Expat Advice: Culture Shock in
Icheri Sheher (Old Town) of Baku, Azerbaijan
A woman living in Baku, Azerbaijan shares her experiences with racism in Baku. She and her husband live in a regular neighborhood rather than an expat area. She speaks Turkish, which helps her understand Azerbaijani. Knowing what is being yelled at her as she walks down the street has been eye opening.
What is the name of the city or town that you are reporting on?
Did you receive any cross-cultural training for your move abroad? If yes, was it before or after the move?
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If they speak another language in your new country, do you speak the language? If yes, did you learn the language before you moved or while abroad? If no, are you planning to learn the language?
I speak Turkish, which is enough to be understood. I am not interested in learning Azerbaijani.
Were you worried or concerned about culture shock before you moved abroad?
No, and I should have been. I have lived in and traveled extensively throughout the world, read up on Azerbaijan and thought I would be okay. Wrong.
How significant was the culture shock you experienced when you moved abroad?
Very significant. If I couldn't understand anyone, I would probably be a lot happier.
Expats often talk about going through the "stages of culture shock." Examples include the honeymoon phase, the irritation-to-anger stage, the rejection of the culture stage, and the cultural adjustment phase. Do you feel like you went through these or any other stages as you settled into the new culture?
We had a honeymoon phase for about a week. We have stuck with irritation-to-anger for at least six months while simultaneously rejecting the culture. The phase we are in now is focusing on our work, saving money and an exit strategy.
What, if any, were some of the changes you noticed in yourself that might have been caused by culture shock? These might include things such as anger, depression, anxiety, increased eating or drinking, frustration, homesickness, etc.
I am truly a very peaceful and understanding person, but became angry here like I have never been angry before. I try to sleep as much as I can, never leave the apartment, interact as little as possible and focus on the relationships I have outside of the country.
What are some things you appreciate most about the new culture?
I thought about this deeply and truly, and can only appreciate my salary.
What are the most challenging aspects of the new culture?
Racism, superiority complex coupled with ignorance, a very disturbed religious zealotry that defies belief, constant yelling and arguments everywhere, corruption, unprofessional work environment.
My first landlord broke into our apartment at 11PM because she felt she had the right to walk in whenever she wanted. Our next landlord wanted a full inspection every month. My current landlord calls my being here "letting me live at his house". There are no binding contracts even through an agent, and no concept of personal space or private property. Other than the main areas of the city which are kept immaculate, the "real" city is the world's largest trash can with no clean-up crew. I have never seen people tear up their own apartment building and neighborhoods like this, not even in the poorest countries of Africa or South America.
Did you "commit" any embarrassing or humorous cultural blunders? If you did and you'd like to share them, please do tell!
I have been told that being a vegetarian is "Against God". I have been told because I smoke that I am a terrible mother (I have no children). I came to work one day with a cold and was openly asked if I was pregnant, and if I was not, why not? I am too old not to have children. I have been told that there is something wrong with my brain because I do not have children. It is "Against God" that I do not have children. Why doesn't my husband force me to have children? All inappropriate, hurtful, sexist and closed-minded.
Do you have any advice or thoughts about culture shock you would like to share?
Just do not move here, period. There are expats here who say they are happy, life is far less complicated and so on. None of them have to take the bus or live in a normal neighborhood, and none of them speak Azerbaijani. Of course life would be fine anywhere if you were oblivious to your surroundings, did not understand when someone called you a Kafir (infidel) because you have blond hair, or have no real association with the local population. I do understand them, and I know there is some very deep resentment that we are here "taking their jobs" and that we are not Muslim. My husband and I both are, by the way, but when a racist is on the warpath, details don't seem to matter.
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