Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Well, I guess you are sleeping with him now!

I was chatting to a friend recently. We were talking about (the correct word, of course, would be gossiping) one woman we both knew. My friend had a concern. 'You know', She said 'I don’t know how to explain... (she of course, knew exactly how to explain. She just did not know how to explain so she did not sound like a bitch) But I just don’t really want to be associated with her.'

I knew exactly what she was talking about. Because, it is important who you hang out with. It affects the way people see you. It affects your re-pu-tation. And the concept of reputation is oh, so familiar to me. What I wanted to tell my friend is that I am completely and utterly free from any worries- whatsoever! -when it comes to mine. You see, I spent years as a young girl in a country where the whole culture is designed around gossiping about each other and analysing each other’s private life.

My reputation was always hanging by a thread. Firstly, I was not a very traditional Azeri girl. Which already creates a poor basis for a good reputation somewhere like Azerbaijan. Straight from university, I got a job in a foreign company. That, of course, was another major step down the reputation hill.

And then things started happening around me. One day, a nice lady from HR stopped by my office, and closed the door behind her. Is that true, she wanted to know, what she was told. I honestly did not have a clue. Maybe it was, maybe it was not. What was it she wanted to know, I wondered. If you are being sexually harassed, she added, all you need to do is come to us. You needn’t worry.

I did not know who was supposed to have harassed me. It turned out I was too keen in my job, you see. I came in on a weekend to help my senior colleague with paperwork before he had to leave; and I never claimed overtime. But I had my reasons. Our American boss was pretty suspicious of anyone who tried to get overtime; so I thought I was just going to be professional and not ask for it. A security guy, walking past the office, saw that the door was closed. That made him suspicious. He reported it to HR. I almost lost my job.
Years later, my colleagues were still dying to know. Was it true or was it not?

On a separate occasion, a girl at work shared a cigarette with me outside. ‘Look’, she said. ‘Ehm...I have to confess in something. There is a rumour going around the office that you are having an affair with X. The truth is....I was the one who started that rumour. I am sorry.‘

That was one of the most unusual confessions I'd heard. I had two questions to ask her.

1.Why did she think I was having an affair with X? and
2. Why did she apologize now and told me she started it?

She said I seemed too friendly with X. ( Of course I was. He and I worked together for years before she even knew either of us!) He would always stop by my desk, and we would go out for a cigarette break together. That, in her eyes, was enough to assume we were doing it.

Right, I thought. Fascinating. But why did she decide it was not true all of a sudden?

Well, as she got to know him better, she started sharing jokes and cigarettes with him, too.

‘ Well,’ I said ‘I guess that means you are sleeping with him now. ‘

Ah, the drama of Baku life!

I miss it. Compared to the dramas and gossip going around my old Baku job, nothing can get me in this country. These British guys are dilettantes when it comes to gossiping and ruining somebody’s reputation.
Azeries looooove to gossip. If there isn’t anything about you worth talking about, they will make something up.

For instance.

Husband (then boyfriend) proposed to me and went back to the UK to buy a ring and make other appropriate arrangements, like getting paperwork sorted for my visa. I shared the exciting news with everyone. ‘Oh ..’ said one woman I knew. ‘Aren’t you afraid to be telling people? What if he does not return?!’

Husband returned. We got married. I assumed that was the end of it all. But no, of course it was not! Now that I was married, I had to be pregnant. Not too soon, but soon enough. Husband and I did not want any kids yet. But to our Azeri neighbours and my mother’s friends that meant we were infertile. ’Oh, is it him?’ They asked in hope. ‘Or is it her? Can she not get pregnant? Poor girl!’

Finally, I have a child. What next? I wondered. Surely, there is nothing left?

There will always be.

‘Why don’t they take you to live with them?’ Neighbours started asking my mother. ‘Don’t they want you there?’

But what some people don’t get and probably won’t believe, is that I simply don’t care anymore. I barely did when I lived in Baku, but at least it affected me a little. These days, I am so remote from it all, that their pathetic attempts to upset me, or to create some gossip about me seem as insignificant as a pile of horse sh*t on the main road.

And so I told my girlfriend who worried about her reputation, that I personally don’t give a flying you-know-what. I am old and ugly enough to choose who I want to be friends with, without worrying if they behave appropriately, dress according to the suburban norms or drive certain cars. I choose them because I want them in my life. Simple, right?


  1. Love it. Would love to hear more stories about when you were living in Azerbaijan, especially when you were a little/teenage girl.

  2. @Shannon: Well, I cant tell you all of them, or there will be nothing left for the book! which I yet have to write! :)

  3. LOL:) You’re right, western people got nothing on our Azeri comrades :) US (and I assume UK) is utterly devoid of proper gossip, even “Real Housewives” ladies seem like little schoolgirls fighting in a sandbox compared to our “lacharki”. Theirs is just not strong enough, doesn’t have the same destructive power.

  4. That thin red line of reputation, huh?
    About gossiping... we Limeans (specially girls) have a special word for that "rajar" (literally, to crack). Rajar means you scrutinize a person (mostly another girl) and then that person gets so verbally smashed... Very cathartic! Of course, the person you are talking about (allow me the poetic license) HAS to be very far away.

  5. Don't forget, smoking a cigarette is another step down the reputation hill.
    Dating a foreigner = being a whore.

    Thank you for bringing up such topics. I'm sure most of us can relate to them but never dare to say it our loud.


  6. good one. this post describes the situation here so well. and i would say, it is getting worse with the time. and btw, u r not old or ugly (or fat as sometimes u say). i have seen ur photo; u have a look of a girl-next-door in her fresh 30s :)


  7. You forgot about "Why do you only have one child? She will grow up a selfish person. You need to have another one." :)

  8. this is one of the reasons i am OUT of that country. i can only imagine what my rellies (and all those "do i even know you"s) are telling about me, but like you, I dont give a damn.

    thank you for sharing. and two thumbs up for the coming book! would LOVE to read it ;)

    hugs from NYC

  9. @ Seva: I would not call it a coming book, there is nothing yet except for maybe a couple of very raw draft chapters! The idea is there, just need the time, and energy and the motivation, you know...it is actually hard, hard work.

    @Maple Leaf: Oh, yes. Stop on! Not only the child will be selfish, I am being terribly selfish that I am not sure about it. :)
    That topic is worth a completely separate blog posting!
    @Limerent: I did not really mean I was old or ugly, it is just how the saying goes. Figure of speech. :) You are old and ugly enough to know better! That kind of thing.

    @Aza: Of course. Goes without saying. I always loved how you could not see one smoking woman in Baku...But then, you could walk into a hairdressing salon and you would struggle to see anything, for all the smoke in the air. :))) No men- no rules!
    Well, I don't smoke these days (except for very rare occassions, when out with other smokers)but I used to smoke an awful lot.

    And-OH, HORROR!!!!- I would smoke in local taxis on the way to work! When the drivers would give me dirty looks, I would offer them one. That normally calmed them down a little. But yes. Whore! :)))

    @Gabriela: I love it when you tell me little details about Lima. Love the rajar word. :)

    @Nata: Women are just women, everywhere in the world. But yeah...somehow, in sertain cultures this sort of thing is a lot more obvious.

  10. @Maple leaf: I meant spot on, not stop on. haha
    quick typing is always a problem.

  11. Hanging out for the book!

    A friend of mine told me that when she moved to north-west Tasmania (verrry rural) in the 1980s, she was sternly warned by one local woman to keep her hands off said woman's husband...what on earth, my friend inquired, made said woman think that she (my friend) might have any interest in said husband, or indeed any man in town?...the fact that my friend (gasp) hung her bras out to dry on a clothesline that could be seen from the street...ergo, slut...at which point several other women nodded!...

  12. I guess gossip in Baku is a way for people to spice up their own life when it is devoid of any other entertainment. Note how protective people there are of their own private lives (god forbid, someone's evil eye will jinx them :), but they want to know all the dirty little secrets of yours.

  13. @Wynne: That story is too cute. :)))

    @Marianna: I know...it is a difficult situation. Like when they want to boast but worry about evil eye! Stuck and no way out! :)

  14. I think there is a big mistake. There are the ways of life we have to respect... If smoking is a very bad thing in a way... why still do it?

  15. @Anonymous: There are a lot of ways of Azeri culture that are to be respected, but hypocrisy is not one of them.

    Sadly, my guess it's a side product of "high morals" culture


  16. I guess you're sleeping with him now, priceless! XD

    Imagine then how "messed up" those of us are who neither want to get married nor have children! Especially the latter. We are either:

    a) infertile and lying about it
    b) psychos
    c) selfish ingrates because just WHO is going to take care of us when we're in a nursing home?
    d) all of the above

  17. @veryslowglobetrotter: Hey and thanks for paying a visit. :) I can relate to NOT wanting kids. Husband and I discussed it before we got married and did not want any for 5 years. But then, we changed our minds. :) Happens!

    But yes, it was not easy, culturally back home women are supposed to want to get married and breed until they collapse. :)

  18. @scaryazeri: I know, it's like you're just a waste of space until you procreate. Once I said to my mum that I thought the world was overpopulated as it is, and she replied "If there's room for other people's kids, then there's room for yours too." It seemed futile to try to explain the meaning of overpopulated.

  19. Hello, I'm sorry I do not speak good English! I'm Brazilian, I'm dating a Azeri who lives here in Brazil. We have dreams of going to live in Baku. But I'm afraid of the way they treat women. you think I would be Western this a very big problem? I'd live in bad situations? I want opinions from those who live in Arzebaijan please!