The stranger in the street looked at the stranger stranger in the street, screwed his face into that shape one takes when he is distressed, then fulfilled a fantasy of mine: An Armenian asked me for directions.
He, a local, was asking me, emphatically not one, for help navigating the capital of his country. And he asked in Armenian. And I knew what he was asking. Things started to break down from there but, well, I take the small things . . .
“Teryan, oozum es?” You want Teryan, I asked.
“Aiyo” he affirmed.
“Ari,” I said. Come. “Ice Tumanyan”. This is Tumanyan (street). (No doubt linguists will tell me that I should have said “Sa” instead of “ice”, but, hey, when you’re begging for directions from an alien you can’t expect to get the King’s Armenian.)
“Ach, heto, dzakh,” I told the man.
Right, then left. Genius.
Some famous pioneer of the American west said he knew it was time to move whenever someone else lived close enough that he could see smoke from their fireplace. Maybe this is my version of that.
Recently someone called the newsroom to speak to me. I answered, and after a few words, the caller asked me to identify myself. I did, and the caller said:
“Oh, it’s you. I’m sorry. You sound like an Armenian trying to speak English.”
“You couldn’t possibly be as sorry about that as I am,” I said.
I’m here nearly four years, during which time – until last week – there was some glorious anonymity to my obviousness. You know, that “lost in a crowd” feeling. Except in this case, the crowd is lost, too. But that’s another essay.
Well. For whatever synchronistic reasons, a second person stopped me in the street, this time near the newsroom, to ask directions.
This time, however, I had no idea where the man needed to go. But – and here is the part that troubles me – I couldn’t bring myself to tell him that I didn’t know. And I don’t just mean the language problem.
I know how to say “Chgitem” (I don’t
know), I just couldn’t. Like an Armenian.
My time here has taught me two things about these people: They do not apologize; and they do not admit not knowing something.
One might say “knerek” while she
pours flour down your shoes pushing past you to
the market cashier. But, tellingly, she will continue
pushing. For the most part (and maybe a legacy
of Soviet collective rudeness), they are not apologetic
– especially so in matters of regrettable
Nor do Armenian men know how to say “I can’t”.
Walk up to a man on a street corner and ask, for example, if he can repair your television. He’ll say that he can. To say otherwise would admit something he is incapable of admitting, and every task is a challenge of machismo. And he’ll come to your house and tear into the television, and upon realizing the inevitable will tell you it’s a manufacturer’s problem. Or, more likely, that the previous repair guy didn’t know what he was doing.
So I, influenced as it now becomes apparent by my surroundings, said to the unfortunate second guy on the street last week:
“Ach, heto dzakh.”
He’s probably still out there walking. Right, left, right . . .
Like I said: I’ve been here too long.