A typical British play date. Azeri style.

A friend called me the other day to discuss a delicate situation. 

'Look' she said 'This English mother from my son’s school is asking for him to go back to their house after school. For play and tea. Without me...'

‘Of course without you’, I told her. ‘It is totally normal. He is a big boy now, and play dates come along once a child starts school. The happy days are here! Enjoy your freedom and don’t worry! ‘

But she was worried. Her son had never been anywhere without his parents. Who is going to help him wash his hands, who is going to ensure he eats enough and who would help him if he needed toilet? 

We spoke at length, and decided it was not a big problem after all.  

Suddenly, she called me again last night, distraught.  Her (Azeri) husband, she said, was not impressed. 

‘My son is not going visiting some people we don’t know without parents like some Jindir’ ( Jindir is a very commonly used word in Azeri, meaning someone unkempt, unlooked after and basically with no money; or I presume, in this case, parents)

‘Let's invite them all to our house for some proper dinner!' he suggested.

 ‘No, no, no!’ I interrupted. ‘You don’t want to do that!’

‘I know...’ my friend sighed. ‘I explained to him that it was quite normal and it was just a play date...But he was adamant. ‘

In the end, after hours of negotiations and convincing, my Azeri friend decided it was possibly OK for his son to go to someone’s house for a play date. But, he said, on one condition.

‘My son is not going to visit someone like a Jindir. He has to take something with him.’

That was the only way he’d let him go, my friend laughed. 

So what did boy take with him to a play date, you might ask? 

Well, this, my friends, is the interesting part. He took a box of nice chocolates.   

And a bottle of expensive cognac.

I have to say, I would love to know what the English mother thought when she saw that her 4-year old son’s play mate showed up with a box of chocolates and a bottle of brandy. I wonder if inviting the whole family over for a huge Azeri dinner with plov and 15 elaborate starters would have been a less hmmmm.....unusual gesture? Who knows. 

The story made me laugh, but also made me think of many people I know, who managed to remain just the way there were back home, even after having lived in this country for years. It made me wonder how it was possible. It also made me think just how difficult it must be to build a home in this country without assimilating in the culture. On one hand, I can understand why some immigrants would try to keep their individuality and cultural values. That is what helps them to hold on to who they are, who they were and what they don’t have any more. But, building a life in this country, and most importantly, raising children who will belong here (no matter what we, as parents, might do to stop them) requires a desire to accept things the way they are done locally; and an understanding that one day, some things just have to give. Like the notion of jindir.


  1. I don't know. Trying to get my husband not to provide a buffet fit for the 5,000 is someone pops in for a cup of tea and a biscuit is something I suspect I will never be able to do.

    On the other hand, I expect he will take to the idea of freetime play dates quite well.

  2. There is a saying in Spanish: a donde fueres, haz lo que vieres. Something as: wherever you go, do as you see.
    Easier to be said than to be done. I thought of that while reading your post. I think I've told you before I have the greatest respects for those who leave their homelands behind and decide to live away. It has to be so hard to get used to each and every detail... but you know about that much more than me, right?

  3. I can understand his desire to get to know the parents before allowing his son to go to their homes but never will understand the choice of gifts :)

    By the way are they, meaning both English and Azeri, family rich or poor? What I dislike the most about English, especially the ones whom I wouldn't allow to play with my dog, that they are better than the immigrants. I hate those more than an immigrant who doesn't care to learn about his/her new home country.

  4. @Solnushka:

    -Stay for some pelmeni!
    -But I only dropped by to give you this party invite...I have to go now..
    -Net! You must eat pelmeni! :)))

    @Gabriela: For some people it is harder to assimilate. It probably depends on a number of factors, where you work, who you are married to, etc. How many local friends you have is a huge factor. But what matters is what makes one comfortable in their environment, I guess? whatever they decide to do.

    @Anonymous: I have to say, I have not really met that many obviously foreigner-hating locals.Maybe because there are so many foreigners in and around London that those people would struggle, being a minority! :)
    The families are not poor. They both attend a private school, and my friends know her as well as you would know another parent in a small private school class.

  5. i think for those who come from different culture/countries is hard to change the style of their life completely and get adopted to local rules/social behaviour. when we visit someone's house even the closest friends' we always bring something with us like some sweets or spirits or toys,or flowers etc, not necessarily expensive. it can be something very small, cheap. the whole idea is not to enter the house with "empty hands".wherease the locals have different attitude. they come to your house with bottle of water which they drink in the train or car while travelling to your house. i don't understand this at all. i understand that i don't need the extra box of chocs yet i would expect them to hand me something. the other thing is cards. we are only now getting used to sending thank you cards, christmas cards, get well cards, sorry cards etc. in our culture cards are not popular at all except wedding invitations cards.

  6. @Anonymous: I think coming for dinner empty-handed is kind of rude in almost ANY culture. I can assure you that locals (I am talking about the UK here of course) know that pretty well, too! My local friends normally bring something if I invite them for dinner, but I would not expect them to bring me anything if it is just a play date, even if a mother comes along and stays for a "cuppa". We have too many casual play dates to follow this ritual.
    Yes, I wrote about the whole cards frenzy on the blog a little while ago. :) This country is crazy about cards!!! My child was upset this year that she did not get to send thank you cards to all her friends. I sent an electronic one with their photos from the party. Cheating, yes. But I played my pregnancy card! :)

  7. @ Anonymous: We often entertain guests, and though I do like it when people carry something in to share with everyone there, like a game or a snack, I'd feel awkward accepting a gift at the door.

    One thing that may help to make it understandable is that Westerners aren't concerned with saving face. We just don't worry about looking like we don't have money, because we assume that everyone has it.

    Even more, though, I think Westerners are lonely. Westerners don't hold on to family or friends; they don't try to get along with people who might have different interests, opinions, or goals. This means that the constant and even smothering presence of other people is missing from Western life. So when we invite someone to see us, we're happy just that they come.

    @ Scary: I feel sorry for you living in Britain and sending people cards to congratulate them on a successful trip to the grocery store. You talk about valuing honesty in words because you grew up in times when nobody spoke the truth, but really, how honest can people be in cards they send out of obligation?

  8. @Mark: You say westerners are lonely but the reasons you present make it sound like they just don't really care. Lonely people try harder. In fact, this lack of interest to get along with family or friends, and make any effort, shows lack of any concern of becoming lonely,if it makes sense. Also, I don't agree that bringing a bottle of vino to a dinner party is a concept unknown to the Western world?

    As for cards...I think a lot of it is a tradition, really. And I am sure some people enjoy getting/sending them. I think wedding, new baby and christmas cards are kind of cute. Thank you cards are just stupid and annoy me.

  9. @ Scary: I'm really a terrible example of a Westerner - I'm pretty attached to the idea of extended family. If you say most Westerners aren't lonely, you may have a better sense of it than I do. Still, I look at the desperation of my mother-in-law at having her daughter move away, or the needy relationship patterns of young men and women who trail desperately after a crush who doesn't even have a compatible sexual orientation, and I wonder - do people from Tonga, Venezuela, or Azerbaijan act that way? Or is it just that Westerners are nuts?

    About the tradition of giving cards, I think they're far overboard even in the US. I do realize that sometimes, traditions can make it acceptable to do things which, under ordinary circumstances, wouldn't be culturally acceptable. For example, Brits and Americans aren't comfortable with touching, so mistletoe at Christmas provides a pretext for giving even a complete stranger a kiss.

    But when traditions are firmly embedded in expectation, it's very easy for them to become hollow, and to supersede the people who carry them on. When people say "How are you," but don't want to hear the answer, I feel as though I'm totally overlooked, rated as lower in importance than the need to utter a few words. It's the same way with an insincere card. Straight into the garbage, thanks!

  10. @Mark

    Agree,yes. Only, I don't want you to think that Azeri people in their majority (or any other non-Western people) are immediately more sincere just because there are not as many superficial greetings or traditions imbedded in the society.

    The kisses and hugs can be very fake; and your neighbours’ kind smiles can mean they gossip about you behind your back until your ears turn red as we say. :) Every culture has pleasant people to hang out with, it just takes time to filter through them and try to find "your" type. :)

  11. LOL :)4 year old at the door with a bottle of brandy. I think it's illegal in at least 48 states (not sure about Texas & Alaska). :):)

  12. @Scari. I assume you are familiar with Father Ted's housekeeper? That's my mother in law.

    Oh dear. I quite like thank you cards. But only for Christmas and birthdays, and from kids. And Christmas cards. To everybody! Still, I reckon I am allowed my cultural quirk too.

  13. Playdates are fine. Brandy part is a stupid show off. Me and my husband decided we won't be doing sleepovers. Our daughter was very keen as she gets lots of invitations and all her kindergarten friends do it regularly. But, honestly, I can assimilate to a certain extent. I have my own roots after all, and those roots tell everybody sleep under the same roof. If I had a few dinners with you, it does not mean I know you.


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