Sunday, 24 May 2009
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.