The Outsider's Insider

A Guide to Living in Yerevan

A Note on Staring May 25, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — outsidersinsider @ 5:47 am
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I wanted to write this post because I think this is something any foreigner in Armenia has experienced, or experiences daily.  Staring.

In Armenia, it is the norm to be stared at.  We are all familiar with the toe-to-head stare (always beginning with the shoes), and with eyes following us wherever we go.   As a non-Armenian, it is basically my constant companion when out on my daily walk, or while riding the Metro.   There are some days when I feel like a three-headed monster, or just like I may have something hanging out of my nose.

I know it’s something that bothers most of us from the West.  We grew up being told that it is impolite to stare.

Although I do occasionally complain about this cultural phenomenon (ok, sometimes I complain about it a lot), we all need to remember that here it is NOT impolite to stare; it is part of the culture.  I also know that we feel like people are only staring at us…the foreigners, but in fact everyone here stares at everyone else. My husband says that Armenians are an old nation, and they stare to see if maybe they recognize each other from a previous life!  Even driving in the car, he notices people standing on the street who manage to stare straight into his eyes while he speeds by at 50km/hr.  After being here for awhile, when you head back to the land of no eye contact, it almost feels like you don’t exist!  I think everyone just needs to be positive about their experience living here, and not sweat the small stuff…like staring.  Does it actually hurt us?  I even find that I have picked up this habit, and I catch myself staring at people a bit when I head back to the West!  So, instead of feeling self-conscious, just  smile and take it as a sign of your existence on this lonely planet!

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7 Responses to “A Note on Staring”

  1. Tim Says:

    wow…reading it, I recognize it all..but never really notice it anymore…gone native, I suppose…!

  2. John Says:

    I asked an Armenian colleague about the staring phenomenon and he told me that Armenia is 98% ethnically homogeneous (Christian Armenians). And that it is a really special and rare thing to see someone different on the street. This was confirmed by a visitor friend of mine from Tanzania. I enjoyed walking around Yerevan with him and watching the people watch him. My Tanzanian friend said that the porter at the hotel even asked if he could touch my friend’s dark skin.

    It seems that most Armenians are curious of something new. I have seem little to no hostility or fear behind the stares.

    • Peich Says:

      Hi John, SUNDAY called me yesterday on Skype. He’s really the cat’s pajamas. He’ll probably be president of Tanzania one day if he plays his cards right.

  3. I definitely think it has to do with being, basically, a monoculture. I also think it may be an Eastern thing…I think it is normal in India and the Middle East…Is that true??? You would know better than I!

  4. Peich Says:

    Hi Lori, Great post. Us Asian Americans get The Look by other Asians in the States. It’s a few less seconds than The Stare. For instance, I could be cruising through the Lincoln Tunnel when another car full of Asians passes by. Then…The Look. In one and a half seconds, we both are making the quick calculus whether the other is Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, Filipino, Japanese, Laotian, Cambodian, etc. But, yes, my boys and I have gotten the Stares by other folks. It usually strikes up a conversation about where we come from and how we like Armenia. I don’t take it personally.

  5. Tim Says:

    Took a ride on an overnight slow boat through Bangladesh a few years back. Was watched like a television set by the local passengers as I slept on deck. The children even came up to feel the blond hairs on my arms. It drove me insane at the moment, but I now know it was just honest curiosity about the difference between them and me…purely innocent…


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