Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Golden Teeth, or why she wasn't smiling.

Automated MNU Instructional Voice: [in MNU Humvee] When dealing with aliens, try to be polite, but firm. And always remember that a smile is cheaper than a bullet.

(District 9)

I must, indeed, be hormonal. Not only because I am having a fight with HR about one day of leave, which I'd pre-booked before Christmas but then fell ill (and which they would not give me back) but because something upset me today, which took me by surprise.

Very often I get blamed by some active nationalists for being not Azeri enough; or for insulting Azeri girls and the whole nation for that matter. So, imagine my surprise when I, myself, get upset because of someone’s unfortunate joke.Am I getting too sensitive?

This morning, having arrived at work nice and early as usual, I started my (otherwise depressing) working day by having a Starbucks latte and glancing through Facebook updates.

A friend of ours is still working and living in Baku, and has been now for many years. I noticed a nice-looking photo on his page. He has got into photography recently; and his pictures are, indeed, quite good.

He took the photo in a well-known village in Azerbaijan. I quite liked the woman in the photo. She was looking straight into the camera, holding a tiny baby in her arms. To me, she looked like a lot of village women in Azerbaijan do, from what I remember. Someone who looks tired beyond her age, someone who looks an awful lot older than she probably is. I was touched by how much emotion there was in her eyes. The photo made me sad because I thought of the hardships of her life.  She was wearing lots of colourful layers and her hands were big and rough.

What annoyed me was the caption this guy put under the shot.

He said that he took the photo while visiting this village. The woman’s family helped him and his companions when their car broke down. Jokingly referring to the family as the natives, (which, let’s face it, was not particularly nice to start with), he then made a joke about her golden teeth. ‘I tried to get her to smile’, he said, ‘to show all her golden teeth, but she refused to. 

'Such a shame!', he added, 'As she had lots! At least 6 of them!’

After that there were a couple of comments from his friends, an expat in Baku and his Azeri wife. 

He said 'Wow, she’s hot!' 

His wife added OMG!!!! LOL!' 

Not sure it was that funny.

Maybe, I should have said nothing. But I am hormonal, you know? I can't help it, ask the HR girl. 

For some reason this discussion reminded me of District 9 I recently watched. When Wikus Van De Merwe handed an alien reproductive apparatus to his co-worker and said ‘Here, you can take that, you want to keep that, as a souvenir of your first abortion, ay.’  And they were laughing.

‘So, let me put this straight…’ I commented. ‘Some total strangers help you out with your broken car and, in return, you take the piss out of the woman's golden teeth. I wonder why she did not feel like smiling?’

It was a beautiful photograph. And maybe, because I live so far away now, this village woman and her face looked beautiful to me. I, myself, am not a big fan of golden teeth; but neither would I laugh at someone like her. My friend was very fortunate in his life. He could have been born somewhere he had no easy exit from, no options of how to grow up or what to study, no choices of whom to marry, no rights and, of course, no concept of dental hygiene.  In a separate Facebook posting, this very same friend was upset at the way a rare wild animal was treated in a pet shop in Baku. I smiled to myself. How typical of us all!  I thought. How often do we feel sorry for animals, while being completely incapable of feeling sorry for people.


  1. Here in Peru, golden teeth are very popular among poor people. It's like a touch of distinction.
    Have you read Great Gatsby`s opening quote?

  2. Hi Scary! You are actually a lot nicer than many people would think reading your writings saturated with sarcasm. [This is not meant to be an insult :)] I noticed, though sometimes you can be pretty harsh towards some people (especially the ones who criticise you :)) but I think you're also a kind of person who would stand up for whoever is being made fun of or bullied by cruel and arrogant people. I think this has got nothing to do with you being hormonal or that woman with golden teeth being an Azeri. You'd speak up in her defense regardless of who she was. You're just a big softie really and I like you lots :)

    I know, I know, you're probably thinking, 'cut the sweet words, I'm bored. Say something clever or intriguing instead'. But I'm totally conquered by your personality and talent. Basically, you rock, Scary Azeri :)

  3. @Gabriela: Maybe not, what was it?

    @Matanat: You are too kind to me, thank you. :)

  4. I think your comments about the photo (both here and on facebook) are really cool.

  5. @Shannon: Thanks, Shannon. You saw her on FB then?

  6. I saw your comment and the beautiful picture. I'm very proud of you! I'm usually the only person picking fights with people for this type of behavior.

  7. It says that before critizing someone, you have to think if that person hsd the same opportunities you had in life. Your reflections made me remember that quote.

  8. @ Gabriella: You mean, "Whenever you feel like criticizing any one," he told me, "just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had?" Personally I think Fitzgerald is arrogant. Then again, I may not be very fair, here - I hated Great Gatsby, and just about everything else that is held up as literary fiction by Western society, possibly because I feel so deeply alienated by the hopes, dreams, and values Westerners espouse.

    @ Scary: I think people are animals. And it's hard to defend the man who degrades someone who just helped him! Chushkaya svinya.

  9. @Gabriela: Thanks, I could not remember it. In fact, I think I started reading Great Gatsby and gave up soon after.

    @Mark: I know what you mean. and wow, impressed by your language skills picked up from reading the blog! :)

    @Nata: I am sending you a separate message on this. And no, you are not the only one, clearly. Ha-ha.

  10. Okay. Let me try to write this whole response in Azerbaijani :) Please forgive my mistakes in advance.

    Düz deyirsən! Siniz digər adamın heyati haqqında mühakimə etəndə, sinizdən biliksiziniz göstərirsiniz.

  11. @löki gale: I will gladly forgive you if you forgive me, since you lost me right after "Düz deyirsən!" :)))
    My Azeri clearly is a lot worse than yours!

  12. Dear Scary, I love this post.

  13. @Natalia: Thanks, appreciate it!

  14. You were not being hormonal :) You actually stood up for that poor village woman, you should be proud of yourself. Only a loser would laugh along at a cruel joke like that.

  15. Shafag Dickinson24 October 2011 at 05:21

    Once I described you as a sophisticated and sensitive person on my comments I've recetly made about Erovision contest under "anonymous". You are an abosolute delight.

    Before criticizing the photograther, I'll try to believe, maybe he didn't see the golden teeth the way we do, and to him this "golden smile" was just a part of Azeri rural culture.

  16. @Shafag: Thank you. :-) I have been called many things, never an "absolute delight" though. :)))

  17. Someone told me that the gold teeth are savings for when the person has their funeral. Apparently the teeth help with funeral expenses. Makes sense considering Azeris are so family oriented and would not want to burden who they've left behind with funeral costs.

  18. Hi APSD. Thanks for stopping by and commenting. that is true what you have heard, but i think it is no longer actual, in modern day and age. i mean, they also used to save in cash and hide it in piles of clothes at home.

  19. Your conclusion reminds me a discussion with a Kenyan volunteer here in Europe, who couldn't understand why this woman who was in the bus everyday with him wouldn't say hello- and at the same time couldn't come to grips with the concept of pets and when somebody mentionned his pet rabbits started to explain in details how to slaughter them :)