By SCARY AZERI
I was driving to the gym one sunny suburban day: shades on, radio tuned to my favourite channel. Apparently I ignored a local British friend, who frantically waved to get my attention.
“In your ignorant Russian style,” she mocked me later. “You did not even smile or wave!”
Never mind the Russian bit. I have given up explaining that not all ex-Soviets are Russian. But I know precisely what she meant.
I always recognize Eastern Europeans by our stern facial expression.
After two years in the UK, every time I go back to Baku taxi drivers immediately recognize a foreigner in me. The clue must be my overall body language, and the more open expression I have picked up here — because in this country I’ve had to learn to smile a lot more.
Bored or polite or I-am-just-about-to-kill-you, Western women are ready to smile. Bump into each other’s shopping trolleys — smile. Smile to waiters and shop assistants, bin men and joggers. Wave and smile to passing cars and adolescent girls on horses who block the road and ride ever so slowly.
However, back home in Azerbaijan a friendly smile is an invitation for casual sex, as far as Azeri males are concerned. So if you are a decent girl you cannot smile to a taxi driver or a waiter. In fact, the more rude and arrogant you appear the more respect you will get.
So ex-Soviets like me are not being rude. It is simply a defence mechanism we had to develop to avoid being constantly harassed.
What does your cultural body language say about you — where you’re from, and where you are now?
Scary Azeri is a blogger from an ex-Soviet Muslim republic, uprooted to live in a posh suburb in the UK.