EXPAT LIFE: BUYING THE CAR OF YOUR DREAMS

by missfootloose on January 9, 2010 · 13 comments

in Armenia, Expat life, shopping

Most expats and travelers find Armenia a beautiful mountainous country abundant in lovely wildflowers and glorious fruit during spring and summer.

However, try arriving in the middle of an arctic Armenian winter and you’ll find that this is not the best way to start a new expatriate experience, especially not when you’ve just come from a cheery tropical country. This happened to me and my man some years ago and you can read all about that in EXPAT LAMENT, one of my earlier posts. I look back at this experience with pride because we were tough! Cold, but tough, and full of good intentions too! Like, we were not going to buy a car! Really!

We’d found a house in town – that being Yerevan, the capital – and we’d decided to try to manage without a vehicle, do more walking and live an urban life style. We could use taxis when necessary and rent or borrow a car if we wanted to explore the countryside. We would be responsible global citizens and not add unnecessarily to the air pollution and the size of the hole in the ozone layer. I’m sure, dear reader, you’re impressed. Unfortunately, we were weak. And cold. Did I mention we were cold? Here’s the story:

THE GLORIES OF A RUSSIAN CAR

For weeks now my mate and I have been stoically hoofing it most everywhere in Yerevan. We even do our food shopping on foot, which is a drag. Cabbages and beets are heavy. It’s frigid inside the covered, unheated produce market, and the uncleared, icy sidewalks are especially designed for slipping and falling. My hands are frozen stiff around the shopping bag handles. My nose is growing icicles. My toes are numb. Schlepping around my heavy bags, I’m feeling more and more like a mule in a down coat. This is not good for my self-esteem.

We want a car.

Our neighbor, Canadian Nancy, has a car, sort of, and we’ve ridden in it. It’s a Russian-made Lada, Niva model. It looks cheap and basic because it is cheap and basic. Standard transmission, no air-conditioning, no suspension to speak of. Only five thousand five hundred US dollars, cash, for a brand-new model. Everything on the car that counts is solid as a tank, everything else is crap. There are lots of these cars all over the place. All white.
“Buy a Niva,” Nancy counsels. “It’s got four-wheel drive, it’s high so you can drive all over these mountains with it and everybody and his dog can fix it when something breaks.”

My man is seriously interested in this Niva. He loves to roam the countryside wherever we live or travel and he’s a practical sort. He wants a car that can conquer rocky mule tracks, a car any peasant can fix. Besides, in a Niva, we’ll be invisible, and we like that. If you drive a Mercedes Benz you are not. Armenia is a country where status and image are supremely valued. So if you belong to the elite and/or have money and you want to make sure everybody knows it, you drive a Benz. When you drive a Niva, nobody will look at you because you have no class. You’re just a working stiff in a cheap car. This works for us.

We go to the Niva dealer where we find a spiffy young salesman who speaks a bit of English. He does a masterful job of selling. My mate test-drives the car while the salesman sits in the front passenger seat singing the Niva’s praises, waxing lyrical about how good it is, how strong, how wonderful this Russian car. I’m in the back seat enjoying his spiel. He has a great future ahead of him in the new capitalist Armenia because he has clearly embraced the philosophy of the consumer society. He’s going to sell this boxy little car to us if it’s the last thing he does.

Back at the dealership we crawl out and my spouse asks him to show us how to flatten the back seat so we can transport larger items if necessary. Our helpful salesman tries, but the handle is stuck and the backrest won’t budge. He tries a little harder and the handle breaks off. He looks up at us and shrugs.

“Russian car,” he says philosophically.

Not to worry. It’s easily fixed and we buy the car. We drive it for six years with only minor issues. We bounce around all over the Armenian mountains, on potholed roads, stony goat tracks and even up a couple of rocky stream beds. We sell it for a thousand dollars less than we paid for it. It pays to have no class.

* * *
Do you have any car stories? Or maybe your transport is a rowing boat on a jungle river, or a camel in the desert. Or maybe you have a single engine plane to get you out of the bush! Do tell!

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{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Mara January 10, 2010 at 10:34 am

Financial problems have made me decide to sell my car. And even though my problems are now over, I’ve realised that I only really need the car about once every month and it’s not worth the money to keep one all month long!

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Lauri January 10, 2010 at 5:51 pm

I actually like the look of that boxy little car!

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Miss Footloose January 10, 2010 at 6:59 pm

@ Jayne, read your story: You and your car have a real history.

@ Mara, yes, cars are expensive to buy and keep, more so in Europe than the US, so it’s great if you can do without!

@ Laurie, we liked it too! It’s actually the only car we ever bought new. We always go for the used ones and have had great success with them. I’ve also never cared what a car looks like or what brand it is. Just so it takes me where I want to go!

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Jungle Mom January 10, 2010 at 9:13 pm

“Do you have any car stories? Or maybe your transport is a rowing boat on a jungle river, or a camel in the desert. Or maybe you have a single engine plane to get you out of the bush!”
YES to all of the above.
Once our car Land Rover got stuck hanging on to a barge meant to carry us across the river. As the barge pulled out, the back of our car began to fill with water. I began throwing things up to my husband to save them from the water. Things like small children and then the video recorder case (large and heavy back in the day!) which hit him in the back of the head.
We managed to get the car up on the barge and we all are still alive and kicking!

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Aledys Ver January 11, 2010 at 7:59 am

Charming story! THe guy went from singing praises, overflowing with words to a laconic “Russian car” :o)

I don’t drive here in NL but I still have my car back in Argentina (where I come from). Every year when we go there for our holiday, we make between 3 and 4 thousand km in it and every time, when we leave, we decide that next year we’ll change it. But next year comes and we’re still driving in it – through the pampas to the south, the Andes to the nortwest, in the marshes of the northeast – and it keeps going! We simply love the little guy!

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Aledys Ver January 11, 2010 at 7:59 am

Charming story! THe guy went from singing praises, overflowing with words to a laconic “Russian car” :o)

I don’t drive here in NL but I still have my car back in Argentina (where I come from). Every year when we go there for our holiday, we make between 3 and 4 thousand km in it and every time, when we leave, we decide that next year we’ll change it. But next year comes and we’re still driving in it – through the pampas to the south, the Andes to the nortwest, in the marshes of the northeast – and it keeps going! We simply love the little guy!

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Anna Yeritsyan January 12, 2010 at 2:53 pm

The story was hilarious – everybody in our family enjoyed it. We have one even uglier looking Russian car back in Armenia, that was made way in 1989 – and it is the best car for Armenian roads. We can’t throw it until it is broken, and it does not brake. So we still keep dreaming about a new foreign made car.

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LadyFi January 12, 2010 at 3:24 pm

Lovely story! My first car was a tin can – a little Nissan of the old old variety. But by god, it survived the cold, ice and crashes!

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Mary Witzl January 12, 2010 at 3:36 pm

We have a horrid old Toyota, retired from many years of service in Japan. We bought it for too much money and on our way back from Nicosia, it broke down as we were driving through a mountain pass. We were told that the engine had developed a crack which was probably there when we bought it. We are not happy with this car, especially when we had to buy it a brand new engine.

The guy that came to tow us had a car that seemed in almost worst shape. We had to ride home sitting on each others’ laps and we were genuinely worried the car wouldn’t make it through the mountains; it was belching black smoke inside and out.

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♥ Braja January 12, 2010 at 6:22 pm

Yep, my transport IS a rowboat on the Ganges :))

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Miss Footloose January 16, 2010 at 3:33 am

Great fun to read all your car stories!

@ Jungle Mom, you came through again! I knew you would and I was thinking of you when I wrote that bit about a boat on a jungle river ;)
Thanks for the links — I’ll check them out this weekend. I know I’ll enjoy them.

@ Aledys Ver, in Holland it is possible to manage without a car. Have you taken to the bike yet? Wish I were with you when cruising all over Argentina in your car there. Sounds great!

@ Anna Y: I think I’ve seen your old Russian car in Armenia ;)

@ Lady Fi, I think we should all go back to little old tin cans! Well, maybe not, but the memories are good.

@ Mary Witzl, yours is one of those stories that is so much better once it is all over and done with! No more trouble I hope!

@ Braja! A boat on the Ganges! Not too many can say that!

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