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.


  1. You should write a book not a blog. That was excellent


  3. Very good , and so so true ...x

  4. I know exactly what you mean. I see them during the summer in our little French sea La Manche resort. Once my mother in law, my son, my husband and I were walking and saw a group of people of the type. All the four of us froze on our tracks with dropped jaws and just stared as these demi-gods were loading into a Mazeratti... My husband said - ah, the rich are still here - good. My mother in law said
    - pfff! les bourjois!

  5. You write well, but I am surprised you're still contemplating your Azeri-ness after 10 years in the U.K. I am also originally from Baku and now live in the States but I do not hang out with the ex-Soviets and not with Azeris (they aren't any Azeris where I live), so I sort of lost my roots in that sense. And guess what? It does not bother me one bit. I always felt out of place back home, was too unconventional for people back there. I feel more at home in the States, for some reason, despite the fact that I will always speak English with an accent and will stand out in the crowd for that reason.

    By the way, I know you, although not in person. You used to hang out with one of the expats I worked with in Baku back in the late 1990s.

  6. Marianna,
    thanks for your comment and thank you for visiting my blog! I think you might have misjudged the way I feel about where I live now, and my "Azeriness". I am also very curious who you are, so please do contact me or send me your details so we could have a proper chat sometime!

  7. "I thought that I'd better save the Harrods bag for my cousin. Stuff like that makes her look cool back home."

    that sentence makes me feel all warm inside :)