Smile, you’re in the West

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in identity,origin,self-image,society

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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?

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Scary Azeri is a blogger from an ex-Soviet Muslim republic, uprooted to live in a posh suburb in the UK.
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  • http://twitter.com/DutchessAbroad Judith van Praag

    Scary Azeri, Last week I was reminded of your blog post. I gave an architectural tour of the Central Seattle Public Library designed by OMA/ LMN to the staff members of an architectural firm. It usually takes people about ten minutes to get into what I'm telling and pointing out. Right around the time that some may fear there's going to be too much to take in I present them with a comic relief and from there on getting them to follow me literally and figuratively is a breeze. But this time there was one woman who didn't smile, not once, not even a hint. At some point we were standing in front of the elevators and we started talking. She seemed engaged by what I said, but didn't show it, at least not in a way that was recognizable to me. Guess where she was from?

  • http://www.wondermentwoman.com Elmira

    Love this piece!
    .-= Elmira’s latest blog ..On poverty alleviation: stop the entrepreneurial madness =-.

  • http://www.wondermentwoman.com Elmira

    Love this piece!
    .-= Elmira’s latest blog ..On poverty alleviation: stop the entrepreneurial madness =-.

  • http://www.lifeintheexpatlane.blogspot.com Miss Footloose

    Anastasia,

    Sorry, I missed it! Thanks for the link. It was a fun piece to write.
    .-= Miss Footloose’s latest blog ..EXPAT ADVENTURE: BED TIME STORIES, SOME SCARY =-.

  • http://www.lifeintheexpatlane.blogspot.com Miss Footloose

    Anastasia,

    Sorry, I missed it! Thanks for the link. It was a fun piece to write.
    .-= Miss Footloose’s latest blog ..EXPAT ADVENTURE: BED TIME STORIES, SOME SCARY =-.

  • http://www.lifeintheexpatlane.blogspot.com Miss Footloose

    This was so much fun to read! I hail from the Netherlands and lived in Armenia for six years, Armenia also being a former Soviet Republic like Azerbajan. The non-smiling culture drove me nuts, so I decided one day I was going to smile some more in the streets (okay at the women not the men)and received some interesting reactions. I wrote a story about it (it’s the sort of thing I do because I’m a writer) and you can find it here if you are interested:

    http://lifeintheexpatlane.blogspot.com/2010/02/expat-confusion-to-smile-or-not-to.html
    .-= Miss Footloose’s latest blog ..EXPAT ADVENTURE: BED TIME STORIES, SOME SCARY =-.

    • http://anastasiaashman.wordpress.com/about/ Anastasia

      :-) Karen, we link to your post in the piece…!

  • http://www.lifeintheexpatlane.blogspot.com Miss Footloose

    This was so much fun to read! I hail from the Netherlands and lived in Armenia for six years, Armenia also being a former Soviet Republic like Azerbajan. The non-smiling culture drove me nuts, so I decided one day I was going to smile some more in the streets (okay at the women not the men)and received some interesting reactions. I wrote a story about it (it’s the sort of thing I do because I’m a writer) and you can find it here if you are interested:

    http://lifeintheexpatlane.blogspot.com/2010/02/expat-confusion-to-smile-or-not-to.html
    .-= Miss Footloose’s latest blog ..EXPAT ADVENTURE: BED TIME STORIES, SOME SCARY =-.

    • http://www.expatharem.com/identity-messages/ Anastasia

      :-) Karen, we link to your post in the piece…!

  • http://www.Sezin.org Sezin

    What a great post!

    As for me, I’m sort of known for my very big smile and it takes a lot of effort for me to match the stern expressions of the miserable, wizened faces of the Czechs with whom I live. On the flip side, I think my internal dialogue has become far more textured now that I wear this “iron” face, and I also use my photography to capture the beauty around me. Then I can go home and smile away. :-)
    .-= Sezin’s latest blog ..Born Hybrid =-.

  • http://www.Sezin.org Sezin

    What a great post!

    As for me, I’m sort of known for my very big smile and it takes a lot of effort for me to match the stern expressions of the miserable, wizened faces of the Czechs with whom I live. On the flip side, I think my internal dialogue has become far more textured now that I wear this “iron” face, and I also use my photography to capture the beauty around me. Then I can go home and smile away. :-)
    .-= Sezin’s latest blog ..Born Hybrid =-.

  • http://www.sarahmelamed.com Sarah

    I am probably guilty of too much smiling but I also got into the habit of staring at people, an Israeli habit. Israelis,apparently stare more than Americans and have a smaller personal space around them. Whenever I am visiting, I stare (unintentionally) while walking down the street or waiting on line, strangers get flustered and think I know them and start mumbling hellos and do I know yous? I am more aware of this now and it happens less often.

    • scary azeri

      Sarah,

      (Love your site, btw, it is so beautiful…)

      Staring is something Azeries do, as well. I have probably spent too long in the UK now, because I find it very uncomfortable. But I guess, if you accompany that stare with a lovely smile, it would not be as offensive. :) It is the combination of staring and not smiling that makes me want to run away.

  • http://www.sarahmelamed.com Sarah

    I am probably guilty of too much smiling but I also got into the habit of staring at people, an Israeli habit. Israelis,apparently stare more than Americans and have a smaller personal space around them. Whenever I am visiting, I stare (unintentionally) while walking down the street or waiting on line, strangers get flustered and think I know them and start mumbling hellos and do I know yous? I am more aware of this now and it happens less often.

    • scary azeri

      Sarah,

      (Love your site, btw, it is so beautiful…)

      Staring is something Azeries do, as well. I have probably spent too long in the UK now, because I find it very uncomfortable. But I guess, if you accompany that stare with a lovely smile, it would not be as offensive. :) It is the combination of staring and not smiling that makes me want to run away.

  • kari m.

    Wow, well isn`t there a huge amount of cultural in-depth knowledge and wisdom here! You are all sharing experiences and cross-cultural understandings that is very interesting to read. Thank you for this post Scary Azeri.

    During my last year living in Turkey I remember meeting a Norwegian woman in Istanbul and she and her Turkish husband had been living there for more than 20 years at the time. Her then teenage daugther used to tell her that whenever she would walk through Istiklal Caddesi to get to home from school, she used to put on her “iron-face”. This of course to avoid the inevitable harassment from men around. At home again, she said she switched over to her “normal” face.

    I myself could relate to this only too well back then. Ironically I a decade earlier had arrived to Istanbul for the first time from Bulgaria, where I worked and lived for a while. The “unresponsiveness”, the no-smiles-attitude among people in Bulgaria in general then, which I struggled to adopt to, made my first meeting with the rather outgoing manners of people in Istanbul even a more welcome pleasure.

    • http://rosedeniz.blogspot.com/2010/02/medine-memi.html Rose

      Great topic, Scary Azeri! Kari, I can relate to the ‘iron-face’ in public, normal at home in Turkey. I find this is gendered, too, because at the park with other mothers, for example, a smile to another woman (of sympathy to a tired mother, a smile at their child) is okay. but I’ve adopted a virtually no eye-contact, no smile with men in public on my own. Being ‘home’ in the US on holiday for just a couple weeks has restored my smile-at-everything-and-everyone-mode and while its refreshing, I don’t mind having the two personas. It reminds me of being an extremely shy child and feeling I needed to develop street-smarts, adapting to my environment.
      .-= Rose’s latest blog ..Poised to pause =-.

  • kari m.

    Wow, well isn`t there a huge amount of cultural in-depth knowledge and wisdom here! You are all sharing experiences and cross-cultural understandings that is very interesting to read. Thank you for this post Scary Azeri.

    During my last year living in Turkey I remember meeting a Norwegian woman in Istanbul and she and her Turkish husband had been living there for more than 20 years at the time. Her then teenage daugther used to tell her that whenever she would walk through Istiklal Caddesi to get to home from school, she used to put on her “iron-face”. This of course to avoid the inevitable harassment from men around. At home again, she said she switched over to her “normal” face.

    I myself could relate to this only too well back then. Ironically I a decade earlier had arrived to Istanbul for the first time from Bulgaria, where I worked and lived for a while. The “unresponsiveness”, the no-smiles-attitude among people in Bulgaria in general then, which I struggled to adopt to, made my first meeting with the rather outgoing manners of people in Istanbul even a more welcome pleasure.

    • Anonymous

      Great topic, Scary Azeri! Kari, I can relate to the ‘iron-face’ in public, normal at home in Turkey. I find this is gendered, too, because at the park with other mothers, for example, a smile to another woman (of sympathy to a tired mother, a smile at their child) is okay. but I’ve adopted a virtually no eye-contact, no smile with men in public on my own. Being ‘home’ in the US on holiday for just a couple weeks has restored my smile-at-everything-and-everyone-mode and while its refreshing, I don’t mind having the two personas. It reminds me of being an extremely shy child and feeling I needed to develop street-smarts, adapting to my environment.
      .-= Rose’s latest blog ..Poised to pause =-.

  • http://expatriatelife.wordpress.com/ Judy

    In Azerbaijan I was told brides don’t smile on their wedding photos because they’re supposed to be sad about leaving their families.

    What an interesting discussion this is!

    • http://www.bazaarbayar.etsy.com Catherine Bayar

      That’s true in Turkey also – and so I suppose the rest of the family should not look too pleased that she’s leaving either. This reminds me of one family wedding I was enlisted to informally photograph – the groom’s mother’s face got increasingly angrier and my sister-in-law’s sadder as the night went on. Signs of a tough road between the two of them to come, or was the MIL just annoyed at me, the ‘yabanci’, snapping all those shots?
      .-= Catherine Bayar’s latest blog ..Ezan Check Long Wool Mitts =-.

    • http://anastasiaashman.wordpress.com/about/ Anastasia

      Compare this must-look-sad situation in the East to the West’s insistence that a wedding is the bride’s happiest day. So many Western wedding days are mires of stress! One of the reasons: it’s ‘supposed’ to be evoking different emotions. Blog post….percolating.

      @ScaryAzeri and @Marinka did either of you marry in the West? How are your wedding pictures?

      • scary azeri

        Yes, I did. I smile in my photos. :)
        But we went for the reportage style photos, natural. No hugging the trees fake posing ones. Natural smiles and natural pictures. :)

  • http://expatriatelife.wordpress.com/ Judy

    In Azerbaijan I was told brides don’t smile on their wedding photos because they’re supposed to be sad about leaving their families.

    What an interesting discussion this is!

    • http://www.bazaarbayar.blogspot.com Catherine Bayar

      That’s true in Turkey also – and so I suppose the rest of the family should not look too pleased that she’s leaving either. This reminds me of one family wedding I was enlisted to informally photograph – the groom’s mother’s face got increasingly angrier and my sister-in-law’s sadder as the night went on. Signs of a tough road between the two of them to come, or was the MIL just annoyed at me, the ‘yabanci’, snapping all those shots?
      .-= Catherine Bayar’s latest blog ..Ezan Check Long Wool Mitts =-.

    • http://www.expatharem.com/identity-messages/ Anastasia

      Compare this must-look-sad situation in the East to the West’s insistence that a wedding is the bride’s happiest day. So many Western wedding days are mires of stress! One of the reasons: it’s ‘supposed’ to be evoking different emotions. Blog post….percolating.

      @ScaryAzeri and @Marinka did either of you marry in the West? How are your wedding pictures?

      • scary azeri

        Yes, I did. I smile in my photos. :)
        But we went for the reportage style photos, natural. No hugging the trees fake posing ones. Natural smiles and natural pictures. :)

  • http://anastasiaashman.wordpress.com/about/ Anastasia

    Hey all…just came across this post about spotting Bulgarians in photos at my friend Petya’s blog HOW TO MARRY A BULGARIAN. Apparently many Bulgarians don’t smile in photos (even while having fun with friends) — but the reason is a matter of debate. Among those offered: being cool/confident/genuine is to be unsmiling; or life is hard; or smiling too much makes you look crazy, dependent, weak.

    • http://www.bazaarbayar.etsy.com Catherine Bayar

      A very interesting post. I love her photo of the feet under the gate – I can feel the longing for the other side.

      My Kurdish relatives do not smile in photos either, especially at joyous occasions like family reunions and weddings. They will be laughing and dancing, but the minute a camera or video is pointed their way, the smile is gone and they take on a ‘life is tough, but I’m tougher” visage. The men don’t to look serious and macho perhaps, but the women end up looking wistful or melancholy. I always say “smile!” when I take a shot, but only the kids do, and even they lose the smiles when they get older.
      .-= Catherine Bayar’s latest blog ..Ezan Check Long Wool Mitts =-.

    • scary azeri

      Perhaps, smiling in the wedding photos makes you appear too thrilled to have finally pulled (especially in cultures where getting a husband still seen as the only success in life). And so, you pretend that you had been begged into it, having had 100 offers or so, and just had to finally give in. (Yawn) Unless, of course, it is a very traditional girl, who was told who to marry and when. Perhaps, she is terrified of her first night with that stranger. No wonder she does not feel like smiling! :)

  • http://www.expatharem.com/identity-messages/ Anastasia

    Hey all…just came across this post about spotting Bulgarians in photos at my friend Petya’s blog HOW TO MARRY A BULGARIAN. Apparently many Bulgarians don’t smile in photos (even while having fun with friends) — but the reason is a matter of debate. Among those offered: being cool/confident/genuine is to be unsmiling; or life is hard; or smiling too much makes you look crazy, dependent, weak.

    • http://www.bazaarbayar.blogspot.com Catherine Bayar

      A very interesting post. I love her photo of the feet under the gate – I can feel the longing for the other side.

      My Kurdish relatives do not smile in photos either, especially at joyous occasions like family reunions and weddings. They will be laughing and dancing, but the minute a camera or video is pointed their way, the smile is gone and they take on a ‘life is tough, but I’m tougher” visage. The men don’t to look serious and macho perhaps, but the women end up looking wistful or melancholy. I always say “smile!” when I take a shot, but only the kids do, and even they lose the smiles when they get older.
      .-= Catherine Bayar’s latest blog ..Ezan Check Long Wool Mitts =-.

    • scary azeri

      Perhaps, smiling in the wedding photos makes you appear too thrilled to have finally pulled (especially in cultures where getting a husband still seen as the only success in life). And so, you pretend that you had been begged into it, having had 100 offers or so, and just had to finally give in. (Yawn) Unless, of course, it is a very traditional girl, who was told who to marry and when. Perhaps, she is terrified of her first night with that stranger. No wonder she does not feel like smiling! :)

  • http://www.MotherhoodinNYC.com Marinka

    I’ve lived in the United States most of my life, and I still can’t make myself smile. As a result, I look mildly pissed off all the time. Which is unfortunate, since I’m really super pissed off.

    (here from Vicki’s blog)
    .-= Marinka’s latest blog ..Going to BlogHer? Start Worrying! =-.

    • http://anastasiaashman.wordpress.com/about/ Anastasia

      Eek Marinka!

      I wonder if strangers (mostly men) on the big city street ever urge you to smile? I got that a lot, and it really annoyed me. It was like someone telling me to muster a specific emotion for their passerby benefit.

      • http://www.dutchessabroad.com Judith van Praag

        Visiting Austin and Houston, TX from Amsterdam for the first time at age 32, I was struck by the chivalrous attitude of men in the streets. Yes, I was used to not making eye contact in the city streets. Yes, I’d sneered at 25 at a Parisian smiling and pointing at my hair saying “C’est belle ça!”
        It may have taken me a few instances to realize their attention was no threat, but those well-groomed Texan gents, who with a smile and a tip to the brim of their smart hats wished me a good day, warmed me to the Southern friendliness.

        The older woman friend who strolled beside me in Paris while I fumed about the jerk who dared to point at my hair told me I’d better acknowledge a compliment, if only internally and for my own benefit.

        See, if your mama never tells you you’re pretty because she’s thinks you are, but fears it will make you arrogant to know it, you may always assume compliments are lies.

        Christi Caughey Broersma writes about civility to which I responded by mentioning a Dutch “ideal advertising” film about how to respond to kindness.

        How do you respond to random acts of kindness?

    • http://www.dutchessabroad.com Judith van Praag

      Ha, ha, Marinka, our paths must have crossed many times, amazing the number of disguises you pull out of your dress-up trunk!
      You’d be the one to counter the idealistic advertising *how to deal with friendly people* video campaign with *show them a sour puss*.

  • http://www.MotherhoodinNYC.com Marinka

    I’ve lived in the United States most of my life, and I still can’t make myself smile. As a result, I look mildly pissed off all the time. Which is unfortunate, since I’m really super pissed off.

    (here from Vicki’s blog)
    .-= Marinka’s latest blog ..Going to BlogHer? Start Worrying! =-.

    • http://www.expatharem.com/identity-messages/ Anastasia

      Eek Marinka!

      I wonder if strangers (mostly men) on the big city street ever urge you to smile? I got that a lot, and it really annoyed me. It was like someone telling me to muster a specific emotion for their passerby benefit.

      • Anonymous

        Visiting Austin and Houston, TX from Amsterdam for the first time at age 32, I was struck by the chivalrous attitude of men in the streets. Yes, I was used to not making eye contact in the city streets. Yes, I’d sneered at 25 at a Parisian smiling and pointing at my hair saying “C’est belle ça!”
        It may have taken me a few instances to realize their attention was no threat, but those well-groomed Texan gents, who with a smile and a tip to the brim of their smart hats wished me a good day, warmed me to the Southern friendliness.

        The older woman friend who strolled beside me in Paris while I fumed about the jerk who dared to point at my hair told me I’d better acknowledge a compliment, if only internally and for my own benefit.

        See, if your mama never tells you you’re pretty because she’s thinks you are, but fears it will make you arrogant to know it, you may always assume compliments are lies.

        Christi Caughey Broersma writes about civility to which I responded by mentioning a Dutch “ideal advertising” film about how to respond to kindness.

        How do you respond to random acts of kindness?

    • Anonymous

      Ha, ha, Marinka, our paths must have crossed many times, amazing the number of disguises you pull out of your dress-up trunk!
      You’d be the one to counter the idealistic advertising *how to deal with friendly people* video campaign with *show them a sour puss*.

  • http://www.google.com/profiles/theskaiangates Catherine

    That’s a great post Scary!
    The talk of Turkish salesmen reminds me of my sister who kept getting annoyed in Bodrum when all the sellers commented on her being Irish (some even spoke Irish to her!). She didn’t like being immediately recognized as Irish, though with pale skin, freckles, light hair, blue eyes and a big grin she’s unmistakable really.
    I don’t get immediately spotted, some people think I’m Russian (must be on a sour day!), some think English, but that may be to do with the salesmen here being amateurs!
    .-= Catherine’s latest blog ..Peace and Quiet=-.

  • http://www.skaiangates.com Yazarc

    That’s a great post Scary!
    The talk of Turkish salesmen reminds me of my sister who kept getting annoyed in Bodrum when all the sellers commented on her being Irish (some even spoke Irish to her!). She didn’t like being immediately recognized as Irish, though with pale skin, freckles, light hair, blue eyes and a big grin she’s unmistakable really.
    I don’t get immediately spotted, some people think I’m Russian (must be on a sour day!), some think English, but that may be to do with the salesmen here being amateurs!
    .-= Catherine’s latest blog ..Peace and Quiet=-.

  • http://www.dutchessabroad.com Judith van Praag

    Scary Azari, Thank you for this enlightening post, you’ve kept me reading for a few days now. I’ve been following your great links, reading a bit a the time. Tips for Russian brides on smiling abroad are eye openers. Ms.Footloose’s posts in Life in the Expat Lane remind me of situations where I’ve used what is considered an asset in one place to introduce myself as a fool in another.

    • scary azeri

      Thank you so much, Judith and Catherine-you made me feel very welcome here.

      Of course, the walk is very different, too. I think that not just American, but western women in general walk differently. I had a question sent to me for the regular culture clash column I run in an expat magazine in Baku. The lady was an American, coming to Baku for a few months. She was concerned that she might be mistaken for a local prostitute. (Somebody told her that there were a lot of prostitutes in Baku and they get harassed on the streets).

      I told her that, to start with, every country has prostitutes. But nobody would ever suspect a local in her anyway, let alone a professional. She walks differently, she smiles often, does not wear enough black and has a different body language altogether. I personally am not a carpet seller, but I rarely make a mistake when it comes to Russians or other ex-Soviets abroad. I can sense them across the room. Even if they try to hide it. It is a lot of little things, but their facial expression is one of the main clues.

      • http://www.dutchessabroad.com Judith van Praag

        You’re welcome, but obviously you’re at home here ; ) and Anastasia really is a wonderful hostess who makes introductions and then let us work the room at our own ease.

        About the way we walk. After I returned from India I had to un-learn the gait that I’d copied as well as I could, watching local women. When I was first back in Amsterdam I sensed I was in danger without my usual stride.
        If I’d had a dog who needed to check p-mail every so many feet, or a toddler I might have been able to hold on for a longer period, to what I came to appreciate as a lower-carriage-friendly way of moving about. There’s nothing besides window shopping that allows you to stand still without drawing attention to yourself better than a pet or child, and of course old age.

        What does that tell you about our world?

  • Anonymous

    Scary Azari, Thank you for this enlightening post, you’ve kept me reading for a few days now. I’ve been following your great links, reading a bit a the time. Tips for Russian brides on smiling abroad are eye openers. Ms.Footloose’s posts in Life in the Expat Lane remind me of situations where I’ve used what is considered an asset in one place to introduce myself as a fool in another.

    • scary azeri

      Thank you so much, Judith and Catherine-you made me feel very welcome here.

      Of course, the walk is very different, too. I think that not just American, but western women in general walk differently. I had a question sent to me for the regular culture clash column I run in an expat magazine in Baku. The lady was an American, coming to Baku for a few months. She was concerned that she might be mistaken for a local prostitute. (Somebody told her that there were a lot of prostitutes in Baku and they get harassed on the streets).

      I told her that, to start with, every country has prostitutes. But nobody would ever suspect a local in her anyway, let alone a professional. She walks differently, she smiles often, does not wear enough black and has a different body language altogether. I personally am not a carpet seller, but I rarely make a mistake when it comes to Russians or other ex-Soviets abroad. I can sense them across the room. Even if they try to hide it. It is a lot of little things, but their facial expression is one of the main clues.

      • Anonymous

        You’re welcome, but obviously you’re at home here ; ) and Anastasia really is a wonderful hostess who makes introductions and then let us work the room at our own ease.

        About the way we walk. After I returned from India I had to un-learn the gait that I’d copied as well as I could, watching local women. When I was first back in Amsterdam I sensed I was in danger without my usual stride.
        If I’d had a dog who needed to check p-mail every so many feet, or a toddler I might have been able to hold on for a longer period, to what I came to appreciate as a lower-carriage-friendly way of moving about. There’s nothing besides window shopping that allows you to stand still without drawing attention to yourself better than a pet or child, and of course old age.

        What does that tell you about our world?

  • scary azeri

    Thank you,Vicki!
    @Catherine: Oh, the evil eye….such a great topic on its’ own! Every aspect of life in Azerbaijan is affected by it, wherever I glance. My UK house has a few Turkish evil eye repellents hanging about. Look good and…well, you never know, right? :)

    • http://www.bazaarbayar.etsy.com Catherine Bayar

      Yes, I could write an entire post about the evil eye and my experiences in Turkey with it – perhaps I will. Even my American mom has adopted that “you never know” attitude by gifting me a colorful bracelet of them, which I wear every day for that same reason. It’s a talisman of sorts, like my yin-yang ring, which I wear to remind me to seek balance. (Not exactly working yet, but I’ll get there!)
      .-= Catherine Bayar’s latest blog ..Ezan Check Long Wool Mitts =-.

  • scary azeri

    Thank you,Vicki!
    @Catherine: Oh, the evil eye….such a great topic on its’ own! Every aspect of life in Azerbaijan is affected by it, wherever I glance. My UK house has a few Turkish evil eye repellents hanging about. Look good and…well, you never know, right? :)

    • http://www.bazaarbayar.blogspot.com Catherine Bayar

      Yes, I could write an entire post about the evil eye and my experiences in Turkey with it – perhaps I will. Even my American mom has adopted that “you never know” attitude by gifting me a colorful bracelet of them, which I wear every day for that same reason. It’s a talisman of sorts, like my yin-yang ring, which I wear to remind me to seek balance. (Not exactly working yet, but I’ll get there!)
      .-= Catherine Bayar’s latest blog ..Ezan Check Long Wool Mitts =-.

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  • http://www.bazaarbayar.etsy.com Catherine Bayar

    Great post – our cultural body language says so much about us. My husband, carpet seller and self-taught expert in cultural distinctions, can accurately tell at 50 paces where in the world a person comes from by their gait, their attire, and yes, if they smile. My mother-in-law has told me not to smile so much at strangers; they’ll think I’m vulnerable. (And she meant men of course, but women as well). I’ve been chided for smiling at small children I don’t know – I’m inviting the ‘evil eye’ and must quickly remove that smile from my face and offer a “masallah” to ward it off.

    I do often fall back on my urban training, covering my eyes and wearing a cloak of indifference to divert attention. If only I could learn how not to walk like an American!
    .-= Catherine Bayar’s latest blog ..Pattern for Kablo Handknit Lace Slippers =-.

    • http://anastasiaashman.wordpress.com/about/ Anastasia

      Yes Catherine I have noticed how attuned certain Turkish salesmen are to nationality-from-afar…it’s good for business to catch the attention of passersby, and also launch into a spiel that might work on them.

      How do Americans walk differently than other nationalities? Striding? That reminds me of an American-Iranian friend who visited relatives in rural Iran and the women asked her “besides walking fast, what else do you know how to do?”

      • http://www.dutchessabroad.com Judith van Praag

        LOL That’s hilarious, Anastasia, but also understandable. If your friend acquired another pace (or in her relatives eyes perhaps, if she lost a certain something (!)) what else did she (was that Nassim?) learn, or rather pick-up, in the U.S.?

        An American man in Paris remarked on my fast pace.
        He said:”When in Paris ‘il faut flâner, être flaneur/ flaneuse’, stroll don’t show haste.”

        But, I’d been striding my whole life. Without a vehicle to carry you from A to B, you learn to walk fast. My Texas-born husband (who thought it was weird that I insisted on walking everywhere even in Texas) calls it the JvP stride.
        Yet, I might be mistaken for an American in Turkey?

        • http://www.bazaarbayar.etsy.com Catherine Bayar

          The Turks might think so, because the Dutch do seem to have that same purposeful stride. Mine was learned while living in NYC, during crazily-paced days in which I often had to cover 30 blocks in under 10 minutes. My husband has commented that I no longer walk nearly as fast as I used to – whether through cultural influence or merely being 10 years older, he must be relieved!
          .-= Catherine Bayar’s latest blog ..Ezan Check Long Wool Mitts =-.

      • http://www.istanbulblogger.com istanbulblogger

        anastasia i like the comment on walking ,as my wife often complains “you walk so dam fast all the time”

        as for smiling and staring ,as an englishmen on the streets of UK i would be offended and curious of why someone was staring,english people are sensitive and the phrase “it is rude to stare” I learnt from my teenage years.yet here in istanbul it is the opposite I have grown used to it ,I get it every day and everywhere not because Im ugly,not because I look unhappy,not because I smile or dress different,but because I look different physically ,i dont have that strong black hair appearance and dark skin but I [b]smile[/b] because Im happy I dont hide it ,I have no reason to if Im happy.

        in the article you end with a quote “In fact, [b]the more rude and arrogant you appear the more respect you will get[/b]” well as englishmen I can not say how wrong that would be to act like that in the UK, im not sure whether you still adopt that living there in the UK ,yet i experienced this enormously in my previous employment where in the recent years the workforce had become 75% of eastern european and satellite states of russia ,it was really not a pleasant experience for us as englishmen and women and was not an attidude many of my colleagues and myself were used to,that was the biggest complaint many of us felt.
        It was also wrong for us to openly question why they were like that so reading your article explains a lot of things I had seen and disliked. but hopefully you can understand why as example an englishmen/woman would negatively respond to the unhappy appearance all the time.I used to just put it down to being uprooted and being so far away from relatives.

        as you say [b]“because in this country I’ve had to learn to smile a lot more”[/b]is that because you feel happier now ? is life more friendlier and engaging there for you now ? .

        great article thanks for sharing
        .-= istanbulblogger’s latest blog ..Istanbul: Just a boy in the street =-.

        • scary azeri

          @Istanbulblogger:

          :) Please, dont worry. I do smile a lot more here. But no, it is not because “life is more friendlier and engaging” :) )

    • http://www.dutchessabroad.com Judith van Praag

      Catherine, What you write about your M.I.L.’s concerns brings a memory to the surface that still makes me cringe. Years ago I worked as The designer (not my statement) of multi-cultural theater groups in the Netherlands. In that capacity I also taught a class in stage and costume design at the Turkish-Dutch Theater school in Amsterdam. The school was an initiative of Vasif Ongören and Meral Taygun, both liberal thinkers with whom I worked on several productions.

      After Vasif’s death, I was hired as a designer to work with a visiting director from Turkey. The producer of the play, who happened to be one of my former students, approached me to tell me, no, warn me that I smiled too much. That I needed to adjust my attitude. I thought that was laughing matter. But he did not. Finally he said I needed to watch my back. That I didn’t want to find myself alone anywhere, or something bad might happen to me.

      It’s one thing to encounter an adverse response to your smile in a foreign country’s culture, it’s another to do so in your own.

      • http://www.bazaarbayar.etsy.com Catherine Bayar

        Wow, Judith, that’s an untypically dire thing for a Turk to have said! Like a threat, or was he truly concerned your outward appearance of friendliness would bring you harm…in your own country? He obviously had not caught on to why and when we Westerners smile; would love to know what part of Turkey he was from.
        .-= Catherine Bayar’s latest blog ..Ezan Check Long Wool Mitts =-.

        • http://hopefilledjars.blogspot.com/ Judith van Praag

          Where was he from? Good question Catherine. My former students were Dutch born children of first generation guest laborers who hailed from the Turkish countryside. However, the man in question lived with his Dutch fiancee. In this particular case I think the problem lay with the visiting director who didn’t accept the attitude he might have appreciated in a male designer in a female. He considered dialogue back talk/ lack of respect.

  • http://www.bazaarbayar.blogspot.com Catherine Bayar

    Great post – our cultural body language says so much about us. My husband, carpet seller and self-taught expert in cultural distinctions, can accurately tell at 50 paces where in the world a person comes from by their gait, their attire, and yes, if they smile. My mother-in-law has told me not to smile so much at strangers; they’ll think I’m vulnerable. (And she meant men of course, but women as well). I’ve been chided for smiling at small children I don’t know – I’m inviting the ‘evil eye’ and must quickly remove that smile from my face and offer a “masallah” to ward it off.

    I do often fall back on my urban training, covering my eyes and wearing a cloak of indifference to divert attention. If only I could learn how not to walk like an American!
    .-= Catherine Bayar’s latest blog ..Pattern for Kablo Handknit Lace Slippers =-.

    • http://www.expatharem.com/identity-messages/ Anastasia

      Yes Catherine I have noticed how attuned certain Turkish salesmen are to nationality-from-afar…it’s good for business to catch the attention of passersby, and also launch into a spiel that might work on them.

      How do Americans walk differently than other nationalities? Striding? That reminds me of an American-Iranian friend who visited relatives in rural Iran and the women asked her “besides walking fast, what else do you know how to do?”

      • Anonymous

        LOL That’s hilarious, Anastasia, but also understandable. If your friend acquired another pace (or in her relatives eyes perhaps, if she lost a certain something (!)) what else did she (was that Nassim?) learn, or rather pick-up, in the U.S.?

        An American man in Paris remarked on my fast pace.
        He said:”When in Paris ‘il faut flâner, être flaneur/ flaneuse’, stroll don’t show haste.”

        But, I’d been striding my whole life. Without a vehicle to carry you from A to B, you learn to walk fast. My Texas-born husband (who thought it was weird that I insisted on walking everywhere even in Texas) calls it the JvP stride.
        Yet, I might be mistaken for an American in Turkey?

        • http://www.bazaarbayar.blogspot.com Catherine Bayar

          The Turks might think so, because the Dutch do seem to have that same purposeful stride. Mine was learned while living in NYC, during crazily-paced days in which I often had to cover 30 blocks in under 10 minutes. My husband has commented that I no longer walk nearly as fast as I used to – whether through cultural influence or merely being 10 years older, he must be relieved!
          .-= Catherine Bayar’s latest blog ..Ezan Check Long Wool Mitts =-.

      • http://www.istanbulblogger.com istanbulblogger

        anastasia i like the comment on walking ,as my wife often complains “you walk so dam fast all the time”

        as for smiling and staring ,as an englishmen on the streets of UK i would be offended and curious of why someone was staring,english people are sensitive and the phrase “it is rude to stare” I learnt from my teenage years.yet here in istanbul it is the opposite I have grown used to it ,I get it every day and everywhere not because Im ugly,not because I look unhappy,not because I smile or dress different,but because I look different physically ,i dont have that strong black hair appearance and dark skin but I [b]smile[/b] because Im happy I dont hide it ,I have no reason to if Im happy.

        in the article you end with a quote “In fact, [b]the more rude and arrogant you appear the more respect you will get[/b]” well as englishmen I can not say how wrong that would be to act like that in the UK, im not sure whether you still adopt that living there in the UK ,yet i experienced this enormously in my previous employment where in the recent years the workforce had become 75% of eastern european and satellite states of russia ,it was really not a pleasant experience for us as englishmen and women and was not an attidude many of my colleagues and myself were used to,that was the biggest complaint many of us felt.
        It was also wrong for us to openly question why they were like that so reading your article explains a lot of things I had seen and disliked. but hopefully you can understand why as example an englishmen/woman would negatively respond to the unhappy appearance all the time.I used to just put it down to being uprooted and being so far away from relatives.

        as you say [b]“because in this country I’ve had to learn to smile a lot more”[/b]is that because you feel happier now ? is life more friendlier and engaging there for you now ? .

        great article thanks for sharing
        .-= istanbulblogger’s latest blog ..Istanbul: Just a boy in the street =-.

        • scary azeri

          @Istanbulblogger:

          :) Please, dont worry. I do smile a lot more here. But no, it is not because “life is more friendlier and engaging” :) )

    • Anonymous

      Catherine, What you write about your M.I.L.’s concerns brings a memory to the surface that still makes me cringe. Years ago I worked as The designer (not my statement) of multi-cultural theater groups in the Netherlands. In that capacity I also taught a class in stage and costume design at the Turkish-Dutch Theater school in Amsterdam. The school was an initiative of Vasif Ongören and Meral Taygun, both liberal thinkers with whom I worked on several productions.

      After Vasif’s death, I was hired as a designer to work with a visiting director from Turkey. The producer of the play, who happened to be one of my former students, approached me to tell me, no, warn me that I smiled too much. That I needed to adjust my attitude. I thought that was laughing matter. But he did not. Finally he said I needed to watch my back. That I didn’t want to find myself alone anywhere, or something bad might happen to me.

      It’s one thing to encounter an adverse response to your smile in a foreign country’s culture, it’s another to do so in your own.

      • http://www.bazaarbayar.blogspot.com Catherine Bayar

        Wow, Judith, that’s an untypically dire thing for a Turk to have said! Like a threat, or was he truly concerned your outward appearance of friendliness would bring you harm…in your own country? He obviously had not caught on to why and when we Westerners smile; would love to know what part of Turkey he was from.
        .-= Catherine Bayar’s latest blog ..Ezan Check Long Wool Mitts =-.

        • Anonymous

          Where was he from? Good question Catherine. My former students were Dutch born children of first generation guest laborers who hailed from the Turkish countryside. However, the man in question lived with his Dutch fiancee. In this particular case I think the problem lay with the visiting director who didn’t accept the attitude he might have appreciated in a male designer in a female. He considered dialogue back talk/ lack of respect.

  • http://expatriatelife.wordpress.com/ Judy

    I observed this when I lived in Baku in the late 90′s. The transformation that came over my Azeri women friends as they stepped over my threshold – coming in or going out was remarkable. It was like they put on a cloak between themselves and the rest of the world. I thought it very odd at the time, but in fact now realize I have adopted it myself at times when I subsequently lived in Egypt and the UAE. And I thought I was just getting cranky in my old age! :)

    • http://www.expatharem.com/identity-messages/ Anastasia

      That’s a great observation about cloaking behavior Judy!

  • http://expatriatelife.wordpress.com/ Judy

    I observed this when I lived in Baku in the late 90′s. The transformation that came over my Azeri women friends as they stepped over my threshold – coming in or going out was remarkable. It was like they put on a cloak between themselves and the rest of the world. I thought it very odd at the time, but in fact now realize I have adopted it myself at times when I subsequently lived in Egypt and the UAE. And I thought I was just getting cranky in my old age! :)

    • http://anastasiaashman.wordpress.com/about/ Anastasia

      That’s a great observation about cloaking behavior Judy!

  • http://anastasiaashman.wordpress.com/about/ Anastasia

    Thanks for this Scary girl!

    As a Western woman who lives in the Near East, and spent years in the Far East, and has lots of big American teeth, I’ve had my share of the reverse phenomenon and its misunderstandings…or witnessed it happening to other smiley nationalities. However, my cold big city side works the way you describe, and that was honed on the streets of New York! Mirrored sunglasses, walkman, big frown. Interesting to consider if the attitude in big cities (whereever) might equate to the Eastern face and suburbs/more rural places might equate to the more open Western face. Your “Russian style” link points out that people from that part of the world only smile at people they actually know, which is one reason people don’t smile at strangers in the big city. It’s dangerous! Who are they? You don’t want to get involved. Whereas, in slower, quieter places (at least in the West) it seems people will smile at a stranger (a young girl on horseback maybe!) in a spirit of neighborliness. They may meet her. She may be their next door neighbor’s visiting niece. They *will* see her again.

    • http://www.dutchessabroad.com Judith van Praag

      Anastasia, Confusion abounds! Like you in N.Y., I was trained to have that “I’ve got a destination” look in my eye while living in Amsterdam. In particular because the area where I and many artists and writers made their home was the oldest part of town, also known as the Red Light District. What a relief to be in Goa, India and find people smiling at me, albeit often with a certain curiosity I couldn’t quite place. Until one day a shopkeeper told me they thought I was build like a Russian (the’d come to Goa to build MIGS) but they couldn’t figure out why I always had a smile on my face, whereas the other didn’t.

  • http://www.expatharem.com/identity-messages/ Anastasia

    Thanks for this Scary girl!

    As a Western woman who lives in the Near East, and spent years in the Far East, and has lots of big American teeth, I’ve had my share of the reverse phenomenon and its misunderstandings…or witnessed it happening to other smiley nationalities. However, my cold big city side works the way you describe, and that was honed on the streets of New York! Mirrored sunglasses, walkman, big frown. Interesting to consider if the attitude in big cities (whereever) might equate to the Eastern face and suburbs/more rural places might equate to the more open Western face. Your “Russian style” link points out that people from that part of the world only smile at people they actually know, which is one reason people don’t smile at strangers in the big city. It’s dangerous! Who are they? You don’t want to get involved. Whereas, in slower, quieter places (at least in the West) it seems people will smile at a stranger (a young girl on horseback maybe!) in a spirit of neighborliness. They may meet her. She may be their next door neighbor’s visiting niece. They *will* see her again.

    • Anonymous

      Anastasia, Confusion abounds! Like you in N.Y., I was trained to have that “I’ve got a destination” look in my eye while living in Amsterdam. In particular because the area where I and many artists and writers made their home was the oldest part of town, also known as the Red Light District. What a relief to be in Goa, India and find people smiling at me, albeit often with a certain curiosity I couldn’t quite place. Until one day a shopkeeper told me they thought I was build like a Russian (the’d come to Goa to build MIGS) but they couldn’t figure out why I always had a smile on my face, whereas the other didn’t.

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