The Outsider's Insider

A Guide to Living in Yerevan

I am a Master – by Tim Straight June 14, 2010

Filed under: Tim Straight,Uncategorized — outsidersinsider @ 4:23 am

A another fantastic post by Tim Straight!!

Armenians are full of self-confidence.  In a country where for a period from the early 90s when independence was foot-followed by nearly total economic collapse, being confident and handy with a wrench, a paint brush, even a welding machine was not a luxury, but a necessity.  Through these past 20 or so years, Armenia has been held together by the ingenuity of the common man in repairing his shoes, his car, his water lines, his electrical wiring, his gas connection, and even more perceived-as-dangerous things that a Westerner like myself would never dream of touching(mind you, I may be the extreme case, as I am still not quite sure how to turn on my stove at home…there, now I can say it…I am a weirdo)

This ability to fix nearly everything under the sun with the most primitive of tools has boosted the Armenian self-confidence to the point, in my opinion, that it is at times, well….’over the top’ might be an appropriate expression.  It has spilled over into areas of personal taste, for example.  Only yesterday I heard a new acquaintance grumble that the housekeeper at his home continued to make the summer salads for dinner using onion, despite his explicit instruction not to do so.  I can imagine the conversation:

He:  Please don’t put onions in the salad

She: Why? They are good for you

He:  We don’t like onions

She:  But they are good for you

He:  I know that, but we really don’t like onions

She:  But they are good for you

Be assured that the salad was probably very begrudgingly made without the said onions, but with lots of grumbling about how weird foreigners are.  Now, let’s underline the fact that onions ARE good for you.  So in a sense, the housekeeper was right.  This, in a nutshell, is why I don’t have a housekeeper who makes my food.  I eat all my meals out at cafes where I order my summer salads without onions.  And, yes, this is why I do not know how to turn on the stove at home.  Here we go again, I am the weirdo.


Now, the onion story is just scratching the surface.  Allow me:

Me:  I wanted the walls of my bedroom beige.  But you have painted them orange

He:  This is a better color

Me: But I wanted them beige

He:  No, this is a better color

Me:  But I am paying the bill

He:  But I am the Master.  This is a better color

Seriously.  This conversation happened.  In my bedroom.  Seven years ago.  The walls of my bedroom are still orange.  I’ve grown to like the color through the years.

The Infamous Orange Wall

Moving on.  Sitting in my office one day, a man came in:

He:  I need to check whether the cable in that hole in the asphalt outside your office is live

Me:  OK, are you an electrician?

He:  I am a Master

He went out.  Five minutes later, I heard a loud bang and all the lights went out.  I suspected some connection to above conversation, and went out to check.  Seeing a small group of rather stunned men with charred faces, it went something like this:

Me:  Anything wrong?

He:  No, the cable was live

Me:  Not any more.  What did you do?

He:  (Impatiently)  Like I said, I tested to see if it was live

Me:  How did you test it? (knowing full well that I was challenging his Master-ness)

He:  (More impatiently) I took a metal shovel and jammed it into the cable

Me:  Ah, so that explains the explosion

He:  Yes, of course (with a serious ‘what are you weird?’ tone in his voice)

It was a good four working days before we had our electricity back.  I have no defense of this man.  He could have seriously injured both himself and the others Masters standing around looking at the hole in the ground with a cable in it.  There is no way I am the weird one in this particular episode.  Sorry.


Then there is the sub-category of ‘I am A Master’, which is ‘That is Impossible’.  When asked to do something that he has not done before, the Master never admits it.  He simply states it as being impossible to do.  For example:

Me:  I would like you to make a railing for my stairway out of water pipes (rather than buying an expensive imported Italian one)

He:  That is impossible

Me:  Why is it impossible?

He:  I am the Master. I know.

Me:  Have you ever tried doing something like that before? (on thin ice here again, challenging the Master-ness)

He:  (with a dash of indignity) No

Me:  Then how do you know it’s impossible?

He:  I am the Master

I today am the proud owner of a water pipe railing, nicely painted with car enamel (which was another whole ‘that is impossible’ episode.  He was quite proud of his work once it was done.  He did an excellent job.  I am sure he is selling it to everybody else as his own idea, as he is, after all, the Master.

Water Pipe Railing

Also under the ‘that is impossible’ category is my sofa.  I went to the fabric shop to buy material to have my sofa covered with.  I looked through dozens of materials, not finding the specific grey color I was looking for.  Then I spotted a roll in the corner…

ME:  That one is perfect!  How much for a meter?

HE:  You can’t buy that

ME:  Why not?

HE:  That is impossible. That fabric is for car seats, not for furniture

ME:  Is it harder to work with?  Is it much more expensive?  Is there any technical reason at all I can’t use this on a sofa? (I was seriously bewildered at this point)

HE:  This is for Volkswagens, not sofas

I have my 2002 model Volkswagen sofa parked downstairs in my apartment, and I love it!

Now please don’t go getting upset about how I think I am so much better than these Masters.  I am not.  I just come from a different reality, and approach things in a different way.  After years of irritation and frustration, I have learned to appreciate the Masters’ approach.

Just recently I saw an amazing performance by a small group of Masters.  On the night of Eurovision here in Yerevan late in May, thousands of people were gathered around Swan Lake in the opera park to enjoy an all night long festival of ‘music’, live from Norway.  Twenty minutes before the show was to start on the big screen, an electrical connection at the top of a pole when BANG!.  The lights on the screen and on the stage went dark.  Then the top of the pole burst into flames, sparks flying everywhere.  My first instinct was ‘well, that was that’.  Not one Armenian flinched.  They stood and watched as the Masters climbed up to the fire, extinguished it, and started working on the charcoaled connection.  Then the crowd started chanting ‘Hayastan, Hayastan’.  Exactly 20 minutes after the bang and two minutes after the start of the show in Oslo, the screen was back on, and people were ecstatic.  I was amazed.

In most Western countries, that never would have happened.  The fire trucks would have been called in to douse the flames, the police would have emptied the area within a hundred meters distance, ambulances would be howling and flashing their lights, and the insurance estimators would be running around with their notepads.  The show would not have gone on.

But in Armenia, the show went on.  Thanks to the Masters.


7 Responses to “I am a Master – by Tim Straight”

  1. Peich Says:

    Where’s the LIKE button — oh — this isn’t Facebook! Love it.

    You do realize that they’re actually saying “meister” from Russian which, in turn, is co-opted from German. A rough translation would be a skilled craftsman or tradesman. Johnny Y and Vache are the Russian “meisters” but they’ll confirm this.

  2. Gina Says:

    The Master: Stop calling yourself a weirdo.
    Tim: But I think it’s a good self description.
    The Master: It’s never good to call yourself a weirdo. Save it to use on others.
    Tim: But I like it.
    The Master: But I am the Master. Just don’t do it.

  3. Vladimir Lenin Says:

    This is so ” post soviet” rather than Armenian…
    Very good post love it.
    I think what differentiate post soviet territories from “civilized” countries is tools and and will.
    One can only imagine what simple man can achive with simple butter knife!

  4. Gideon Says:

    This takes me back so much…. classic! You are the Master of Blogs!

    Reminds me of that other old saying: Armenia has the highest safety standards in the world – in terms of altitude….

  5. Mariam Says:

    Great! What a patient and amazing approach to armenian Masters! I would like to have it when it happened to me to have deals with them! hehe. Thanks for this lovely posting!

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