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Expat Advice: Culture Shock in Baku, Azerbaijan

What is the name of the city or town that you are reporting on?

Baku

Did you receive any cross-cultural training for your move abroad? If yes, was it before or after the move?

I received the usual dos and don'ts about Azerbaijan. Actually I had spent a one week's business trip to Baku back in 2000 but it was only for about 6 days. So I had a rough idea what to expect.

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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?

There is no way I would even try to learn the language and apart from that, about 80% of Azeris also speak Russian.

Were you worried or concerned about culture shock before you moved abroad?

Not really, as I came here from 1 2-year stint in Oman, and prior to that Qatar and prior to that Kuwait. So culture shock wasn't something I expected.

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How significant was the culture shock you experienced when you moved abroad?

I think 'culture shock' in my situation isn't the correct term. It was more an unease about the place.

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?

I think the main thing with me was the fact that most Azeris did not speak English. This made life difficult. Whether it be in the shops, catching a taxi, or even trying to ask for street directions. I think the other thing that caused constant unease was the leering - the Azeris just seemed to stare at you all the time.

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.

A stated above, this constant being gazed at all the time as if you were a museum piece. As for the bars, well there were certain bars you never ventured into, these being the ones frequented by Azeris. You just avoided them.

What are some things you appreciate most about the new culture?

Not much really. Baku has a delightful old city but again in there, you are leered at constantly.

What are the most challenging aspects of the new culture?

The language barrier and the prices. Baku has to be one of the most expensive places to live. And what is ironic is most of the people live on the poverty line. There is much poverty here and yet the prices are astronomical!

Did you "commit" any embarrassing or humorous cultural blunders? If you did and you'd like to share them, please do tell!

Not yet!

Do you have any advice or thoughts about culture shock you would like to share?

Think twice before coming here. Fortunately, I was offered a magnificent employment package to come here, otherwise, I would never work here. So, make sure you have a good accommodation allowance, a per diem (daily living allowance) and a transport allowance. However, if you do come here you will see why most expats DO NOT drive here. It has to be the worst city in the world for hellish driving conditions, wreckless driving and awful motor vehicle pollution.

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Comments about this Report

guest
Jan 30, 2012 12:16

I don't know who wrote this, but I have spent much time in Baku and the country of Azerbaijan, the people there have all been friendly, considerate and a pleasure to be around. I am in contact with my friends there and would not think twice if I had an opportunity to return. Yes it is expensive, but you make sure your contract covers your needs.

guest
Jan 30, 2012 20:53

I lived in Baku for 3 years in the late 90s, have visited since and still keep in touch with many Azeri friends. Even as a woman I never experienced people staring at me even though foreigners were far less common at that time. I found the people warm, friendly and incredibly well educated and cultured. As for expecting the average Azeri to speak English, I am dumbfounded! The country certainly has its problems - a legacy of neglect and economic decline from the days of the Soviet Union together with serious and pervasive corruption, but the people are incredibly resilient and I found much to admire there.

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