Friday, 29 July 2011

Two very bizarre racist incidents.

A friend of mine just shared a story with me, which I feel obliged to tell you.

She had an Indian older lady help her clean and cook for a while. Once, she decided to invite an Azeri girlfriend with her new Azeri husband over for lunch. She did not know, however, that the Azeri husband felt very strongly about Indian people.

‘Wow!’ he told my friend after she had introduced him to the cook, ‘Interesting... She is not very smelly, is she?

At that point, my friend wondered whether it was the right time to tell her guest that all the delicious food on the table was prepared by the Indian cook.

But, whereas this racist comment is really not that unusual coming from an Azeri talking to another Azeri, I was quite surprised to experience openly racist views expressed by an English babushka on the street.

My mother, you see, has a very fascinating ability to get involved in bizarre conversations with complete, often very weird, strangers. Whenever I meet her at the arrivals gate at the airport, she never walks out alone. The new friends she makes vary from an Internet bride who had never travelled before and wanted us to give her a lift to the other side of the country (as her fiancĂ© never showed up) to a bunch of young Azeri lads on student visas, clearly rich on daddies’ money. She will talk to anyone and make everyone feel like they have known her for ages. So, I guess, I should not have been so surprised that, when I left her outside the local shop for a few minutes, (looking after the baby in the pram) I found her chatting happily to a very old English babushka. The babushka looked pleasant enough in her flowery pink top, with her gray hair pinned back. In Russian we would call such an old lady a Bojiy Oduvanchik, or God’s Dandelion. I.e. something innocent and fragile.

It turns out, however, that my mother managed to find a very outspoken racist in the middle of our village. As we walked away, she explained that the babushka was telling my mother how England was not the same anymore. ‘All these foreigners arriving..’.(Hmm...This is true, actually.) She wanted to know where my mother’s accent was from, and why she was here at all.

But, she added, patting my mother on the arm, ‘at least you are white.’

Honestly, I said. 'How on earth did you manage to get into this discussion outside Budgens?!!' I have been living in this country for 11 years and never got into such bizarre situation.'

’Really...We only talked about which plants to buy this time of year’ mother replied.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Sunday lunch.

I have finally set the date for my Azeri friends to visit us. 

Having had most of my local friends stopping by for weeks already to cuddle the new baby, I am yet to host a proper Azeri lunch for my Azeri friends. There are a few reasons they have not seen the baby yet. First of all, I was technically allowed not to invite anyone for the first 40 days. (very grateful for this rule!) 

Second of all, I would have to prepare enough Azeri dishes to feed an army. Considering that the baby is still relatively new, the nights are still disturbed, and I am secretly hoping nobody expects the dishes to be that impressive.

However, this azeriness becomes a huge issue for all of us when it comes to friendship and seeing each other.

A while ago, a bunch of Azeri girlfriends living in London decided to get together and make it into a regular thing. I have to confess, it started with me. It was my fault. I decided it would be a good idea to gather us together in a form known as devichnik- a girls only get-together.  Of course, it being a devichnik, I thought it was appropriate for everyone to bring a dish. About seven of us sat around the table and laughed and ate and drunk and had a great time.  I thought it went really well.

In a couple of months, following an unspoken etiquette, another one of the seven girls kindly invited us back to her place. However, being a proper Azeri, she cooked beautiful dishes- all by herself. She made a delicious plov, a chicken Levengi and tasty salads. It was very generous of her, and everything was incredibly tasty... However, it took a long time before one other girl dared to invite everyone back. It was difficult to beat the previous spread, you see, but she tried and succeeded. She served even more starters, even more impressive selection of meats and two hot dishes. I guess not surprisingly, nobody else took turn after that. I mean, the girl served roasted pheasants, for goodness sake! After we’d had plov and Georgian Satsivi chicken. 

So, I guess I should not have been that surprised when none of the other girls invited us all back. The idea of getting together on the regular basis at somebody’s place got quickly replaced by ‘oh, shall we meet up for a movie?’ and then simply died altogether. Because neither myself, nor the other two mugs were happy to continue serving frigging pheasants, or any other extravagant birds for that matter, to the rest of the group when they were not reciprocating.  I personally have a huge issue with people not reciprocating. That is a separate topic altogether and one of the very early ones on this blog. But, in this case, it is understandable that the other girls felt intimidated by the roasted pheasants. It stopped being a fun party of a few girlfriends getting together for a glass of vino and some gossip; and became a competitive Azeri food making festival.  

So why am I telling you all this...Well, I have to think of the menu now, in preparation of my Azeri friends’ visit in a week’s time. I need the food to be tasty and plentiful, yet I don’t want to go mental. This is not an Azeri wedding I am hosting, but a Sunday lunch with a few friends. I want them to enjoy themselves, and yet... not feel like they have to cook days in advance next time they want to see me. Really, I just want to see them and share some food and drink with them. So, maybe pizza?

Saturday, 9 July 2011

A friend for a reason

We went to a fantastic party the other day-a good friend’s 50th birthday. During her speech, his wife mentioned the well-known saying: a friend for a reason, a friend for a season...and a friend for lifetime. 

I have been thinking how difficult it is to create new friendships when you are at this stage of life. When you are young and single, it is a lot simpler. You meet someone you like, you hang out, you get either work together, or study or live nearby...and you just sort of grow up together. You forgive each other’s mistakes and imperfections.You either grow apart, or become friends for a lifetime.

But when you are older, things get more complicated.

There are, as I noticed, a few situations when friendships that potentially should or could develop, simply die down into polite nothingness.  Because, it is not just you anymore, who enters a new friendship. It is the families, too.

So, let’s look at a few hmm...hypothetical scenarios. 

Scenario A. Husbands.
You meet a girl and you get along beautifully. Your children get along. You think your husbands should be introduced, too. In your mind you see a perfect picture of endless weekends over BBQ with husbands laughing merrily with beers in their hands, and children rolling on the freshly mowed grass... But...husbands think differently. You spend time and effort investing into a relationship you hope would grow. You cook lovely dinners and invite the new friends over. Husbands however, don’t feel obliged to like each other. They discuss politics, religion or something else potentially catastrophic... and you never get invited back.

Scenario B.  Children.
You meet a girl. She is so much fun! You get husbands together. Wow, check it out! They are laughing! They are happy, too. They discussed politics and religion and –wow!-they still get along! You think you finally found some cool friends you both like and can enjoy spending time with. But there is one ti-ny problem. Their child is possessed.
Every time he comes to your house he spoils the day by behaving atrociously.  You think you should probably be nice to him because oh, the parents are so lovely! But the overwhelming desire to smother him does not go away. You want to see your friends but can’t face the devil child in your home.  Again, just like in the previous scenario, it hurts, as you had already invested time, money and effort into this new friendship. You realize how rare it is that not only you, but your husbands enjoy each other’s company, too. But....

Scenario C. They are no longer together.
You like the girl. Your husbands get along. The children are of similar age and get along fine, too. Everything seems to be honkey dorey. Suddenly, they don’t seem to like each other. What do you do? Do you see them separately? What if you are having a party? Do you invite them both? Or just one of them? Too complicated!

And so I wonder if any new friendships we attempt to build when married with kids can be based on a simple liking of another person. Gone are the days of any simple relationships with friends. As you become a mother and a wife, your new friends are those whose husbands get along with yours, whose kids are in the same class as yours, and whose views on politics and economics are similar to yours. And that is besides all those important people you have to be friends with: for a reason. Like husband’s business partners or bosses and their wives.  

I wonder, looking at my own circle of friends these days, just how many of them are friends for a reason, which ones are friends for a season...and if any of them could be friends for a lifetime. And when I turn 50 and have a party, who would I like to see when I look around the room?