While locals can certainly tell us quite a few stories about hilarious interactions with repatriates, the same goes for repats, especially new arrivals with little past interactions.
Have you faced any of these situations?
“When I first came to Armenia, I was exposed to ‘vonts es’ for the first time. I was only 11 years old at the time. I knew ‘Inchbes es’ but found myself confused. I had to ask what on earth it meant. After that, for years I believed that was the only way to ask a person how they were in Armenia. At the age of 21, when volunteering in Gyumri, I was greeted with a ‘Barev, inchkhes?’ and that boggled my mind. I kept staring at the person’s face, wondering what would be the appropriate response without giving away the fact that I had no clue what they had asked. The awkward silence that followed can never be forgotten and the girls in Gyumri often laugh about that with me. Since then, I have learned that you can say ‘how are you’ in Armenian at least 5 other ways, depending on which dialect you are speaking in.”
“I remember the situation...it was my first day as a BR volunteer. There was one guy from Australia (and I have never heard Western Armenian or other types of dialects before). So we started talking about something and he said «[email protected]?» and I ask “inch?” And he “[email protected]?” And I “iiiinch?”. So now I know “[email protected]“ and “inch” are the same words.”
“Once I was telling my colleagues ‘anhankisd em’ and then they insisted on asking me about what I was so ‘anhankisd.’ I didn’t know how to explain that, I simply continued repeating that ‘ughagi anhankisd em’... later, I understood that anhankisd means to be ‘mdahok’ instead.”
“The first time I was in Armenia, people kept saying ‘Tsavt Danem’ wherever I went. Entirely total strangers. I had a hard time trying to explain that I do not have any chronic pain you have to take away. It was interesting.”
“In Lebanon, we use the word ‘vargyan’ for minute, but here they use the same word to describe a second. The dentist gave me a liquid solution to gargle my mouth with after surgery. She said gargle for 20 vargyan each time. I kept it in my mouth for 20 minutes and it went numb. Then I realized that she had meant 20 seconds.”
“Everytime I say ‘hajis’ to ask for something, people reply me with ‘khntrem’ - and I thought they were being nice back. It makes sense now that I realised they were correcting me.”
“I had just arrived to Armenia in November 2015. I used to take short walks around the building to get to know the area and enjoy the view of Mt. Aragatz. I was having a conversation with this old man, he was so kind and out of a sudden he's like ‘maman gentani e?’ I was so shocked that it took me a few seconds to realize he meant alive and not animal by the word ‘gentani.’”
“Lots of such funny moments but the most hilarious was years ago when I first came to Armenia and I was working for an international organisation. The organisation had a youth choir so I joined it. The first day I walked in and they were already practicing some songs that I knew quite well so I just started singing with them. Suddenly, the choir director stopped the practice and asked me “Du krtutyun unes?” She meant, do I have musical education! I felt so insulted and infuriated and I replied ”Haba ankirt em???” And I just walked out of the room. Fortunately, there were other spurkahays who intervened and clarified the issue. Now I’m very good friends with the choir director and we always joke about that first day. She calls me her ‘krtvac’ enkeruhi.”
“A funny incident was at a children’s camp. There were lots of spurkahay volunteer leaders including an old couple. One day, we were playing with the kids in front of a building and the husband called out to his wife who was watching from the balcony and said “kravates ge nedes?” The wife said ok and went into the room to get her husband’s necktie to throw it to him. Suddenly, we realised all the kids ran away thinking the wife was gonna throw the husband’s bed from the balcony!!!”
“When I wanted to buy a loofa and said lif, I was asked what size. I opened my palm confused and showed them... Needless to say, we were talking about completely different things (Lif is colloquial from the Russian word for bra).”
“I had surgery to remove my wisdom tooth. Went to work a couple of days later, one of my colleagues asked: What happened to you? I said “խելքիս ատամն եմ հեռացրել” without thinking. We Parskahays say it like that. Needless to say, he was laughing very loud.”
“One time I was working in a village for a week. I was starting to wonder where I will shower because they didn’t have plumbing in this village. I asked the villagers where do you shower? They said ‘tashdin mech’ which really confused me. For us, ‘tashd’ means field. I asked, ‘Wait, do you have a tashd for girls and a tashd for boys?’ They said, ‘No, we just have one. We share.’ I was even more confused and started getting worried... I was starting to wonder if this is a pretty advanced village. Later I found out they meant “dashd” which apparently means a big barrel. Long story short, that night the grandma gave me a nice bathe in that barrel.”
“A taxi driver once told us that a spyurkahye had been riding with him when she suddenly asked, ‘թաշկինակ ունե՞ք’ - he looked back confused and said yes, of course. She tried again, ‘թաշկինակ կտա՞ք’- the driver wondered why she wanted his personal handkerchief (Note: men in Armenia generally carry cloth handkerchiefs around. If you want a tissue, you should say ‘անձերոցիկ’ instead."
“I was new here and about a month later began teaching in a language center. I have always been proud of my Armenian and honestly I was familiar with Eastern as well since I have read and heard a lot of it. BUT to live with it is a different story! One day, one of my basic students asked me what ‘kite’ is in Armenian and I said ‘troutsig’ confidently. She looked at me confused and said ok let's try your way...teach me English in English. Then she told me that they never say ‘troutsig’ to kite but ‘otabarig’ because that means ‘underwear’ in Russian (trousik), commonly used by everyone in Armenia.”
“At teacher-parent meeting, I was suggesting we prepare cards games and candy jars. I used the word ‘shinel’ and everybody started laughing; after a good laugh they explained the difference! So guys be careful and use the word sarkel if you mean to built, prepare ...”
“I overheard a conversation at the market while waiting my turn at the weighting stall.. a Syrian lady approached the employee asking «այս բանջարի ուրիշ տեսակը չունե՞ք» - the employee responded saying «ինչի՞ց» - «բանջար»... «ի՞նչ»... after similar exchanges between the two, the lady eventually went to thé veggies stall and pointed at the aubergines, and the employee went «Հա, բադրջա՞ն»... I mumbled «խեղճ սմբուկ»…”
“I experienced lots of awkward moments in Armenia and especially with my wife since she is Yerevantsi; but the best was always with the in-laws. Once, I told my mother in law ‘mednem senyag kich me yergennam’ and she got puzzled. She took my statement literally. I meant that I wanted to rest a little and lie down.”
“I’m from Lebanon and i know both terms but we usually use the term ‘jermag’ for white. So we were at a restaurant back in summer 2013 and we asked for ‘jermag kini’ - the waiter went and came back with red wine.. We said no, we want ‘jermag kini’ - he went and came again saying that they don’t have that firma. My husband then realised what’s happening and told him that we want “sbidag kini” instead. Finally, we go our wine.”
“During my first visit to Armenia, I was in a restaurant and asked for ‘dabgvadz kednakhntsor’ - the waiter was around his fifties and didn’t understand what we’re ordering. We explained to him what we want and when he realised what it was, he turned to us and said ‘ba hayeren khosek, dabagadz gardofil.’ He refused to accept it when we said kartofil is not an Armenian word.”
“We were once at a very known café; we ordered beer, nuts and ‘esdebghin.’ The ‘esdebghin’ didn’t arrive so we asked again, “Where’s our esdebghin?” and my sister-in-law went on explaining that it is orange in color, rabbits eat it, etc. He said ‘gazar?!!!!’ and of course, knowing Arabic, we said yessss ‘gazar’ is what we want.”
“At my language center, this conversation happened: My assistant: "mi mard zangets uzum er ginerits haskanal" - Me: !!! Ahh you mean the prices (kin). Pronunciation often becomes a source of awkward entertainment.”
Disclaimer: This post and any subsequent posts are meant to both entertain and enlighten. The truth is that even in Armenia, the regions have trouble understanding one another, just as different diasporas have their own dialect and manner of speech. This is not to be used to poke fun, but to better understand the culture of the country you have moved to or will be moving to.
I will also put together a dictionary of words that differ between Western and Yerevan’s Eastern dialect. Yerevan is stressed because it is the dialect you will be most exposed to. Shirak, Lori, Syunik, Artsakh and a myriad of other regions have their own manner of speech as well. I recommend spending some time in each to familiarize yourselves with the richness of the Armenian language.