Saturday, January 10, 2009


Everyone is curious about what Azeri people are really like. If someone asked me what Americans are like, I would say they are all different. But we do have some things that are true for many of us. Some of these things are that we like to dress casually when we are away from work, it is acceptable to eat and drink in our cars, many people outside of urban centers have cars, married couples tend not to live with other relatives, we have many different religions.

So I will tell you a few things that are true for many Azeris, but not all. I have found these things true in the three large cities I have visited and lived in. My Azeri friends say they are true for many Azeris.

To Azeri people, there is apparently no nosy question. Age, marital status, income, how much any article you own cost to buy, why you do or do not have children, what is the reason for marital discord of anyone in your family--all of this seems to be in the public domain in Azerbaijan. At first, I thought they were just curious about Americans--but Azeris ask each other these questions too and expect answers. I am frequently asked if my teeth are real. A friend is asked if she is concerned about her weight.

When I show pictures of my children, they want to know how much Dave's salary is in the miltary, when he will marry, if he would marry an Azeri woman, how much his apartment costs per month and how much money he has saved.

For Kelly, they want to know why she is not married, how much her school costs, will she consider marrying an Azeri man, if she would marry their son, where does she live and why would I allow her to live there.

They ask in a friendly way and then everyone marvels at the answer and tells me all their personal business and that of their family. Most of it I don't understand, but I see patterns of mothers-in-law interfering in marriages, problems when men go to Russia to find employment (one statistic is that one in eight Azeri families has a breadwinner in Russia due to the shortage of jobs here), problems in finding a suitable marital partner for their children (the family assists in finding a proper partner) and pride in the educational accomplishments of their family members.

Young Azeris are rarely overweight. They tend to be quite slender. Women tend to put on weight as they age and men do too, although not as much. They rarely play sports, but eat smaller portions of food, do not usually eat between meals, drink a lot of tea and do not walk around drinking and eating things, nor do they snack on buses or in cars. It seems to me that drinking soda and fruit drinks instead of water is a big source of calories for Americans. Since Azeris drink tea, which has no calories and drink much less soda and calorie laden drinks than we do, they probably consume many fewer calories than we do in drinks. While they eat cheese and meat, the amount is much less than Americans eat.

Many Azeris speak Russian. It is taught in school as a track. In many Azeri schools, parents can choose for their children to study Azeri, Russian or English. Many parents choose Russian and the great majority of Azeris are bilingual in at least one other language. Many parents prrefer their children to learn Russian since it is likely to be used and understood by other Azeris and in case they would want to work there.

Most Azeris do not read for pleasure. As there are only 8 million people in the country, relatively few books are published in the Azeri language. Russian books exist, but books are considered expensive. Newspapers exist at a few newstands, but I have never seen an Azeri home with a newspaper inside and have never seen a Azeri person actually reading a newspaper. The habit of reading outside of school seems to be missing here. It may be different with wealthier Azeris, but I have not met any of them.

I was looking for a few books for young children so I could read them as part of my language training, but did not find any. I met a woman who is the head of the languages department at a university in my city. I asked her if there was a public library. She said she thought there was one, but she was not sure where it was located.

Overall, Azeri people I have met are very friendly and kind with good hearts. They share whatever they have with me and assume the best.