The Outsider's Insider

A Guide to Living in Yerevan

Buying Cola in Vanadzor- by Tim Straight June 28, 2010

Now that doesn’t sound like a very interesting topic for a blog post, does it?

A few years ago, while working for the Norwegian Refugee Council, three of my staff and I made a field trip up to Tavoush, taking the route through Vanadzor.  This was before the tunnel from Lake Sevan up towards Dilijan was reopened, cutting out eight of the 16 bends in the road as you climb up this side and down that side of the mountains.  The tunnel today makes that route a faster way to get up to Tavoush and the Georgian border.  (As a side note, I would still recommend taking the old road over the mountains from Lake Sevan and not the tunnel, as you will experience some gorgeous landscape, and also drive through a Molokan(the True Believers) village, with its incredibly nice old wooden houses with wide balconies stretched around at least two sides of the house).

So, we were on our long way back down to Yerevan after having made an all day project visit up in the village of Ptghavan, right on the Georgian border.  (I am today a proud citizen of the village of Ptghavan, thanks to that project, and have a diploma with stamp to prove it!)  Alaverdi, Vanadzor, Spitak, Aparan and home…

Tim's Ptghavan Citizenship Paper

Driving through Vanadzor, the four of us in the car decided that we would stop and get a cola after a long day of work.  We chose a tired little ‘bootka’- a small, green shoebox of a candy and cigarettes shop standing along the road, just before ‘Tim’s hole’. Yes, I once nearly destroyed a Landcruiser by running the front right tire into a large, gaping hole in the road with a very loud bang.  Thus, it was forever called ‘Tim’s hole’ until it was filled in about four years later.  I still lament this to this day, commenting ‘They have filled in my hole’ every time I drove past.

So we stopped at the bootka and I ran in to get colas for us all.  In the murkiness of the shoebox I could see a pleasant looking woman tidying up rows of cigarettes on shelves on the near wall, while a rack of chocolates stretched across the opposite(well, it kind of inched across. It was a very small shop).  A fridge stood tucked away in the corner.

Bingo.

Me:  Is your refrigerator working?  Do you have electricity? (Having a fridge in a bootka does not indicate that a) it works, or b) that it has electricity, I have learned the hard way.  Thus these two opening questions)

She:  Yes Yes

Me:  Do you have cola?

She:  Yes

Me:  Please give me four colas

She:  I can’t

Me:  Why not?

She:  I have only four colas

Me:  That’s how many I want.  Can I have them, please?

She:  No.  If you take all four, what will I sell to the next customer?

Literally.  Let me repeat the gist of this.  ‘If I sell you all the colas I have, I will have nothing to sell to the next customer’.

Now, I am a man of self-perceived extreme rationality, so this fascinated me.

This was not logical.

Not having either the language skills or the patience to enter into a discussion of the weakness of her argument with the woman in the bootka, I got cola-lessly back in the car and drove on.  I asked my staff members what the logic behind her argument could possibly be, thinking they as local Armenians would better understand the situation.  It did not make sense.

But no, they had no idea what she was thinking.  So, we worked out some possible theories:

  1. She was bewildered by this big very white foreigner coming into her bootka and just wanted to get rid of me.  This does happen sometimes if they feel flustered and not in control, but generally Armenians are very curious about foreigners.  So, not a likely explanation.
  2. She knew there was something wrong with the quality of the cola, and didn’t want to sell them to me, a foreigner.  This could be true, as Armenians really do care what foreigners think about their country.  It would be shameful to sell a bad cola to a foreigner.  Still, how many bad batches of cola have you ever heard of?
  3. She had regular customers who came every evening to buy cola, and preferred to make sure that they got their regular colas, rather selling them to some stranger.  Now that would make sense, but somehow I am still not at all convinced.

We, a combination of a foreigner and three locals could really not figure out what the real reason for refusing to sell us her four colas could be.  But the lack of logic did not seem to bother my staff nearly as much as it bothered me.    Me, I need to know why something is.  Armenians don’t seem to need to know.  It just is.  That’s a good quality in Armenians, the ability to just let it go.  Wish I could do that.

We found four bottles of Fanta a bit further down the road in a red bootka just past my hole.

But why in the world wouldn’t she sell us those four bottles of cola?

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5 Responses to “Buying Cola in Vanadzor- by Tim Straight”

  1. Dear Tim…. Thanks for keeping my blog going while I am too preoccupied with Americana Classic Vintage to pay attention to it!!!

    • ShaQ Says:

      LoooL Tim this is hilarious!!! This is Sooo Funny!!! Armenians Are Really weird… She maybe keeps them so she can tell the next costumer (wh would possibly one or max. 2 colas) that she has some, and Knowing that a tourist will never be back in this place made her care about the other buyers, who come and go often… So yeah pretty much the 3rd version a little bit moderated 😀

  2. Gayane Afrikian Says:

    Tim, this is a fascinating story. However, if I were you I would suggest to drink the colas (all four of them with your friends,colleagues) right in front of her bootka and leave the bottles behind (to her). Moreover, if you drink in front of her bootka, there are chances you may take somehting esle than just a cola, also you would create a crowd in front of her bootka which is always desirable for bootka sales people!

    I do not think you should be looking for irrational behaviour on her behalf. I think there is much rationality in her behaviour (refusal to give you all four bottles of colas) than you tried to find out or it would even seem logical at first.

    Also, I would ask her why (she does not want to sell all four colas) in a different ways (such as, do you want me to give you back the bottles? Or do you want us to drink infront of your bootka etc..?) to really not only get an answer but to get the colas:)

    You were too fascinated by her answer, that your end game was no longer to get the colas but to know why (she does not want to sell you all four colas:)

  3. Nara Says:

    Fantastic story!
    However, I don’t think this has anything to do with Armenians in general. She was just a little bit… strange, let’s put it that way, which is not bad at all, strange people sometimes add some fun in our lives. Not only in Armenia…

  4. Anna Conway Says:

    I can help with this one. The same thing happened once to me and my husband in a local shop. We wanted to buy some wine. So we asked for it. The shop assistant refused to sell it. The explanation was as follows:
    – This is the last bottle. If I sell it to you, the shelf will look kind of empty. So no way I am selling it.

    I assume this is why the other woman did not want to sell the Coke to you. 🙂


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