“When you’re in Rome, do as Romans do”, the old adage says, and figuratively it refers to every country and city of the world. Wherever you go, you should be armed with general knowledge of the customs and traditions of the country. It holds true to Armenia as well. This ancient country boasts a myriad of beautiful traditions: some of the customs are firmly enrooted in the history of the Armenian people, whereas others have been formed over the past century under external influences.
It’s only natural that you’ll first face a clash of your behavior models with the local customs no matter how easy-going and flexible you consider yourself. So, to help you out of awkward situations, we present this quick cheat-sheet of the top Armenian traditions and customs you’ll need to know during your trip to Armenia.
Armenian customs and traditions: Greeting and leave-taking customs
“To kiss or shake hands? How many times to kiss? Or just say “barev” (“hi”)” These are but a few questions you’ll keep racking your brains over once you’re introduced to a person for the first time in Armenia. Actually, everything is easier than you think. Although Armenians are considered warm and amiable, they don’t usually kiss a person they saw for the first time as a greeting or leave-taking (as compared to 2 kisses for French and 3 kisses for the Dutch, for instance). Hand-shaking is the most common way of greeting. Afterwards, when you make friends with them (and most of Armenians gladly do), you can kiss on a cheek and slightly hug once while greeting and saying “good-bye”.
Strolling in the Armenian streets you can observe men kissing each other while greeting. It’s a natural custom and shows real closeness and friendship. From a perspective of a foreigner, they may seem to be gay, but don’t let it mislead you. Vice versa, the Armenian society (especially men) is quite conservative and still against same-sex relationships. As to Armenian women, you can see many of them holding hands. Then again, that isn’t a sign of homosexuality: it’s just another culturally marked behavior that shows warm feelings and closeness.
Armenian customs and traditions: Tipping culture
After tasting a delicious Armenian dish in a restaurant or café, you’ll be faced with another dilemma: to tip or not to tip? As a rule, the tip will be included and mentioned in the bill (it’s usually up to 10% of the dishes and drinks you order). If not, you’ll be appreciated to leave up to 5-10% tip (or more, if the service is exceptional).
Armenian customs and traditions: Birthday customs
If you’re visiting your Armenian friends and are invited to a birthday party, you should know a few nuances to shirk embarrassing situations.
First of all, if you’ve scheduled to meet others in a certain place at a certain time, don’t worry if you arrive on time to find out no one has come. Even the host. Time perceptions vary from culture to culture. What can be considered “in time” for an Armenian can be “too late” for a German, for instance. So, expect to wait around 15-30 minutes while all the party people gather.
As for giving the gift to the birthday person, you should do it at the beginning: he or she may or may not open it in public – it depends on a person.
If it’s the first time you visit a person’s house, you’ll be exposed to the whole splendor of famous Armenian hospitality. A caveat: you’d better be hungry (unless you’ve been preliminarily informed you’re invited to taste only dessert which is not that common), because you’ll be almost forced to taste everything the hostess made: if you refuse to, it’s an insult to the hostess. The old Armenian proverb says, “A guest is the gift of the God”, and most Armenians will take care their “gifts” leave their house with full stomachs and happy faces.
The old Armenian proverb says, “A guest is the gift of the God”, and most Armenians will take care their “gifts” leave their house with full stomachs and happy faces. By the way, Armenians don’t have fixed time for meals: they’re known for their love for late dinners (sometimes in the middle of the night!), so “to have dinner” for an Armenian, for instance, may be timed at around 15:00-20:00.
Armenian customs and traditions: Attitude toward children
Armenians are traditionally known for being protective (and sometimes overprotective) to their children. Usually, children live with parents until they get married, and parents sometimes afford education, marriage and other key events of their offsprings. It’s considered normal in the Armenian society as contrasted to the Western approach. Besides, Armenians are very attentive to kids in the streets as well. So, if you travel to this country with your infants, expect special attitude to your kids from total strangers. Sometimes they can start talking to your child, asking questions or complimenting his or her cuteness. You don’t have to worry- it’s an expression of affection toward your children, nothing dangerous.
Overall, Armenians are agreeable and friendly to tourists, so, even if you break some customs and traditions unintentionally they will kindly correct you and show you the Armenian version of tackling the situation. This is perhaps why you’re sure to enjoy even the cultural differences in this hospitable and warm country.
Text: Sirvard Amatuni