It has been nearly five years since I moved to Armenia in 2013. It is important to note that while I spent my youth in Canada, it has been an adult life I live in Armenia. Making comparisons is a daily routine, really, but it has lessened quite a bit over the years. I may be able to compare holding a job or attending university, but I cannot compare having a child, getting married, or living a mother’s life.
However, there are many nuances that either bother or elate me during my day-to-day life here. These days, when asked why I moved and if life was so bad in Canada, I simply say that life is different in every country but still the same. It’s the little things that matter. So what are some of the major differences I still compare between the two countries?
Bet you were not expecting to see that first on the list. The truth is, if you are from Toronto or a similar large metropolitan like I am, you are used to hours upon hours spent on the road. The smaller size of Yerevan certainly is appealing for those of us who have had to drive at least half an hour or more to get anywhere. However, when it comes to traffic jams, Yerevan is quite on par with Toronto. It might be a shorter distance to home, but the fact that a 10-minute drive can take up to 1.5 hours is extremely frustrating.
Avoiding the city center during rush hour, at least when travelling by car, is a good option. Walking is so much faster if you live within an hour’s radius. At least there are lots of little roads you can escape through, if necessary, in Armenia. Getting stuck at rush hour on a highway in Toronto would be enough to put one to sleep.
The Postal Services
Did you know that most people have no idea what their postal codes are? Or that a whole area can share the same code? That is a huge difference when one comes from North America. There, every house has its own code and everything you go through requires knowledge of said code. It is one of the first things I learned alongside my home phone number as a child. Furthermore, the postal service rules in Armenia are very strict. I remember bills and packages and a whole lot of mail being left at my doorstep in Canada that was not mine.
Here, I could not even pick up a package that was clearly mine, simply because the sender had used my husband’s surname instead of my maiden name (I never did change it). While the process became very frustrating because of it, it gave me newfound respect for the bodies firmly abiding by their rules. You can be sure that no one else will pick up your packages, at least.
Fathers and Grandfathers
It is a growing phenomenon where fathers are seen taking their kids out, pushing the strollers and carrying the little ones. However, what I had not expected was that when looking at nearly any family in Yerevan, the men are the ones caring for the children, often out on their own. Grandfathers pushing strollers or walking with grandchildren in hand, just strolling about. It is a pleasant surprise, and not a scene I was used to very much in Canada.
Perhaps I just never realized it, but it glaringly apparent how much men love children here. Even when you walk into a store, male youth will pick up your little one, play with them, and show them lots of love. This is even true for teenagers here. Again, perhaps I never realized it in Canada, but I don’t think I have ever seen such adoring behavior from the male counterparts anywhere else.
Living in a material world, gift-giving is a huge part of Canadian society. Every occasion calls for a gift. More than just flowers and chocolates, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, birthdays, anniversaries, baby showers, bridal showers, and everything in between calls for gifts. There are registries now for near everything. I’m used to that. I actually love it. So when you enter a society that is more about eating and drinking than taking gifts along wherever you go, it starts gnawing at you a little bit.
I cannot imagine going to visit anyone without taking a little something with me. I cannot imagine Christmas without piles upon piles of gifts. I have tried to keep that tradition alive here as well, but when you are the only one giving, you start to lessen your load as well. People neither give nor expect gifts here. But they do expect food. Lots and lots of food and alcohol. It is quite interesting.
Social Media Assistance
Canadian Armenians rarely use social media to connect outside of individual friendships. Armenia’s Armenians are always connected. There are groups for just about everything, from personal home sales to finding a babysitter; the most common are the parent/pregnant women groups where there are thousands of comments and posts made on a daily basis. You have a question? Just ask in a group.
You want to share the happiness you feel on the day your child is born? Just share in a group. The congratulations are heartfelt, the condolences are sincere, and while parents will always do things their own way and it is often conflicting advice that you receive, they are all there to help. There is just so much going on that you never actually manage to feel alone. It’s quite charming, actually.
So yes, there are many differences between the Canadian and Armenian societies. And while some are astonishing, others are frustrating, and others still are pleasant surprises, at the end of the day, it is a rather beautiful experience trying to understand it all. I’m pretty sure that I will always find something to compare societies with, but that is what makes living here all the more exciting and life so very interesting.