Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Please don’t tell me you are Canadian.

I have talked about national identity on this blog before, so it is not entirely a fresh topic, yet the one that matters to me. 

Just like one can choose a Facebook relationships status from all the options, my answer for "Where are you from?" question would be It’s complicated. Because, to simply say that I was from Azerbaijan would paint a somewhat deceptive picture. People would not know anything about Azeris; and if they did, it would make matters even worse, as they would try and place me in a category I don’t actually fit into, at all. Then, on top of that, if I announce that I don’t speak Azeri and my first language is Russian, they quickly assume me to be Russian, which of course, is totally incorrect, too.

After many failed attempts and explanations I have settled on a short “Azerbaijan and then the UK” answer. That usually works. Even though cannot possibly explain anything about me. Like the fact that what I personally would call home, the place I remember as a child, basically no longer exists. Try that for a cultural identity.

But that’s fine, no one actually cares.

What I am saying this for is to explain that I, out of all people, should be more accepting and tolerant and, you know, understanding of why for some of us it is a complicated issue.  But there is one type of people I find exceptionally annoying when it comes to where-are-you-from question- the type who appear to fight hard against their roots. I know it is complicated, guys. I really do. As someone who does not really fit in properly or belong anywhere in my own nation, I know exactly how you feel, trust me!

However, if you look and sound, I don’t know, Bosnian-Herzegovinian and I ask you where you come from, and you tell me you are Canadian…. Well, it is just annoying. I might say oh, ok…and move on to talk to someone else. I know you are probably technically Canadian. Or British. Or German. But, you know what I am really asking, don’t you. I am asking where your parents come from. Where you, or them, or your grandparents were born. Where you originate from. I am not really interested in your citizenship.

I ask this because I find it interesting, I am curious about your background and all that cultural shit. I want to hear a story, about where your roots are from, and how you ended up wherever you live now. Not to be told ‘Oh, I am British’.

Pl-ee-ase! So am I. I have a passport I can show you to prove it. I, just like you, come from a third world place.  I just am not embarrassed about that. In fact, I am proud of it. Because my life is a tapestry of history, places, cultures and experiences. And that should be interesting, not embarrassing. 

One of my best friend here, in Doha has a complicated answer to where she is from question. Her parents come from Azerbaijan, so long ago that it really is a different place now. They then moved to Moscow when she was a baby, so she never lived in Azerbaijan. After only fifteen years or so, she emigrated to America where she lived most of her adult life, until she got married and relocated to Qatar. So, considering that at least half of her life she spent in America, she could technically answer that she was, therefore, American. But she does not. Neither can she simply say she is Azeri, can she, since she had no experience of getting to know the country. Of course, she grew up as a small child in Russia, and she speaks Russian but that does not make her Russian. Have you managed to keep up?

Now, I appreciate that some of you were born somewhere like England, even though your parents come from Bangladesh. Of course that is somewhat different. It gives you a full right to tell me you are from that country. But I am not talking about your rights. I am talking about obvious things. So, my lovely Egyptian neighbour, please don’t just tell me you are Canadian.

Interestingly though, the I-am-British (Canadian, American) phenomenon is not as common when it comes to people who live in a non-Western country. For example, I met quite a few people here, in Qatar, who, in answer where they are from would say to me ‘I am from Jordan but I am actually Palestinian’. Or ‘I am Iranian but I was born in Qatar’. See? Easy. And nice, somehow. Just say it, please! Because, if you don’t, it makes you sound like you are trying very hard to be someone else. Like you are ashamed of who you are. That you are, in fact, a little bit racist. That you hate your own people, their race and colour, their culture or whatever else it might be, and are embarrassed to be associated with them. And again, I, out of all people, understand that you are different now from probably 99% of the population of your place of birth. You evolved into this second (or is it third?) culture person, who would never fit in if went back, who is different from another Bangladeshi who always lived in Bangladesh. I honestly understand this. Trust me. But please, tell me about your background. 

There are cases that make me cringe. Like this one Pakistani lady who announced on Facebook that people who meet her  “don’t ever believe!!! ha-ha-ha!” that she is Pakistani. Why not? Well, you look and sound pretty Pakistani to me, I wanted to point out, and yes, I know you lived in England for a very long time. Good for you. It is a lovely country. But you still are Pakistani, and that’s totally fine! You being a Pakistani does not make me respect or like you any less. Your need to renounce it on social media, however, does.  

Sunday, 1 February 2015

About one very illuminating night out.

I have recently been proven wrong. You know how a few weeks ago (or was it months?) I complained about not being able to say what you want, even with friends? Well, just as if to prove me wrong, I was myself suddenly on the other side of the barrier. Remember now, this is me we are talking about. Me, who is often rude and inappropriate, and not easily embarrassed or shocked. I was, as it turned out, delusional about that.

A few weeks ago, I was invited on a girls’ night out. To a very, and I mean very nice restaurant. By a very nice new friend. So I got dressed up and went.

There was no prelude. So I am not going to ease you into it, either.

As soon as we sat down and I got introduced to two pretty friends of my friend, they started talking about very personal things. In any woman’s life.

Like vibrators.

In the space of minutes, before the frosting had a chance to evaporate off the tall glass with my first Strawberry Mojito, I learned more about vibrators than I’d ever known in my entire life.

I stared at the pretty tall girl who was getting quite animated and excited about the latest model her husband bought for her. The Illuminator, she shouted, lights up bright green! I reached for a cigarette. ‘That’s…hmm… lovely?’ I said, hoping the conversation would move on to something else. Which it then did. But, in respect to the culture of the country we currently reside in, I am not going to go there on this blog.

Back to the toys though, the quiet girl on my right, with beautiful, albeit somewhat melancholic, eyes pointed out that to her, the best ever model is The Bullet.

You know, she said, how at times you just have absolutely NO idea what to get your friends?

Well, yes, as a matter of fact, I had one of my best friends’ birthday approaching fast, and I still had no idea of what to get her. Please, I said. Illuminate me.

Well, she said, I always get them a Bullet.

By then, I was on my second Mojito. I had to go through the first one as fast as I could, in a hope that I would get drunk quickly enough to not worry too much about the ambiance of the place, the beautiful lighting….about all those people, on a romantic date or a business dinner…People who might have brought their families visiting from abroad to a special place as a treat…people with ears.

I did laugh though. Just for a minute, I imagined the faces of my friends, any of them, really, but in particular my English friends in our peaceful suburban village just outside of London, at a birthday breakfast somewhere like The Grove, where I would suddenly announce that, not knowing what to get them, I got a vibrator.

Noticing my hysterical state, the girl waved her hands at me.

No, no, listen! I only get the best quality ones!!! Only with chrome!


Yes, she said, they have to have chrome details. They cost a lot, she said, but they are the best quality.

Right, I said. I will remember that.

By the time our food arrived, my appetite was not really there. The food, however, was delicious, and I tried not to let the topic (which by then changed to a certain act that is illegal in many countries) spoil it for me.

On the way back, my friend asked why I was unusually quiet all night. 'You okay?' She said,
'you were really not yourself tonight?'

I told her that I felt embarrassed to admit it, but the truth was, I felt uncomfortable. As if my brain was forcibly illuminated.  Simultaneously, I had a bizarre feeling that I was invited to be part of a gang of fun, cool chicks but failed pathetically. It reminded me of the time a long, long time ago, when I desperately wanted to be part of a gang of the older kids at the modern dancing group I was in. I also fancied the teacher like mad, but when one night he asked me to join them on a night out, I freaked out and did not go. I just had to admit I was not as cool as them. ( Damn it, I still look back and think WTF? I should have gone! But things often seem different in retrospective.) 

Oh, well.  You can’t help how you feel. And I felt that maybe, maybe? some things you can discuss only with very close friends and only when very drunk (And even then, I most probably would not) and not when you are in the middle of a very posh restaurant, in a very conservative society, eating very nice food.

PS Tried to Google the Bullet and found this. What can you do in 10 seconds? Chop an omelet. A “countertop magician” Hmm…Maybe she was talking about this? No. She so wasn’t.