What? You don't know who Lebowski is? Seriously?
A very long time ago, when I was still quite young and innocent, I was asked to book some tickets for an important football match in Baku. It was a major event ( the 1996 qualifying match for the world championship, against Switzerland) and I, not being a big football fan in general, thought I would go just for the experience. In hindsight, it was quite a bizarre bunch to go with: two British contractors and an elderly British English language teacher.
The tickets were not cheap. Especially for someone like me, on a decent for locals, but still not a huge salary. The game was great and Azerbaijan beat Switzerland. Does not happen, you say? Well, it did, once. The atmosphere was amazing.
Anyway, back to the story. The boys gave me money for their tickets in advance. However, the elderly British teacher did not. I was not happy. I really wanted my money back, but did not know how to ask for it. I was also about to go to the UK on holiday, and really needed every penny.
I kept waiting for him to remember. But he just would not. Finally, I approached him and, very quietly, asked if I could possibly have the money for that ticket.
What I still remember is the overall feeling of humiliation and embarrassment. I stood there for what felt like ages and he did not make any effort to stop me. And then he gave me a little patronizing speech. He said that I should never be embarrassed to ask for my money back. He said he remembered all along, but waited for me to ask. To teach me a lesson, I assume, or just enjoy my embarrassment.
I have to tell you, I never really liked the guy, but after that incident, I hated his guts.
Years later, I am still not doing well on that front. Whether it is a matter of what is considered polite back home, or my personal complex, I am still a coward.
Recently, we went to a park with a mummy friend. I did not have any cash on me and we decided to have lunch. ‘Let me pay with my card,’ I told her ‘and you can give me cash back for your share.’
Considering that we had three kids between us, I ended up buying a meal for 5 people. Which, let me tell you, was not cheap. Later, we decided to have ice-creams and more drinks. By the time we finished and were ready to leave, I paid close to £40 for us all.
She was not saying a word.
A flashy and proud Azeri in me said ‘No! Don’t humiliate yourself. Just leave it. So what? It is only a lunch. She can get the next one.’
The new me objected strongly. ‘That was not the deal! You cannot afford to pay for everyone’.
After some more thinking, I decided to ask. I reminded myself of a rich girlfriend of mine who, in front of other people, openly told my friend she owed her money. No hesitation, no pathetic complexes, no ‘Oh, does not matter!’ gestures. She brought it up so openly, in such a direct and poised way, I could not help but admire her for it. Possibly one of the wealthiest people I know, she had no problem asking for what was owed to her. So why should I? And yet, I waited. I waited until the very last minute as we were about to leave, wondering- did she forget?
Because, and this is another of my things. I am paranoid of forgetting that I owe money to someone else. Just like I hate to ask for it, I would hate for anyone to have to ask me. But clearly, not everyone has that problem. The number of times people forgot to pay me back and I never asked! Flowers, going away presents bought by a bunch of people at work, party booking fees at restaurants… Why is it that some people just don’t worry about it? And I am sure if I approached them and asked, they would not feel embarrassed. But I would.