to use here….It means a Person Morally Shat Upon.
Nothing else describes the feeling as precisely and beautifully as this abbreviation.

So we try. We like someone (Which does not happen that often to be honest) and we want to know them better. We invite them over. We enjoy their company. We invite them again. They come and they always seem to have fun. But…..see Example 1 and Example 2 above.

Example three:
No appropriate name for it, really.

Not so smoothly now, moving on to Example 3. I had a baby. Before I had one, I never really was a baby person. I got a bit more tolerant and understanding since I had one of my own. But until then, I did not really like children. They annoyed the hell out of me. I never thought I was going to cross to the other side. Neither did my husband. But we did, and we are loving it on this side.
So I still have some friends who are single and have no children of their own. I also understand they might not like babies. Perhaps, they really dislike all these married people who breed and over-populate the poor old Earth. I know, I get it. But I am your friend. Which to me, means you probably like me. And should understand that having a baby is a reasonably important event in my life. So when I had gone through the hell of 36 hrs of labour, epidural and other lovely things, and ended up having this cute little Yoda-looking creature,…the least you can do as an old friend is come over and bring me some f**** flowers. Or a card. Anything at all as long as it shows your attention.

I am not expecting expensive gifts like Azeries would. See how assimilated I am now? I am not saying buy at least £2.50 pair of baby socks, which I am sure is not going to bankrupt you. I am just saying…bring me a card.
You Brits love cards! Cards to thank for something. Cards to thank for sending cards. Cards for any occasion. But…Nothing.

So as I sit there smiling and having served them some coffee, I am thinking to myself- You took two months to show up here after I had a baby. You came (see Example 2) as if nothing happened. I keep sitting here thinking OK, there must surely, be a reason for this. She will at least, say something about it. She will say: Sorry I did not bring you anything, you had a baby 2 months ago.
But no, she is not saying a word. What is she thinking? I am so curious, it is tearing me apart. Is she thinking that because she is single she does not have to follow usual social etiquette? Or is she thinking that because she is not planning to have a baby of her own, she does not have to give mine any present? I honestly am curious because I can never, in my wildest, craziest dreams imagine that a good friend would have a baby, or get married, or have some other life-changing event and I would not congratulate her. Or express my condolences. Whichever.

So there we go. Clearly, I will never get any honest answers to these bizarre occurrences. And it just winds me up that, even when I have a chance to play their game I just can’t smother my Azeriness. There are just rules I follow, and I would die of embarrassment if I did not.

The other night we were invited to our friends’ house for dinner. I mean…WOW!
So I said to my husband- Shall we just go empty handed? If they always do that, why can’t we?

But he knew I was only joking.

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

A tribute to my girlfriends

So OK let’s face it: I am an immigrant. I don’t particularly like that label, but that’s what I really am. My life has changed drastically in the past 8 years. And one of the hardest things I had to learn to deal with, besides not having my relatives near me, is missing my old friends.

Oh, I have made some great friends here. Never mind that I had to turn into a stalker for a while, in my effort to break through the reserved English front. I am a maniac when it comes to socializing. I would rather not feed my poor husband dinner, than miss out on a coffee date with yet another local mummy friend.

But I am talking about my other friends now. The ones I left behind. The ones who left me, and moved on to different countries and got themselves some new friends. The ones whose lives I only see glimpses of via Facebook these days.

There is just not enough blog space given to me by my Google account to talk about all my friends, and how funny and cool they are. And how proud and lucky I am to have had them in my life, however far they might be.

I am only going to talk about some of them here. Not in any particular order of importance!

The Glamorous One
(see the sketch)

An old friend of Husband is still, 8 years on, talking about that gorgeous Azeri girl who sat next to him at our wedding.

Once me and the GO went to a posh local health club back home. As we laid there on lounge chairs relaxing after sauna and she was chatting away, I was looking at her face and thinking to myself – Wow. She really is just so damn pretty! Without any trace of make up, her skin was translucent and her eyes the colour of the Caribbean Sea. Not the Caspian sea. Not sure what colour that would be these days. I personally look like a horse with no make-up on. Husband would smile affectionately, and say that it makes me look younger. OK, I say a filly then.

She is quite a character as well. People often questioned my friendship with her, and asked if she was as scary and bitchy as she appeared. I would say:
Oh, definitely! But how boring would a girl be without at least a tiny bit of a bitch in her? I’d just die of boredom being friends with someone that bloody nice.

But let me tell you this little story about the GO.

My first dog killed himself. Or so my mom and I were convinced at the time.
We are not crazy, honestly. We were just grieving.

He was our baby, and lived with us for 18 years. In hindsight-A little vicious MF. Would bite anyone and anything that moved. Every time I went out, I would be dreading getting back into my bed at night, as he would sleep on top of my duvet and attack my legs through it. Luckily for me, we have thick lamb’s wool duvets back in Azerbaijan.

So one day my mom decided that this little black and white cat who was happily living in our yard along with 130 other stray cats, should move in with us.

The next night, right about 4am my old dog squeezed himself through our 5th floor flat’s balcony railings. Splat.

My mother was convinced it was the newly adopted cat’s fault.

Have you seen his yellow eyes? - she said through tears. The cat took ownership of the dog’s favorite old arm-chair the night he moved in. That was his way of officially announcing he replaced the poor old dog. So the dog walked out of our lives, leaving us to enjoy our new younger pet, my mom said.

So we are in Baku. 4 am. My dog is pretty dead, considering the heights of Soviet buildings built by German prisoners of war. My mother is hysterical. I am frantically looking for a box to put the body in. We live in a flat in the centre of the city. I had only heard of a pet cemetery in a horror movie.

I call my then boyfriend, who gets up and comes along with a spade. Poor English boyfriend. At 4am. In Baku. With a dead dog and me and my mother weeping non-stop. We go across the road to a local park, hoping nobody sees us, and he digs a big enough hole. Done. We can’t even go visit my dog’s grave nowadays as it turned into the Turkish embassy park, with a huge lock on the gates.

The next night, I was so scared of the cat, I could not sleep. Every time I opened my eyes, he would sit in the dead dog’s arm-chair, staring at me with his indeed, extremely yellow eyes. (OK!OK!Grief stricken, remember?)

I thought he was sent to me by the Dark side to prove me wrong in my atheist’s views. So I called the GO, who was out partying with yet another admirer.
She just left him on the spot, jumped in her car and came over. She marched in on her high heels, her impressive cleavage bursting through her fitted jacket, and told me to stop being so pathetic, and get rid of the f*** cat.

That got me out of the trance I was in. We took the street cat back to his real home- not an act I am particularly proud of, but he was living happily in our yard for years after all. Please do not report me to the RSPCA for that one bad thing I did to an animal in my whole life. I love animals. Just not that devil’s cat.

So GO said: “Look at it as if he had a nice holiday. Came to your house for a break, hypnotized your dog into a suicide, and now it is time to go back to where he belongs.”

She took me to her place, where we had some Vodka & Orange and smoked lots of Marlboro lights. I am forever grateful to GO for that. Even though she never even sent me a card when my first child was born. I struggled to understand that for a while. When you went through so much with someone, don’t you deserve at least a free e-card? I would even settle for a quick email. But hey, she saved me from the Devil’s cat so I still love her.

PS For my next dog, I got myself a Rottweiler. To ensure that:

1) He is scary and dark enough to fight off any evil cats
2) Large enough not to be able to squeeze through the balcony railings.
He now enjoys the lovely forest walks in beautiful English countryside. I do not have any balconies he could use in my new home.

The Little Red Haired One

You know what I love the most about the RHO? She talks about very personal things. It makes me smile thinking how shocked my English mummy friends would be, should they ever find out what the RHO and me talk about. She is refreshingly open about most intimate aspects of her single life. To me, married and in suburbs, it feels a bit like secretly watching 9 ½ Weeks in my younger years- slightly naughty but exciting. She comes to visit and with her, I breathe in the free air of New York, with its Cosmopolitans and Sex and the City life. I always have a cigarette when I get to see her, and indulge in a proper girlie talk. Like in good old days. About what bastards men are. About her ex. About her future ex. About naughty things. About our old days in Baku. And she is always ready to give me a hug, and laugh at my jokes. What else can a girl want from a friend?

The Architect
Oh, the A. She is the oldest of them all. Not age wise!!!!- I have to quickly add.
We always fall out. We engage in email wars that last for months at a time. Usually, focusing around the subject of Israel and Palestine- Of course! Or her religious views vs. my lack of those. What else can two close friends argue about? We have such heated discussions, that sometimes I worry about my keyboard- I type so hard Husband complains he can’t hear the telly.
I said to her the other day- why do people have to talk about these things over and over again? I am so fed up discussing politics, religion and the recession it is driving me mad! And the A told me her husband had to call his uncle in Moscow recently, just so he had someone to argue about the situation in Georgia with.

So we argue and then chill out, and move on. She knows me better than anyone else. We will always be close friends. As someone said: “You will always be my best friend. You just know too much!”

Perhaps, my old friends are very different to my current ones. But they are pretty cool. They believe in different Gods, eat different foods, and their children will speak different languages. And they are so far away from me it is not actually at all funny. And I am so fortunate with all these new friends. But that would be another story.

Monday, 9 March 2009

Babushka with plastic bags

As I am walking back from local Budgens, my shoulders aching from the weight of plastic bags, I wonder to myself - Have I ever left the Soviet times? Those old miserable “babushkas” walking down the Soviet streets with plastic bags…is that what I am slowly turning into? No matter where I live? So what I am wearing the real UGGs? Who cares? To an Azeri, they definitely look the part: any old babushka would love a pair for her trips to a local bazaar. I am sure if I wore them in Baku, my neighbours would start gossiping my foreign husband does not make enough money to buy me some decent shoes.

Here is a sketch of me walking from Budgens. Of course, this is a so called artist’s interpretation. Whether you chose to believe I really am that skinny is up to you and your trust in people.

Sunday, 8 March 2009

Sustainability and other funny things

Sustainability is very cool right now. If you don’t do something sustainable you are sooooo yesterday, mate. We buy sustainable light bulbs, paint for our walls, build sustainable houses... procure sustainable everything.

You might ask what is so funny in that? It is a serious matter after all. Well, of course. It might be to the world. But not to an Azeri. I just think it would be quite a challenge trying to explain back home what sustainability actually means.

We Azeries laugh at certain things Westerners are very serious about. We laugh at how serious they are about those things. Like Safety.

In my job back home, I often had to walk around construction site with my Western bosses. I had to translate and explain to Azeri construction labor guys that flip flops were not appropriate footwear for their jobs. And that they really had to wear hardhats. My boss often asked me if they actually intended to die. And I explained that to an Azeri man wearing protective gear was like announcing they were gay. And so they would rather risk their lives but appear Macho and cool.

Don’t you think though, that this obsession with H&S got to be a bit of a joke? Where do we stop? Back in my old oil consortium job in Baku, our FM guys were stopped on the stairs while carrying A4 size paper in boxes. They were told to hold on to the handrails to be safe on the stairs. They were somehow expected to carry the box and hold on to the rail at the same bloody time.

But as I said before…Funny how living somewhere different changes you.
I used to get in a taxi back home and not even notice the speed they drove at. I would just sit there with window open, fag in my hand, sunglasses on…..You know. A sexy and cool babe. Whatever happened to me?

I don’t smoke anymore. Also these days, when I visit back home, I am terrified of local taxis. First I seek out the newest looking vehicle on the street. I then look for seat belts, which are often removed from local cabs as some unnecessary decoration. As we take off, I grab hold of the driver’s seat and shut my eyes tight all the way. If I had any God in my life I would pray. Since I don’t really believe anything out there gives a shit, I just shout to the driver to slow down in two languages. He glances in the mirror in puzzlement.

I have changed. Of course I have. I am not only British now, I am also a mother. I often think how terribly sad my child would be if her mummy suddenly died in a nasty car crash. I also live in the country where government spends a lot of money on adverts with killed children haunting careless drivers for the rest of their lives. I was wondering, whether such a strong advert would work on changing Azeri mentality? Would our guys stop drinking and driving if they saw those adverts on Azeri TV? Would the road rules apply to them? And even to those VIP’s in Mercs? What does it take?

But at the same time, as I sit there at meetings trying to look concerned about levels of our last project’s sustainability, a tiny Azeri devil inside me grimaces and giggles naughtily. I am what I am after all. Years of careless living lined my stomach with thick layer of a Soviet attitude that can’t simply be removed by relocating to the H&S possessed country. So I make my own mind on how far I am prepared to go.

Saturday, 7 March 2009

If in doubt, blame cultural differences

The Food Thing

Anyone who has ever been invited to an Azeri house for a dinner would find the spread overwhelming and humanly impossible to consume in one go. Not to mention the sea of dishes replacing one another at any Azeri wedding.

Back home, food is a symbol of prosperity, hospitality and generosity.
People would rather die than not have enough to feed their guests at the table.

Also, we Azeries just love to show off a bit. It is a cultural thing.

Which by the way, if you excuse my deviation from the subject, places us in a very difficult situation as we also are incredibly superstitious, and believe in powers of the Evil Eye. So the desire to show off, which we genetically are born with, is forever locked in a constant battle with the fear of others getting too jealous and jinxing our luck.

There is a very old soviet joke that I think explains the level of silliness an average Azeri would go into to prove he or she is quite sorted in this life:

An Azeri guy is out for the night with his Russian and say, Georgian friends. So, they go to a bar and have a few drinks first.
The Russian says – I will get this. When offered the change, he, waves it off dismissively- No, no please keep it.

They then continue to a dinner, where they have a meal and at the end the Georgian guy says: I will get this. He pays for the three of them, and leaves some ridiculously generous change. The Azeri is watching nervously. They then decide to go to a theatre…Hold on, let’s adjust it a bit, to make it more realistic. They decide to go to a say, Gentlemen’s club. As they are ready to go home, the Russian and the Georgian pick up their coats from the cloakroom. The Azeri gives the girl his ticket and waves generously- Keep the coat!

I got pretty worried when I first arrived to the UK and noticed my in-laws habit of cooking just enough for dinner. To be perfectly honest, I got pretty depressed. I figured they were pretty bloody tight with their food, and as an Azeri I found that aspect awfully embarrassing. As I then got to know them better, I realized that they are quite generous parents in law.

I also realized that the habit of calculating dinner ingredients like in some chemistry experiment is nothing to do with them being tight with their food. Because, as my mother in law kindly prepares say, a salad at my house, she rations radishes and olives in the same precise and restrictive manner. And these are my radishes, bought by me. So, should my original suspicious be correct, she would not be worried as it is not her food. She in fact, should probably secretly enjoy pigging out on my radishes, as I would never pay any attention to how many she had. So that made me realize, she is not actually doing this because she is being mean or tight. She is just doing this because of a habit of not wasting any food unnecessarily.
An Irish girlfriend claims that the English never had to starve so they do not need to over-cook in order to be happy and satisfied with their meal. I have no idea. However, that whole food thing was quite a shock to me.

But of course, having lived here for years and being married to an Englishman I started picking up some habits and now am making my own mother laugh. She thinks it is quite funny that I Clingfilm half of an onion and put it back in the fridge.

I also am stuck somewhere in the middle now. I have some really good Azeri friends here. But I get stressed just thinking about inviting them over for lunch.
I panic I have not cooked enough. I panic they are judging me for not having enough starters on the table. And I can not just visit them, as I know they will put up a spread on the table no matter what time of day I show up and for what reason. The other day, I had to send a present for my mother’s birthday with these friends. I phoned and asked if I could drop it off at their place. The original idea was to make it as easy for them as possible, as they were after all, doing me a favor. But having called them I realized they were probably planning to feed me. So I carefully pointed out that I was coming sometime after lunch, hoping that they would understand that meant “No food please. Just tea would be fine”.
However, they had no lunch by the time I arrived at 3pm. They were waiting for me with food on the table. A huge lot of it.

Being very careful with money

A quite well-off local mummy asked me once what I was feeding my baby for breakfast. I used some baby porridge.
Oh-she said- No we don’t use that one anymore: It is a lot more expensive than regular porridge! I found that amazing. How much more expensive can baby porridge be compared to the adult one? 60p more? 63? I realized: I will never be rich. And I will die Azeri. Some things will just not change, however long I live here.

Azeries take pride in being wasteful with money. Like we do in Garry Kasparov, who of course is in fact, Armenian..but hey I often as a teenager admired his incredibly hairy chest trotting up and down Zagulba beach. We can therefore, claim him as ours.

Paying on dates

Feminism-shmeminizm. No. I am sorry. If a guy is asking you out on a date, he should pick up the bill. Tochka. Period.
Once I went out with this guy back home. He was working for some form of an NGO. He was an American, so perhaps, he thought he was showing me respect by letting me pay half of the cheap Turkish café bill. The café was cheap by even 90’es standards. Even for me- a local girl on a local salary. To translate that amount into current currency, I would say the meal for two cost us £10. If that. I of course offered to pay, and he… accepted. Needless to say, there was no second date. I am sorry. I am a conservative girl (Yes, when it suits me) and I don’t get this. You are trying to pull, right? It is a date for goodness sake. Pay for the girl.


We girls are quite bitchy, really. Whatever nationality.
Eastern European women often discuss how unattractive Englsh women look. It is the lack of effort. No make-up. Wearing fleeces and trainers all the time. Un-brushed hair.

Note: Not my English friends though. I actually am quite a shallow person, to be honest. I like my friends to be good-looking and reasonably glamorous so I have managed to surround myself with people I enjoy looking at.

But you know what I think is scary? I had a friend from back home visiting me the other day. We used to study together in a secondary school. I have not seen her in years, and was quite excited to see her and show her around. It was her first trip to London, and she braved a trip out of it for the day to see me. So we sat around, sipping tea and discussing life, as you do…when I said I felt I have aged a lot after having my daughter. She looked at me with affection of an old friend, and placed her hand on mine:
-Oh, honey- she said-You have not aged at all! You are just not looking after yourself properly!

What? I mean what the ****? And I made effort before she came. I put my best 7 for All Mankind jeans on. I blow-dried my hair. I carefully applied makeup that looked effortless enough. I skipped the usual fleece and wore a trendy top. I even put my diamond studs on. Classy and elegant. What was wrong then?????? I actually felt slapped across my Azeri-British face. Have I changed so much in these years, that I have not realized I looked English in my appearance?
And NOT in a good way?
But I was looking back at her and thinking that she looked so wrong. Her over-plucked eyebrows looked comical. The thick layer of make-up made her look like a retired Geisha. Her office style clothing looked ridiculous on a Sunday afternoon. And her arse was the size of Azerbaijan. There. I feel better now.

Monday, 2 March 2009

Parallel worlds do exist or my Christmas trip to Harrods

Last December, pretty late as usual, I went to Harrods to get a Christmas present for Husband. Don’t get any ideas by the way, that this is my usual Christmas shopping destination. Oh, I wish. It is just that Timberland store on New Bond Street closed down, and Harrods held their stock and happened to be near my work. And Husband needed a new pair of Timberland boots. Boring and predictable as they might be they always make him happy.

I live in a galaxy far, far away from Harrods and its neighbouring areas. So I have not stepped in that store for years. In fact, thinking about it…I only went there once before, when I just moved to London and was being all touristy. It is interesting how I saw different things then and now.

First time I went to Harrods I had just moved to the UK. I was a big time Scary Azeri then. I worried those snobbish looking doormen would not let me in, because I did not look white and posh enough. All I really remember from what I saw then is just a beautiful building. I explored it as a museum, checked out the Diana fountain of course, and moved on with my life.

This time however, was quite an experience. I was on a mission, as sneaked out from work just before the Christmas party and had to be back in a reasonable time, to avoid getting sacked. So I was not really browsing or admiring the architecture. I marched past the smart looking doormen in a business like fashion, these days feeling quite comfortable walking into any store, however snobbish and scary doormen might appear.

Having got to the floor I needed, I was passing the lifts when I suddenly noticed a creature from another world. It was a young male specimen of a stunning beauty. He was so beautiful that I am sure my mouth dropped open and I stared like a peasant who saw a king for the first time. He was not simply good looking. He looked like he just walked off the Harper's Bazaar pages. Everything about him was stunning. And I don’t mean it in a sexual way. And so I suddenly started noticing people around me.

For whatever reason, instead of usual rich foreigners I always see when I walk on Bond Street, I saw a whole lot of properly posh English people. And I thought I had met posh people before. But I was clearly mistaken. These guys looked what posh people should look like. I watched them in fascination, as they mooched around looking for some Christmas gifts. They looked very familiar with the store. Clearly, always come to Harrods to run their usual errands. As you do when you are that posh.
They all looked different, but had this same aura around them that is so distinguishable and so hard to describe.
They all looked…well, beautiful. I swear, I have never seen that many beautiful people in one place.
And no, it was not about how much money they had or their clothes looking expensive. It was the generations of wealth that was shining through their clear skin and shiny hair. It was in their confident posture and extremely straight backs, and legs shaped by riding horses from before they probably learnt to crawl. It was in their faces that had never been touched by the stress of survival and mortgage worries. It was in their happy and relaxed pre-Christmas shopping smiles. With no shadows of credit crunch or the recession gloom.

I had a feeling that I discovered a parallel universe. Like I accidentally glanced in some gap in the air, just like in His Dark Materials, and saw some other people in some other world. A world that exists right next to mine but I never even smelled it.

As I tried to share my excitement with my friends and colleagues, I felt common resentment in their puzzled looks. It seemed that somehow they found it all personally offensive. Husband told me my fascination with inbred upper class was pathetic. And if I want to appear posh, I need to sit up straight and speak properly and stop swearing.

I tried to explain. I come from a country where during the Soviet era the upper class was aggressively destroyed. Peasants took over and screwed up the gene pool for years to come. Of course, they never managed to get rid of the class differences, which exist anyway. But we have slightly different classification back home.

We always had what we called “intelligentsia”- basically people with manners and as we’d say “culture” who also believed in education and reading books. And the rest of them. “Plebey” or a pleb was used to describe common people. But proper, “blue blood” as we’d call it in Russian, aristocrats is not something I ever met in my previous life. Also, what I personally am quite curious about is the fact that I suddenly, after almost ten years of living in this country, started noticing the intricate and delicate embroidery of the society here. I think, being a foreigner you don’t notice these differences straight away. When I worked for an oil company back home, I came across a huge number of foreigners, from all sorts of different countries and backgrounds. The differences between some of them were pretty subtle. I could of course, tell that my good friend architect was a lot more sophisticated than my site contractors. But some of these differences were not that apparent to me.

As I was walking out a group of young guys were making their way back out of the store. Your first impression could have easily been that they were your usual average 16 year olds: hanging jeans, messy hair…however, having walked behind them for a few minutes, I realized that their hair was messed up in an expensive and trendy way. But most importantly, they spoke beautifully. I stood behind them for a while on Harrods escalators, listening and admiring not just the fact they spoke in a very posh and proper English, but that they did not use a single swearing word in that whole discussion. That was…like I say…a glimpse into another world.

I got the boots for Husband, paid with a credit card of course, and took the tube back. Sitting there were normal people. They looked tired, fed up and stressed. I was back to my world. I thought that I'd better save the Harrods bag for my cousin. Stuff like that makes her look cool back home.

Sunday, 1 March 2009

Lubov, zachem ti muchayesh menya? Words from a famous Russian movie.. means something like Oh love, why are you torturing me so?

One of the biggest obsessions of my life was married. I never viewed that fact as a serious issue. Before you judge me here, let me attempt to explain. He was an English guy, and he married a whore. And when I say a whore, I mean not those typical amateur whores as I classify a large number of local girls back home, hunting for foreign husbands. She was actually a proper professional, working for a set fee, a well known whore in town. I suppose, he wanted to rescue her or something like that. Or she was just very good in bed. But it is quite ironic, isn’t it? Normally, men marry good girls and then cheat on them with bad girls. In my case, it was the other way around. He married a whore and was cheating on her with a good girl.

I was working with him and I fell for him. It is a long story how, because it was not that simple. However, when I first allowed myself to go out with him, his wife was actually no longer on the scene. They had a huge fight, and when I say fight, I mean a physical fight, with knives and scars. A Russian whore style, you know. And that meant, he said, unbuttoning his shirt to demonstrate an impressive scar across the chest, they truly and finally are over.

I was liberated by my experience with… let’s call him C. He was my first ever foreign man, and I had not had that many men before him anyhow. The whole thing was quite exciting. I was curious about having relationship with someone so different. Everything he did or said was alien to me then. He was wild and crazy, which I later on realized, was supported by endless alcohol intake (that he could easily afford being an expat in Baku)

I did not even notice falling in love with him. I remember discussing my affair with a male friend, who said he was impressed by how cool I was.

I asked:

-Cool? In what way exactly?

- Well - he said- you know he is married! and you don’t even care. You are just happy having a fling with no commitments!

That was so far from reality it made me laugh. But I did not try to explain how pathetic I actually felt deep inside. In fact, I was so obsessed and desperate that when he went back to the wife, (which they always do) I thought I was going to do absolutely anything to get him back.

Back home, girls still believe in magic. Perhaps, not just back home, eh? But anyway. There are those always weird and spooky-looking ladies who would charge you a small amount of money and make you do stupid things. You know. Like steal some hair from the man of your desire and burn it. A bit like voodoo I guess. So…yep this is how sad I got. I went to one of those women. I can not believe I ever did that. But hey, as I said…I was sad and desperate.

I had a nice (and single!) American colleague chasing me then. He asked if I needed a lift home from work and I told him I had to stop somewhere for a minute. He was happy to wait outside, if I then had a drink with him in a local bar. I was of course, too embarrassed to tell him what I was going to do. But it was a dodgy neighbourhood so I wanted some escort.

We drove for almost 30 minutes, which for a size of a town Baku is was quite a distance. This woman lived in a shack on the outskirts of town. I went in, with my escort patiently wafting outside. The woman was unwashed and her nails painted red. She definitely looked the part. Explained to me that my man was bewitched by his ex, and that I had to do a number of bizarre things in order to remove the spell and get him back.

Of course, I knew. I am not really that mad or stupid, honest. But whatever happens to your brain when you are truly and utterly obsessed with a man you can’t have- is a mystery.

So I stole some of his hair next time I saw him (I continued to see him despite everything!) and mixed it with mine…and burned it secretly and then…this was the hardest part. I had to take it to a place where he was due to cross the threshold, preferably before his wife, and that was it. The job was done.

I was terrified to be caught doing something like that. There was no way I could do something like that at his rented flat: what if the scary knife-throwing bitch comes out right at me when I bend down at her door?

But I knew where he worked… So office it was. I left the house at around 6am, well before he or his alcoholic whore wife ever woke up…and sneaked to his one-story building office. There I was, in the summer heat, sweating like a pig in a worry of being caught, I took out the ashes of our hair from a little plastic bag, and quickly spread it across the doorway. I was then free to run and wait for the miracle, which of course!!! I knew was not going to happen.

And guess what. Nothing happened. He stayed with his whore wife. I heard whores often turn into quite decent wives, by the way. In fact, as I often told him, it was not her who was the whore in his marriage. No wonder she had to use a knife. And when the knives did not work, she moved on to another well-known weapon and had a baby. The baby thing worked on me though, and I finally gave up on my dream of destroying the rest of my life with a slightly freaky alcoholic English electrician.

My American admirer later confessed that he was terrified I made him wait outside whilst shopping for drugs. I was surprised he thought that is what I was doing. But I guess, he could never in his wildest dreams imagine what I really was up to. I could not tell him how much of a freak I really was. So I simply looked him straight in the eye and said that I would never!!! do anything like that to him. He was very happy with that statement.

So happy in fact, that he asked me to date him, which of course I was not ready for. In hindsight, was a stupid thing to do as he was loaded and a fab cook.