Notes From Hairenik
April 15, 2008

When taking a walk during the day in Yerevan be prepared for a bumpy stride. Pedestrians do not give others sharing the sidewalk their own private space and are nearly always brushing up against each other. This could be said of every large cosmopolitan city perhaps but here, even if the sidewalk is fairly traffic free, there is always something to impede your pace.

People like to walk in rows spanning the width of the sidewalk. If there are three or more friends going for a stroll, they walk side by side in a single line which sometimes makes it impossible for a pedestrian to pass them without walking into the street and risk being hit by a car (or being bumped into by another with the same aim in mind). You cannot somehow cut between two of them since more often than not they are linked to one another with their arms interlocking. I have seen up to eight people walking this way. Then you are forced to wait until the chain suddenly shifts to the right or left so as to provide a passage for overtaking them. Usually women between the ages of 18 to 30 wearing shoes with stiletto heels can be observed walking down the loosely set tiled sidewalks on Abovyan Street in such a manner, probably in defensive support to prevent one of them from falling on her face.

Armenians cut each other off while walking. It is a common instance to find someone passing you or meeting the sidewalk after crossing the street getting under your feet. Also to complicate matters, oftentimes people do not walk in a straight line, but rather in a diagonal pattern without taking into consideration the pedestrians behind them or even in front, so what you experience and often see are people colliding into each other despite whether there is ample room for walking. It doesn’t matter how crowded the sidewalks are—someone is bound to walk into you or move in such a way as to cause you to bump into them.

Pedestrians usually walk very slow, regardless of age, probably because they have nowhere special to go. People in a hurry do walk fairly rapidly and are sometimes the instigators for the collisions noted above. Strollers that seem to reach the end of a short block in about 30 minutes are often chatting with a friend or manically munching away on sunflower seeds leaving a trail of shells in their wake. I think if you are looking for someone who has somehow managed to lose his way it might be fairly easy to find him if he is, in fact, an avid seed muncher. Depending on the size and shape of the seed they usually select (I am assuming that people stick to a certain type of seed and don’t munch away on anything, just as a smoker favors a particular brand of cigarette) you should be able to easily locate the person by following the path of shells.

Pensive walkers are dangerous. They sometimes forget where they are going or they become lost in a train of thought, so they suddenly stop dead in their tracks before walking in the opposite direction. Naturally you panic and swerve away so as to not ram into the person, but nevertheless a collision will most likely occur in such situations. These types of walkers tend to conglomerate in open-air shopping areas or are found alone on sprawling street corners.

Conversationalists are oblivious to their surroundings. People who are finishing their conversations with others on the sidewalk usually start moving without looking ahead of them as they remain affixed on their counterparts, so they are actually walking backwards if their heads are not turned when advancing forward while they get in their last word. Also people who talk on their mobile phones tend to look down while walking no matter how fast they are going, and before they realize that they are about to stumble into someone it is already too late. Such people can also be seen pacing very slowly and turning unexpectedly only to bump into another person talking on the phone.

Loiterers block sidewalk traffic. Acquaintances chatting with each other usually fail to take into consideration that they may be impeding the way, or else they simply don’t care. Swerving around them can be tricky since everyone is trying to get past them at the same time from all directions, including those people walking behind you. In such situations, collisions or more often than not sideswipes are unavoidable. You will witness this along Tumanyan Street, especially in the area near the Opera House, at most any time day or night.

Armenians don’t know how to cross the street. When people see a break a traffic they make a move to reach the opposite side of the road, but they usually stop on the line separating oncoming from outgoing traffic—meaning that they are perched in the middle of the street for several moments at a time. Sometimes minutes go by before they are able to cross if traffic is dense, and when it is some pedestrians feel that it is best to dart out in front of slow moving cars. Apparently they are able to judge how skilled some drivers are at slamming on their brakes on a moment’s notice. Driving along the stretch of Abovyan Street where some institutes are located from the intersection with Charents Street to the rotary at the top of the boulevard during mid-morning hours will prove my point. Or else, drive along Gomidas Street and anywhere downtown throughout the afternoon. People of all ages and stamina cross roads the same way. The use of pedestrian underpasses has long become passé, which is why I find it strange that the Yerevan municipal department continues constructing them. It shows how out of touch city hall is with what is going on.

The ways people walk in this city represent a facet of the lifestyle and culture. It is difficult to avoid being bumped into, and sometimes passing those crawling along in front of you can be perilous. But the bumping, pushing, leaning and so forth associated with a pedestrian’s life is an accepted part of everyday life. I have never seen any arguments break out on the sidewalk with someone telling another to watch where they are going and so forth. It doesn’t happen because the foot traffic despite everything is harmonious, no matter how discordant it may appear to be.


Anonymous Anonymous said...
Aimless people living in a state of denial....They are oblivious to themselves and the sorry state of their nation. Self-involved to the max degree. Very tragic and a harbinger of what the country is heading towards....(Ramik)

Blogger Christian Garbis said...
A friendly reminder that anyone who chooses to post a comment, particularly those which are aimed as insults directed at me, should be signed with a name, otherwise they will not be posted. Those leaving comments as an "anonymous" person but choose to sign their comment at the end of the text, such as Ramik in the previous comment, are certainly welcome.

Anonymous Anonymous said...
Ah, those bumps and pushes and shoves! How well I remember them walking down streets, up and down stairs, in stores, in schools, in churches, at the airport, during the 1990s and later. I guess it's going to take a very long time for such a "custom" to change. But then, maybe it's just a "normal" thing, and so why change? Normal eh.