Here I am, honored to write a post on the first day of our schedule, and the first from our Kazakhstani delegation, so with a little shiver, I just want to share with you some of my observations concerning an appropriate behaviour, especially the peculiar way in which women and men interact here, in Baku, Azerbaijan. Therefore, my post will somehow continue the story that started during our flight to Baku.
Straight from the beginning i would like to notice that Azerbaijani people are hospitable by nature. I learnt it by the very first day living in my host family, who deserve a separate post, or a book, or even a collection of volumes! My host, her mom and I can spend the whole evening joking around. So I love them a lot! Nevertheless, hospitality was something I expected from a Caucasian, former soviet republic. A more difficult task appeared to find out expectations that people assess to their guests here, than to find out what should a tourist expect from the people and the country itself.
As a humanist and international relations student, I tried to approach my experience with tolerance. Frankly speaking, it was an easy task most of the time. The first couple of days I did not really observe anything special. Probably, I was exited with surrounding beauty of architecture and desperately tried to remember my way home, to the office and some other key venues. However, after the first time walking alone and paying attention to the world around, I found out that the world pays much more attention to me. Let me explain this. People here are very curious in general, and particularly males of all ages. They ask your biography in detail. Taxi drivers want to know where did you come, and when you leave, who did you come with and who did you meet here. Do not be afraid of these questionaries:) As I think, they just want to have a good conversation to while the time away.
Staring is another thing. Even though there are two million inhabitants in the city, there are not so many foreign tourists in the city. Therefore, you will experience staring a lot, especially if you look exotic to the place. I know that from other guys in our group. From my own experience, people stared at me, when i was wearing something short. During the first week here, I was trying to palpate the limits of my behavior in all and every activity, including the way I look, so that every time I dressed and walked out for a whole day, it felt like walking on a knife with a razor-sharp edge. Not only I could not adjust to the style that local women prefer, but also to the way they speak in public, behave in public transport and so on.This was even more humiliating, as many say i look local. Therefore sometimes it felt like I discredit the whole nation. That’s why now I try to wear something in a more modest style, and by this i become more and more local from my appearance.
As to general behavior, Azerbaijani mentality is somewhere in between shia muslim identity and appreciation of progress, education and science. Personally, I admire the way in which the nation balance between these. It introduces a promising future in terms of diplomatic interactions with other countries in all directions. However this post is not about politics of a state, but about politics of the society. An important part of this politics are the relationship between the genders. Here you should not be surprised if men will give you a seat in public transport, particularly in metro. Moreover, you should take a sit as a sign of respect. You can also experience men pouring tea for you, which is one of the very key things to appreciate and enjoy. Additionally, males prefer to pay for girls that they accompany, and protect their every step. They will show you a way to WC, and wait, so that no one will steal you will on your way to your cafe table. Just joking:) this is just another gentlemen’s trick.
There are some expectations that you should meet, if you want to feel more comfortable. Drinking in public places is prohibited, and for women it is associated with a social stigma, as well as smoking. This makes local girls conceal such activities in more expensive places. This attitude is on demise, but still has some negative underpinning in itself.
In sum, from a positive side, this habit of looking at the people around makes you feel an interesting alien to others, makes you feel the hospitality and openness of the place. From another side, this curiosity may sometimes become overwhelming, touching upon private side of your life, i.e. your religion, habits, and political views.
16 July 2015
Therefore, even if you feel at home, you should always remember that you are a guest. Take the benefit of diving into another culture, explore yourself, and learn to tolerate.