Wednesday, 23 September 2009

My personal manners guru

Tonight, we are watching The International. With Clive Owen. No further comment.

Husbands can be annoying creatures, and any woman who had been married for at least five years (to the same man) and claims nothing he does or says irritates her is a shameless liar. If you are single, I would not recommend you hanging out with women like that, because that might give you an unrealistic outlook on marriage. If you are married, you should know better.

There is one thing my husband does that winds me up big time. He corrects me. But I guess I have to be grateful.

Because different cultures have different understanding of good manners.

I was raised by so called intelligentsia back home. Our family had generations of impressive figures, such as famous poets and doctors. (With an occasional Bolshevik, but that probably felt right at the time.)

So what I am saying is that I always thought, perhaps naively, that I was brought up well, had good manners and knew how to act in public. I thought I was pretty civilized.

Until I got married and moved to the UK.

We all heard that there are some cultures where it is easy to insult someone by doing something simple. I would guess you are thinking: Japan. We all heard about the Japanese etiquette and westerners making fools of themselves. I even remember studying a case in my business school. About an American businessman who never managed to seal a good deal in Japan, because he threw his business card across the table.

Back in Baku, I had so many colleagues and friends from abroad that I felt well accustomed to the western culture- way before I relocated. So, I thought I knew it all.

And here I am. Making myself look common and disgusting at my friend’s house. Without having a clue that I was making a social faux pas.

I was invited for lunch on a Friday afternoon, and everything was very pleasant. I had washed and blow dried my hair that morning, so I left it down. The problem with that is that:

a) It is long.
b) It is dark.
c) It falls out a lot.
d) When it does, it is more obvious- due to all of the above

So we sat there chatting, surrounded by wine, pizzas and quiches. Suddenly, I noticed a couple of my hairs, as usual, stuck to my sleeve-right there, on the table. I hate when that happens, so I complained that my hair falls out a lot, apologised and picked them both off. Without thinking, I just dropped them on the floor. It was something I would have done at home, on the street or in the gym-anywhere. Because I simply would not think about it. My friend looked down at them landing, and told me it was gross.

Curious whether I was actually being that awful, or my friend was being too fussy, I thought I would check with my personal manners guru.

Husband was horrified. He told me it was awful! Rude! Common! Disgusting!
Basically, the worst thing I could have done in a decent company. He said it was as if I suddenly started picking my nose at the table.

Oh, no!

I thought of all the occasions when my hair falls on the table, my clothes or floor without me even realizing, and got depressed. I must appear common, after all.

I often notice these days, when I go back, that people talk with their mouth full. Depending on the menu, the sight can be pretty revolting. Shashlik is the worst, as it takes a long while to chew each piece, and Azeries are impatient to jump into a conversation. Which leads us to another social taboo in the UK, and something Azeries don’t seem to mind as much: interrupting someone else speaking.
People in Baku are too impatient, too eager to say something, too enthusiastic!

And the one I personally always forget. Reaching across the table to get something. That one is a tricky one, because I know why we do it. To not bother our neighbour. Why ask someone’s help if I can reach that salt? So what that my sleeve is in his plate and my armpit is in his face?

There was a time, when I did not think about these things. Nowadays, trained by husband, I can’t possibly miss them. Things I never even noticed before, my hawk eye picks up straight away. And yet…..

PS Told my mother about the hair situation. Oh-she said- I hate when you do that, that IS disgusting. You pull them off your clothes, and dump them on the floor or ground. Oh…, - I thought. It is not cultural then. It is me.


  1. Hehehe... this is funny.

    Please more posts about the cultural differences of the glorious nations of Azerbaijan and UK :-)

    These things are always funny.

    Dropping hair seems to be universally gross, haha.

  2. Hey, you are back! :)
    I must try to focus on cultural aspects from now on. :)))

  3. Hi. I'm Armenian and I drop my hair, too.
    I also love your posts!

  4. @Anonymous Armenian: Cool. :))) Thank you!

  5. Yeap it is gross :)

  6. Here is my list of top three most offensive personal manners which are considered normal in some cultures:

    #1. People giving me requests when I offer tea/coffee. What do you mean, you want decaf "Earl Grey" with lemon but no sugar? Do I look like Starbucks?

    #2. People placing their feet on the desk (this must be somehow rooted in the Muslim culture, where showing one's shoes is considered offensive).

    #3. People slurping when they eat.

  7. I’m not lying. My extremely well mannered husband says that my nose picking is cute because I do it with such conviction. I guess Americans are less worried about the formal manners than the Brits.
    Your friend needs her manners checked. Making a “gross” comment is a much bigger offence than dropping a few hairs on the floor. She does own a vacuum cleaner, doesn’t she? I’d rather clean the floor than hurt someone’s feelings. Hurting people’s feelings is definitely BAD manners.

  8. Loved this post... funny :) I'm the fumbling American, of Colombian descent making himself the idiot to his Japanese wife's family. Awesome!

  9. Perhaps you could offer always to wear a headscarf--that would quiet the criticism quickly...

  10. My hair doesn't fall as frequently as yours do, but... I always drop them to the floor. I have never thought that was gross nor rude.
    Maybe I'll have to have second thoughts about some of my habitudes.

  11. @ Riyad: Never happens here. People normally ask for a "workman's tea": white, sometimes with a spoon of sugar. rarely anything else. :) Feet on the table is another typically American thing, isn't it? :) i can tell where you live from just these few comments. So funny.

    @Nata: When I am rich, do you want to be my rep? You are so good at protecting me, and are so wonderfully scary! :)))

    @ Jm Diaz- Hello! Are you really all that? Or is this a plot for your novel? :) If it isn't a plot, I would seriously think it should be?

    @ Ani: I love you :) If you ever come to London, make sure to let me know. I can just sense we would get on well.

    @ Gabriela: Glad I shared something useful with you. LOL

  12. I have to agree with Riyad that feet on the table is an atrocious habit. Grown men wearing shorts is equally appalling anywhere in public except the gym or the beach. No one really wants to see your hairy legs.

    I noticed that some men seem to have the habit of dressing like teenagers. Sorry dude, that fitted t shirt is not becoming with your beer belly. And white capri pants and hippy sandals on a greying 60 year old is not a fashion statement but more a pathetic cry for help to overcome a 20 year long mid-life crisis.

    Scary - More posts like this please.

  13. Ah, the vaguaries of English manners. See my latest post about table manners: I didn't even get on to 'never cut your bread roll with a knife', 'always spoon soup away from you' and 'never, ever cut the nose off the cheese'! At least I had years of having it ingrained into me as I grew up, you're having to acquire this lot now!

  14. As you said, there are some manners in western culture, that are not acceptable to us. I happened to know some very well educated British guy who once said to me: I have to go pee before we leave - after we had dinner at a nice restaurant. I was shocked. I did not know many foreign guys at that time but in our soviet society it was absolutely unacceptable to announce that. There're some other cultural differences and I 100% agree with Nata:
    Your friend needs her manners checked

  15. I did not know it is gross either. So far my husband silently picks up my hair when I drop them, even eyebrow hair. He is too polite...Naila

  16. After I'd been in Russia a while, I came home on a visit, went out to a restaurant with some friends and half way through the meal I realised I was shovelling food into my mouth with just a fork.

    The _shame_.

    Mind you, the other day I was thinking how really very very loudly people talk in public here, and how that would get you a distinctly unimpressed look from any Russians in the near vicinity.

  17. @solnushka: I actually think people in the UK speak nowhere nearly as loud as Americans. When Americans visit, it shocks me how loud they are! But I kind of like it. :)))

  18. I’ve been reading your postings for a long time and always enjoyed them! This one made me laugh so much and here I am, writing my first comment ;)

    You know what I remembered? We had an English guy in the office in Baku, (he was a manager, by the way) who used to (do I dare say this word?) fart at his desk. Once, he caught someone’s shocked look and said ‘oops, Shah Deniz gas !’ :) I thought about a story my mother used to tell us trying to educate me and my sister on the subject – about a girl who set fire to herself and died after she let a little bit of gas escape in front of her potential future relatives during ‘elchi’ stage!

    By the way, checked with an English colleague of mine about this hair thing and she didn’t realise it was considered rude – she does this all the time herself – and immediately jumped to conclusion that perhaps she wasn’t brought up properly :)