Are you sweltering in the heat somewhere in the tropics or the northern hemisphere? This photo below of the town of Yerevan, capital of Armenia, taken in the dead of winter, should cool you down. I’m now living in Moldova, baking in the summer heat, but some years ago I started a new expat life in Armenia, arriving in the middle of an arctic January.
Wintry Yerevan. Photo © Manan Tevosyan used by permission
My second day in my new habitat I had my first adventure: I got swindled. Here’s the story (a repost). May it cool you down.
GETTING SHEARED IN ARMENIA
I’ve been in the Armenia less than two days. Yesterday someone from my husband’s new office took me house hunting, and this morning someone else took me around to show me where to do the shopping. Now it’s afternoon and while my man labors away at his new office, I’m scouting around town on my own to see what I can see, walking very carefully in my new boots, shivering in my also-new down-filled coat. It is so cold, so cold. I’m not in this photo taken by my (later to be) friend G. Peterson, but I might as well be.
The ice-covered sidewalks are treacherous, the buildings grim and gray, and why is everyone dressed in black? I asked one of the office girls this question and she gave me a blank stare for a moment, as if she had never noticed or thought about it. “Because we like it,” she said finally. “Black is our national color.”
Not surprisingly, one of the other things I notice is Armenian words everywhere, on road signs and billboards and shop windows. Written in the Armenian alphabet, which is unique and indecipherable. There is no way to even make educated guesses.
Yerevan Cheese Shop Photo © Deb Collins used by permission
Growing up European, you learn a couple of languages here and there, and usually you can fake your way around the continent, but not here. Not only the alphabet, but the Armenian language itself is unique, not related to any other languages in the universe. I see Russian on signs and buildings as well (Russian was the official language in Soviet times), but that doesn’t do me much good either.
So, I am not a little bit ecstatic when in the center of town near Independence Square I spot the English words hair saloon on a sign with an arrow pointing into a courtyard. This gives me great hope for an English speaker inside. And because I really do need a haircut and because maybe it’s warm inside, I’m thinking I might as well give this a try. I find the “saloon” and push open the door.
Illusions are there to be shattered. It’s only just above freezing inside the tiny space and none of the three girls (wearing serious party make-up) speaks English. With no other clients there to help, they try Armenian on me, and then Russian. Then they give up. I’ve never felt such an illiterate in my life. But next week I still won’t speak either language and hey, a haircut is not rocket science. I indicate a couple of centimeters, about an inch, between my thumb and index finger and the fake blonde goes for it while keeping up a running conversation with her buddies shivering in their shabby fur coats. I don’t want to sound paranoid, but I suspect they’re discussing me by the way they’re checking me out — my funny light-colored coat, my inelegant flat-soled boots. All three are wearing boots with 4-inch spiky heels.
Some time later my stylist is finished with me and I look really interesting.
What I meant when I indicated the inch or so was to have that much hair cut off, not to have that much left. And just in case you didn’t know this, hair keeps your head warm, if you have it.
My stylist writes down the amount I owe her, in standard numerals, thank God, and I pay it. It’s only three times as much as I should have been charged, or so someone tells me the next day. My sincere hope is that these shivering girls get enough suckers like me to be able to save up for a functioning space heater.
NOTE: Living the expat life, you know you get suckered at times. It’s part of the deal, part of the price you pay for living such an exotic life (I hear you laugh). Sometimes it makes you furious, sometimes it doesn’t and sometimes it even makes you laugh. I’ve found that laughing works best.
* * *
As an innocent abroad, or an experienced expat, have you ever been cheated but you didn’t really mind? Please share your tale and make my day!