As some of you know I’ve been living in Armenia steadily since 2004. In that time, a lot of things have changed related to society at large, politics, economy and the landscape (Yerevan has changed dramatically whereas the regions haven’t). There are some pet peeves, however, that are enduring. Here’s a few:
The term “aper,” which is distilled from “akhbar,” a word for brother derived from the Arabic that has been used by Armenians from the Middle East, is used to address seemingly anyone under the age of 60 (once gray hairs set in, a man is addressed by someone far younger as “hopar,” which is slang for “uncle”). Its usage is epidemic. When a man has to get another’s attention, say on the sidewalk, he would yell, usually at the top of his smoked-out lungs, “Aper!” repeatedly until the person he wishes to speak with finally turns around (naturally, everyone turns to look at the guy yelling, thinking he’s talking to them). Guys call each other aper, used in the context of “dude,” although another term, “ara,” which is first and foremost a popular male name, is used interchangeably (perhaps it would be more accurate to delineate ara as “yo” in American English). The grating usage of aper is not only irritating, it has changed the way people call one another, from a formal approach to animalistic, as if apes were trying to stand out in the jungle. The Armenian equivalents of “sir” or even “mister” don’t even seem to be used anymore (although if you’re lucky you might be addressed as “my respectable one,” usually by a traffic cop). I must hear aper being either shouted or spoken at least a hundred times a day, and half the time I don’t realize it’s spoken. You can hear it when a male, young or middle-aged, is talking on his cell phone, or when he’s chatting with his buddies on the sidewalk. You hear it when you obtain a good or service, at the grocery store or the gas station. Honestly, if I know the person and he calls me aper, I am not offended since it’s a casual form of address between acquaintances. Nevertheless, this blunt method of stating presence at inappropriate moments and places has long gotten out of control, and the more frequently aper is used, the more people are sounding idiotic or disrespectful to each other. Even women call strangers aper. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that the Catholicos of All Armenians addresses his business associates or archbishops the same way.
All clanking, crashing, grinding, banging, sawing, and growling associated with construction and transportation have pushed me to the point where, at least for the time being, I hardly leave my apartment if I don’t have to go outdoors. Yerevan is noisier than ever--I actually don’t remember it being so loud as it is now--and much of that cacophony is coming from cars and trucks with faulty exhaust systems (or a performance muffler that magnifies the sound 10 times) and police sirens installed in place of car horns. Unfortunately my apartment is situated at an intersection with a traffic light, so when one motorist is late by a split second to engage in first gear when the light turns green, everyone waiting behind him lets him have it. Usually they hold their hand down on the horn for no less than three long seconds (some people hit the horn in short bursts, like their playing the dhol.
Mafiosos and wanna-bes.
The cool thing is for men and adolescents to look and act as though their part of a gang associated with a mafia family. Daily life on the corner downstairs resembles a scene from the beginning of the film “Goodfellas,” when Henry Hill is describing what life was like in the neighborhood, hanging out with Paulie’s crew, waiting for a job to do. The sad thing is that criminal activity does exist in my neighborhood, and apparently it has for years according to what I’ve heard. Last year from my balcony I personally saw someone, a regular who hangs out in the area, deal drugs out of his car window to one of the kids that lives around here. It seemed like a scene from another movie about inner-city life. In fact, use of narcotics by the youth in this part of town is not uncommon. Around the corner in front of the Amsterdam Café a police detail is always there. The cops, usually red berets, are either trying to protect some big shot hanging out inside or busting someone for one reason or another. The beer bellies, sharkskin suits, dark designer sunglasses, slim cigarettes, black Japanese SUVs, Bentleys, BMWs, blinding white pimped-out Nivas and all other gangster-associated material nonsense is everywhere. They continually shout, show off, and annoy. There’s no escape. You can even see the same things in some of the villages just outside Yerevan.
I really don’t know what the solutions are to these societal problems; I can only identify them. Some reading this might ask: Isn’t simply leaving Armenia an option? For foreigners like myself, sure it is. But what should people born and raised here who share the same concerns do? Continue to emigrate? Or keep putting up?
In memory of Andy Rooney.
Labels: Personal Experiences, Social and Cultural, Thoughts and Musings