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.


  1. So funny and so true... another british azeri

  2. Hilarious and excellent post... Reminds me of Armenia so much. Magnificent writing and humor. :-)

  3. omg I'm gonna say it again but you are hilarious! You should consider writing a book :)))))))))



  4. I agree with the previous post. You need to write a book or write a column. OK, this post was perfect! I can totally relate! Coming from the middle-east, Lebanon, you are expected to be generous and hospitable to an extreme. Europeans and Americans do not have that expectation bestowed on them. At all. Men are not ashamed of being cheap on dates. ( boy, do I have horror stories to tell) When I go hoem to Lebanon, my cousins berate me for dressing too casually and not having my nails done. Appearances do count there. In the US, nobody gives a it is much more comfortable to live your life.

  5. You say guy should pick up the bill when he asks for a date, what about girl asking for a date? Should she pick up the bill in that case?

  6. I did not know girls ever ask boys out in azerb??? Boy, these are some different times we live in! :)

  7. Let me introduce myself in brief - I am Azeri, married to English, live in London for almost 4 years. Found your blog just recently, immediately hooked! We have never met with you … So how come do you put on these pages everything what I feel and think?!?!?! It is a mystery!
    I have forwarded the link to your Blog to all English-speaking friends of mine.

    P.S. It is my first attempt to comment on a blog. Don’t know how to use the features properly, and for some reason cannot comment under my name, so had to comment as Anonymous, but my name is Rana :)

  8. When I first went home after having my daughter, my mother asked in horror: What happened to you??? What happened to me? I was really proud to be back to my usual size 7 mnths after giving birth, was feeling rather relaxed and cool with my natural make-up, Tods loafers, jeans and white top:-)
    My mother thought (mind she is a conservative lady, not one of those scary khalashkas with tons of make up and lots of bling-bling) I was a pale resemblance of I used to be!
    Everywhere I went I seemed underdressed:-)

    But I have to give Azeri ladies some credit here, applied in moderation, the amount of effort they put on looking great all the time, deserves admiration. I wish they used some of that time picking up a book sometimes:-) Because, most of the time there is just nothing meaningful you can talk about with these perfectly brushed, manicured and made up dolls.