On Being Armenian: When Rules Don’t Apply
As any teenager can tell you, Chemistry is a dreaded yet inevitable course all students must eventually take. At my high school, junior year was when the memorization of the periodic table of elements took place. In the typical fashion of that kind of class, my antiquated teacher paired us up into lab partners, and I was partnered with a still close friend, who for the purposes of this story, we can call Ara.
One day we had to make a model of a molecule chain using Styrofoam balls, toothpicks, paint and various other arts and crafts matter. Ara, being the nice guy that he is, offered to go to the local craft store to pick up the supplies that we needed, much to my appreciation. When I saw him in class the next day with the freshly purchased supplies, he said something that, to me, at that point in my life, was ridiculous.
Ara: Ok, I got all the supplies and the total came to five dollars. I have the receipt right here.
Me: Ok… thanks.
Ara: So, you owe me $2.50.
Me: What do you mean “I owe you $2.50?” Aren’t you Armenian!?
That day made me realize something deep within me that I never knew existed. Any two normal non- Armenians would obviously split the cost of the supplies, as that is what society dictates is the proper procedure. But somehow, the fact that both Ara and I were Armenian and that the cost of said supplies was so menial made the whole conversation about money seem ludicrous.
Remembering that exchange got me thinking about so many other things that we think we are exempt from, simply because of the fact that we are Armenian. Here are a few more examples to prove my case:
• Punctuality: or lack thereof. This is something that I am guilty of every single day, yet for the life of me I can’t seem to ever overcome it. I think it all began with my parents and their inability to ever get me to school functions or birthday parties on time. Somewhere along the line, my mother instilled in me that being 10-15 minutes late was the norm, and only when I became immersed in the professional world did I discover that being tardy had major repercussions. Believe you me, “Armenian Time” exists and it runs half an hour behind, no matter which time zone you find yourself in. So next time you have any sort of function whatsoever, please know that if that invitation says 6:00 p.m., your Armenian guests will be arriving at 6:30 p.m., at the earliest.
• Business Practices: Have you ever shopped at an Armenian run establishment? Perhaps a market, bakery or clothing store? If so, you’ve probably come to the realization that it is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, if the proprietor realizes you are Armenian, he/she will most likely strike up a conversation with you and you may enjoy some perks such as discounts, special halvah kept “in the back” or be the first to have your pick of fresh baked baklava. But on the other hand, being Armenian in an Armenian run establishment can also have drawbacks like: the unwelcome and strongly stated opinion on the dress you’ve just tried on or the lack of professionalism and service. Just because you name happens to end in an ian/yan Degeen Anahid feels like she can tell you that the color red makes your butt look big and Baron Vasken has no problem expressing that you’d be better off buying some apricots instead of that cake in your shopping basket.
• Connections: Need your car fixed? Or maybe you need to buy a new one? How about some beautiful gold jewelry? Chances are, if you’re Armenian you know a guy who knows a guy that can help you out with that so you will never have to pay the full retail price. While this may seem like a godsend at first, flash forward 3 months to when you discover that your car is leaking oil, Salesman of the Year Avo neglected to inform you that the shiny Civic in your garage lacks a manufacturer’s warranty and that lovely gold bracelet is causing an allergic reaction on your wrist. If you had just gone the conventional route from the start you wouldn’t now find yourself in the precarious position of having to go back to Avo or vosgereech Hampig and insulting them and their work, which of course you cannot do- so guess what?- that money you saved 3 months ago? Gone! Plus, don’t forget the dermatology bills and cost of fixing that leaking car. Lesson: keep family friends where they belong; in your living room, sipping coffee with your mom and talking about their kids’ achievements.
• Carbon Footprint: Have you gone into an Armenian home only to notice that every single light in the house is on during a rolling blackout? Or maybe that it’s a breezy 72 degrees outside, but the A/C is on full blast? As Armenians, we tend to love excess, and while having too much food is always better than having too little, energy conservation is something that should not follow that rule. Perhaps my favorite example of this is the use of water, namely laundry. Notorious for clean homes and clean clothes, Armenian moms will get that stain out of that shirt, even if it means repeatedly running the washing machine (using the hottest possible water setting) and dryer with only the shirt in question being washed. But to be fair, Armenian moms do make up for what they waste in water by what they save in plastic; bags that is. Next time you throw out the trash in that Ralph’s grocery bad, rest assured that you’ve done your small part in helping the planet.
While I realize that there are many generalizations in the above, you have got to admit that from time to time, as Armenians we like to consider the rules of society optional, non-applicable and non-obligatory.