We all know that we don’t pat the back of a colleague in Korea to thank them for a “job well done”. Or eat with your left hand in India, or sip vodka in Russia. In many countries, these actions are harmless. But in others, they can give a wrong impression or cause offense.
In fact, whatever culture you’re from, it’s likely that you routinely do something that could cause offense somewhere else in the world. So here is:
A primer on how to avoid mistakes in Armenia
As Armenia straddles Europe and Asia, East and West, so does the culture. Many Armenians refer to Armenia as a European nation, but their social conservatism in some realms hasn’t been seen in Europe proper for a few decades. The collapse of the Soviet Union has opened up many of these channels again, and change is coming rapidly, but much more so in Yerevan than in the rest of the country.
The small and very homogeneous (about 99% Armenian) population is strongly family oriented. The people across the land are very hospitable, and place a lot of pride in their hospitality. Show up in a village without a penny, and food and a place to stay will flow – along with drinks and endless toasts.
Armenians are much like any other Europeans in their manners and lifestyle. Avoid discussing Azerbaijan and Nagorno-Karabakh, because due to the frozen but still ongoing very bitter conflict with Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh, it is an extremely sensitive subject. The issue of the Armenian Genocide, in which the Armenian people and a majority of Western scholars believe up to one and a half million Armenians were killed by the Young Turk government during World War One, is a sensitive one, and respect should be shown when discussing the subject. One can find out more about the Armenian Genocide by visiting the Genocide Memorial ‘Tzitzernakabert’.
There is also a museum near the memorial. Having been liberated by the then-Russian Empire in 1828, Armenians are partly Slavophiles; ask as many questions as you like about soccer and Soviet TV programs. Respect is generally shown for Slavs, including Russians. People often have no problem talking about the Soviet Union. Most Armenians do not mind if you speak to them in Russian. It is very common to give up your seat for an elderly passenger on the public transport. Usually, men will give up their seat to women too.
It is also considered polite to let women first to the bus or train or to enter a room, and the “ladies first” rule is considered important. When visiting churches, both men and women are expected to dress modestly (i.e. no shorts, miniskirts, sleeveless shirts/tops etc.). Lighting a candle is always a nice gesture, but it is optional. You should always talk quietly when you are visiting a church.
With this, you had the primer on key facts about Armenia, and key facts on culture and customs. Another important part of the culture is the local food and the local drinks. Make sure you read our posts on Armenia food and drinks:
Other tips that you’d like to share on mistakes to avoid in Armenia? Please comment below.