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.


  1. Your desire to fit in and not to be a "CHMO" is completely understandable. Sadly, people in their 30-s don't make new friends easily. Cross-cultural differences add extra weight, too. My advice: don't get frustrated with the d@@kheads. Right people will come along in time.

  2. You sound cool to me hunee, loving the blog.

    You just need the right playmates...with manners too!

    Only barrier to friendship is if they don't share same values - my friends are very different from me, backgrounds and culture. But all brought up with the 'treat everyone the way you would like to be treated' mantra.

    If in doubt bite own lip really hard (impossible to put foot in it) - or say what you think and run :)

  3. It's not only in the West there many free riders. I had Azeri friends who love to storm other people to have a free dinner. They called it "krutim frayera" - translation as "using up an idiot". The funny thing, about 80% of the free riders I have met were quite well off - in Az, in US and in France. The "best" was a handsome american trust funder who I dated for a month or so. He NEVER worked in his life - daddy was a publisher from the East Coast. He was re-sticking price tags from bad cuts of meat to the better ones in a supermarket and shoplifting.

  4. As a person who's lived in a few foreign countries, I know that foreign etiquette can be baffling and extraordinarily irritating. When I was living in Azerbaijan, I used to wonder why my Azeri friends thought it was fine to kidnap me out of my daily routine and feed me plov or take me somewhere to make kabobs, with no regard to whether I might have had other plans, placing me in the awkward position of choosing between standing up the people I had already made commitments to, or rudely refusing their hospitality.

    I came to realize that at the time most of the people I had made commitments to were Azeri, and so seemed to understand this whole kidnapping me out of my routine thing. However much it threw me off balance, my friends were trying to be kind, and no one except me seemed put out by this.

    Hopefully some of the people you invite over have good intentions as well-- but yeah, it's hard to look past the forms of respect to which you're accustomed.

  5. Hi Masha,
    Nice to see you here, so funny you went to read such an old posting. Hope you enjoyed Az and hope you visit my blog again.

  6. :) what can I say? I'm always curious about questions of manners.

    I read some newer postings too, and enjoyed them very much. Glad you're writing!

  7. dear Scary,

    This post caught my attention, because since i'm in Germany for the last seven years, pretty much the same ignorance could be observed here. My life became much easier since i've stopped to expect local people demonstrating good manners. For the most part I concentrate on my work/family/boy-friend and learning languages. Sure, this is not a solution but i think might be something better than waste of time on fake friendships.

    Looking forward to read more posts under this category :) Keep up the great work!

  8. Wow, Well I dont' have that much experience with foreigners but should add that even some asian/east people leaving long time in west countries forget their traditions and act in same west manner to their close friends and family. anyway... loved that blog. Very nice and useful for someone planning to move to UK. ;) Inshallah!
    Best regards,

  9. I have heard these same comments from so many people I have met in the US, when they make observations about American folks. It is such a wide cultural gap between eastern and western cultures. and I am starting in Europe, although in France, people are harder to get close to but when they do express friendship I have found it to be sincere. It is a different story with anglo-saxon people altogether.