AAGS Worldwide Movers

Expat Advice: Culture Shock in Baku, Azerbaijan

Oct 29, 2014
Submitted by ldiluna

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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Comments about this Report

Jul 1, 2018 06:06

Thank you very much for taking the time to prepare such an interesting and insightful post. It is incredibly sad to learn of your experiences. I had hoped that things had slowly started to change but I guess I was just being naive. I have read of many expats having similar experiences to the one you describe. Do you mind if I ask if you were working for an IOC? I am shocked by what was said to you at work so am keen to understand if that closed minded culture has permeated foreign companies too? I understand that the salaries they offer for staff to relocate are generous but unless if we are talking about something above six figures I cant imagine why anyone would ever want to take the leap? Hope you are now safely back home or somewhere happier if not home!

Jul 2, 2018 00:48

Baku is the racist city and racism is becoming stronger day by day. Especially younger generation in center area is crazy. If you are Asian, African or you have a stronger Arabic appearance, living in Baku will be the worst moment in your life. Do not believe Azerbaijani's comment. They say 'there is no racism in Baku', but it is completely lie. Azerbaijani spends every effort to present "how Azerbaijan is great country" to foreigners. For that purpose, they lie very easily. Azerbaijani is super-childish uncivilized barbarian, in general. Basically, Azerbaijani devotes their life to: - define them as European (despite they are half-European/half-Arabic in DNA); - define Baku as established/sophistacated/beautiful European city (no expats agree...); - define Asian/African/Arabic as 'inferiror' than Azerbaijani (just crazy); and - feel better/fun by humiliating Asian/African/Arabic. Against Asian, they do slant-eye pose very frequently and humiliate Asian's face. It's just a difference of face structure, but intelligence-lack people can't understand... Against African/Arabic, they humiliate their darker skin color and say it's ugly, despite Azerbaijani is descrimited in Russia due to darker skin/hair... In conclusion, do not come to Baku, seriously.

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