Sunday, 24 May 2009

Smile when your heart is...from Eastern Europe?

Tonight, husband is watching Wanted. Without Steven Seagal, but with Angelina Jolie. The breasts and lips are a lot more impressive, but other than that, similar stuff: lots of gun fire and fast cars and that’s about it. Afterwards, he will announce: “Wifey, that was two hours of my life I will never get back”

I was driving to the gym yesterday: shades on, sunshine outside, radio tuned in to my favourite channel... (XFM if you wish to know, only I am in mourning now that Alex Zane no longer presents the breakfast show)

According to a local mummy friend of mine, she pulled in a lay-by to give way to my car, and was frantically waving to get my attention.

“But you”-she mocked- “in your ignorant Russian style, did not even smile or wave!”

OK, I thought, never mind the Russian bit. I am used to being called a Russian or more often to be honest, a “mad Russian” by friends and other locals. I used to try to explain that:

a) No, I am not used to the cold winter because of where I am from,
b) No, we don’t have bears walking around the streets, and as a matter of fact, neither do the Russians.

But she made me think: I know precisely what she meant. I always recognize us, ex-soviets by this stern Eastern-European facial expression that a lot of us do indeed, have. I of course, can not speak for the whole Eastern Europe. But I have an idea why it happens to Azeri girls.

I have been trying to figure out how, after just two years or so of living in the UK, every time I went back, taxi drivers in Baku immediately saw me as a foreigner. (Funny, isn’t it? Foreign here; foreign back home. Basically, foreign everywhere)

I kept wondering what it was. And I think it comes from an overall body language, including facial expression. Western women are ready to smile. It can be a polite smile, a bored smile, or I –am- just- about- to- kill you smile. But they still smile, nevertheless. Bumped into each other’s shopping trolleys- smile away. Smile to waiters and shop assistants, bin men and joggers. Wave and smile to passing cars and adolescent girls on horses, who block the road and ride ever so bloody slowly.

So really, my life here requires some regular facial exercise. But it is not the skill I always had. In Baku women don’t usually smile to strangers. (Unless they escaped from a mental institution or stand leaning against lamp posts at night.)

If you are an Azeri woman and you smile to a strange man, you are probably loose, and deserve being treated accordingly. A friendly smile is an invitation for casual sex, as far as Azeri males are concerned. So if you are a decent and respectable girl, you can not smile to a taxi driver, or a shop assistant, or a waiter. In fact, the more rude and arrogant you appear, the more admiration you will get. (Unless you are ugly, of course:then nothing will help)

So, honestly: we are not being rude. It is simply, a form of defence mechanism we had to develop, to avoid being constantly harassed anywhere we went.

I think things are changing though. I saw some recent Azeri wedding photos, where brides were actually looking happy and smiling away, and even dancing.

PS You might be looking at my attempt to sketch some excited Azeri males, and thinking: “come on, scary azeri-those guys are gay!”

Well, no. Partially, it is my sketching: I tried to show one guy leaning over his mate in excitement about those passing hot chicks, not to get on top of his friend. However, a lot of traditional Azeri guys do have this very close body contact going on. Say, you see two Azeri guys in their early twenties walking along in Baku, arm-in-arm. You might assume, and I would not blame you, that they are a couple but really, they are straight. It can be confusing -you might think Azerbaijan is the most tolerant Muslim country in the world as far as homosexuality is concerned…. Eh, no. I doubt it. It is just that, for some bizarre cultural reason, Azeri males kiss each other, hug and walk around arm-in-arm but yet, it does not mean anything. So my sketch is actually pretty realistic, after all.


  1. Very true about smiling. I was smiling to drivers of "marshrutkas" in Baku after having spent two years in Washington, DC. After catching a few confusing looks on the Azeri drivers' faces, I realized I am back home and have to re-learn to not smile at them.

    Personal space is another interesting difference between western and Azerbaijani cultures. Those who have used public transportation in Baku and in the UK/US must have noticed the difference.

  2. Again, 100 percent applicable to here as well -- even down to the men kissing and walking arm in arm. Kind of strange to consider all these similarities between Armenia and Azerbaijan if only to wonder how the hell the Georgians remained somehow different and unique in comparison. Anyway, great post as usual.

  3. thank you for your interesting post! i always think of the same when i am going back from Europe to Tbilisi.

    to Onik: here in Tbilisi it is the same sheet. you might have not noticed coz' you are a foreigner. But, for the local people it is all the same sheet.

  4. Oh, here is someone Georgian who commented, thanks for that. I was just about to put a comment asking if anyone here knows what it is like in Tbilisi.

  5. The thing most I hate when I meet foreigners (males) is that I can't kiss them :)

  6. I have never before given a thought about smiling to strangers. I guess it's because we just take smiles as a sign of politeness or good manners.
    You made me think...
    Regards from Peru!

  7. Thanks for the tip, Scary. If I ever go to Azerbaijan, I'll make sure not to smile ;)

  8. And if you come 'up North' you'll find that complete strangers engage each other in conversation all the time - we're a friendly bunch up here!

    PS Award for you over at my place

  9. Currently we live in Middle East, therefore,I'd say, all your points are applicable to the locals in this area, as well. So you never know, what is it - local mentality thing or something we have inherited from Arabic invaders since 8th century....

  10. Long time ago, when I worked in Baku, we used to get a lot of questions from visiting western guys about hugging and kissing between local men. One group of British consultants was particularly traumatized by their experience on a trip from Baku to Tbilisi when they were greeted at the airport by a “group of f----ng Georgian machos with f----ng mustache who promptly proceeded to f----ng hug them and f----ng KISS them” (this is my lame attempt to quote exactly how they told this story). They said that it was a single scariest experience of their (obviously sheltered) lives. We, of course, thought it was hilarious.

  11. Hello ScaryAzeri:
    I just got to know your blog, and I'm just loving it. I have a blog too, in Spanish, and I'd like to ask your authorization to translate this post into Spanish. Of course, you'll be very visibly credited.
    I am part of the Spanis team at Global Voices Online, and that's how I discovered your blog.
    All the best!

  12. Gabriela,


    Yes, I saw your blog, I always check out new bloggers who visit me. :) Shame I could not read it.

    Of course you are welcome to translate this posting into Spanish.

    Speak soon,

  13. If you think it's weird when Azeri guys hug and kiss, check out this story about American teenagers:

  14. Onik: here in Paris it is the same sheet.

  15. I love this post! And great to hear that it isn't just us western women who notice the lack of smiling.

    About six years ago when my husband first started studying Russian I met his teacher who had come to the U.S. from Russia. I smiled. Alot. It is what I do. Later, she told my husband, "You must tell your wife to stop smiling so much. People will think she is a prostitute."

    I now wear what I call my "game face." I blend but it makes me feel miserable.

  16. Jessica:
    I can't believe she actually told your husband that!
    Too funny.

  17. hahaha!!!! MY GOD! So TYPICAL!. I grew up in the Netherlands ,so I'm pretty used to smiling or greeting everyone who walks by. In Baku though when you smile they think you're an idiot lol.

    ''az shit shit gulme''

    about the affection thing between Azeri guys, I personally think it's cute. It suits our culture. We are warmblooded, emotional people :)))

  18. Hi Scaryazeri,
    I m in few weeks moving in to Baku for some years and find your blog full of practical great hints. Thanks. I will be following you now on :)

    No smiles, not a small one, I will do my best but it will be hard :)

  19. @Heli: Great, welcome and if you really want to follow, it makes me very happy when people join in the followers list here, on the left...:) simple things make me happy.
    glad you found it useful.

  20. Happily done. Thanks Scary.
    My hobby is photography and starting from 1st March you will see one picture each day in
    and sometimes when I need more relaxation you can see picture collages under the link:

  21. I noticed, thank you. :)

    Your photos are so beautiful! Just checked a few out on

    I hope you get to meet Rena Efendi. She is very good. do check her out here, I have put a link to her site on my blog, under "some cool azeries".
    glad to have met you. Keep me posted on your Baku experiences!

  22. Saw this the other day and--dunno, somehow made me think of you...

  23. Great, will have a look thanks, ani.

  24. I HATE Middle Easterns! "you are not warm-blooded emotional people" , you are a bunch of homosexual bastards who like to touch up your own gender! Two men kissing and linking arms, ewww! It's the most unmasculine, turn-off thing that can happen! I had the misfortune to meet some Kurdish Kike girl coz sir put us together in English class (I was supposed to help her with English)and the b**ch smiled at me "charmingly" and insisted we hug goodbye (albeit only knowing each other for 2 hours). Out of courtesy, I obliged and noticed her hands were far too low on my back for a goodbye hug and quickly pulled out! Phew!

    Middle Easterns are a bunch of shifty, hooknosed, superstitious, fake hospitality BASTARDS whom I hate from the bottom of my heart. If it wasn't for Middle Easterns there would be no religion (all monotheism comes from there)and Europe would have never gotten into Dark Ages (due to the he Church)and would have followed in the light of Platon, Seneca and other Greco-Roman intellectuals and reached it's peak much earlier! There would not have been witch hunts, imprisoning scientists, etc

    What made a lovely European like you husand hook up with a Middle Eastern is totally beyond me. I suppose he wants to lower his kids IQ by 30 points at least.

  25. @ Crazy Bitch: No, we are just very good in bed, cook nice food and obey our husbands. So, despite our hooked noses, it is quite a nice package.

    You are in the wrong place, my dear. I am sure there is enough fascists' blogs out there, or you might want to open your own? :)

  26. Not brave enough to leave a name. Bless him/her? You have done your job well to get such emotions. xx

  27. Oh great, Internet Nazis are here. Must have gotten lost on its way to a hate party. Poor thing.

  28. Scary Azeri

    This is an incredible blog which is a way too apart from that official feature about what I am extremely happy!! -)

    Smiling is almost equal to committing crime in here. And as you have said above if you smile they (males) that you like them :-))

    A very rich blog!! Keep it up!

  29. Hey Konul,
    thanks and welcome to my blog. Hope you enjoy it. :)