Hello and welcome to the BigAppleSchool podcast. My name is John.
And today we’re gonna talk about traditions and customs in Armenia. So, Inga, where are you from?
Oh, actually, I’m from Armenia. So Armenia is one of the old, ancient I should say, ancient countries in the world with long, rich and not always easy history. So it’s a country with delicious fruits and vegetables, where you can try different delicious dishes.
And of course there are a lot of interesting sightseeings, ancient temples and churches. And of course, there are a lot of modern buildings as well.
Could you tell me the names of the biggest cities in Armenia?
Biggest cities the capital of Armenia, Yerevan. The second one is Gyumri, I’m from Gyumri. And the third one is Kirovakan.
And how would you describe Armenians, the people?
Oh, Armenians are, as travelers and visitors, have already noticed, Armenians are hospitable, friendly, and kind people. So we have a gentle attitude towards children, we adore children. And of course Armenians are, we have got firm families.
We’ve got mutual respect. And of course we respect the elderly, elderly people. It is just description, general description of Armenians.
And could you describe the Armenian language? I mean Armenia’s in the Caucasus is some kind of a melting pot, the fusion between East and West, between Islam and Christianity. So how has that affected the language?
Right. We are a small country, Armenia’s a small country. Our neighbors are actually Muslims, Azerbaijan, Turkey, Iran. We’ve got one more Christian country, which is Georgia. So we have got great influence on Armenian language during this history, historical period of time.
But I should say about, I should speak about Armenian alphabet. So, Armenians have established their own alphabet in the 5th century AD, and Armenian clergymen wrote, tried to create Armenian alphabet, which is based on the Greek alphabet and Pallavi script of ancient Persian.
So there’s a special feature in Armenian alphabet, which is not many language in the world, which is the division of consonants into three categories, for example voiced consonants, [B], voiced, voiceless and soft voiceless. There are [b], [p], [p’], [g], [k], [k’].
So there are 39 letters in Armenian language. And one more interesting fact bout Armenian language, I mean, the alphabet, so we have got one character for each letter. So for example in English we’ve got two characters for the sound sh – S and H. CH – C and H.
But in Armenian language we’ve got one character for each letter. There are also a lot of dialects and variations. In Armenia, which is a small country, but there are 33 dialects. And I don’t understand most of them really. So when people speak, I’m a native speaker, but I don’t understand these people. It’s difficult.
Oh, I’m sorry John, can I add one more interesting sentence, about Lord Byron. Lord Byron used to visit Armenia many times. And in Gyumri we’ve got a school named after Lord Byron. He used to say about Armenian language that it’s a language to speak with God. Interesting, right?
Yeah it certainly is. So, my next question might be quite difficult to answer. If, you know, there are 39 different dialects, how do Armenian people greet each other, presupposing they do actually speak the same dialect?
Yes, during my lessons I try to show different videos to my students. We watch videos about different cultures and traditions in different countries. How people greet each other, how just… With different.. How should I say it… With different methods, different ways.
But Armenian people used to shake their hands and, of course, kiss on a cheek. And hold their hands. So women can hold their hands in the street, and it doesn’t mean that they are in a relationship. It means that they are very close friends to each other.
So it means that. One more interesting fact that I can say about Armenians that they use French word merci instead of saying their long word thank you - shnorhakalut’yun. By the way, Armenian words are very long. Very long words. So I guess it is…
They are lazy to use their shnorhakalut’yun, so that’s why instead of saying shnorhakalut’yun, they say merci. So when I go to Armenia, I’ll always use this word, merci, instead of shnorhakalut’yun.
Actually, I don’t know. But it’s just… Maybe short word to say. One more thing, very interesting, we use the word jan with names of people. John-jan, Inga-jan. It can show our warm attitude towards this person. It shows that we appreciate this person, we respect this person. So I can say John-jan whenever I see you at BigAppleSchool, if you don’t mind.
I think I know the answer, but are Armenians hospitable? I think you’ve mentioned that.
Of course. Armenians are very hospitable, and when you come – you should come hungry to an Armenian family. When you’re invited somewhere, you should come hungry because we’ve got a tradition to feed everyone. We are ready to feed everybody with different delicious food.
And you can find as much food on the table as it can hold. Really. And more thing, moreover, you will be forced to eat each dish on the table. If you don’t want to eat it, it’s kind of an insulting thing to the host. Just come hungry, please, to an Armenian family in order to avoid embarrassment.
I see. Okay. And these Armenians – do they live in nuclear families or do they live in extended families?
Everybody knows that it’s commonly known thing that Armenians families are big families, so we have to have 3 or 4 children in a family. But it’s not about nowadays. This information is not about nowadays, of course.
But we actually live with our parents, because we respect the elderly people so much that you can’t even imagine. So it is very important to take into account the opinion of the elderly person. It’s just a very important thing. So our parents used to, it’s a kind of a concept.
They pay for our education, they pay for our marriage, they buy flats or house for their children, and they are ready to raise their grandchildren whenever they need it, whenever their parents need it. So our young parents work, but grandparents are ready to take care of their grandchildren, always, just always.
As we respect them so much, we always try to consider every family issue with our parents. And we should pay attention, we should take their opinions, they are really wise, really wise. And one more interesting fact is why do we live with them and why do we consider their opinion – because the percentage of divorces in Armenia is very low, do you know why?
Because our parents, before we get married, our parents just tell us their opinion about our future opinions of our future husbands or future wives. So that’s why we take into account, we take their advice, and of course in their choice.
That’s why when they say, you know, it’s a good boy, it’s a good girl, you can marry. And if course if we like this person of course, we marry. And that’s why we have no divorces, it’s a low percentage, really. And we have firm families, firm, it is very important. And we choose our future husband or a future wife once and for all as all our parents.
I see. So a couple gets married – so whose parents do they live with? With wife’s or the husband’s?
Husband’s parents. We never live with wife’s parents, never. Not for Armenian families.
So, what if the husband has three brothers, where do they live?
So they buy a flat, his parents buy a flat. And this guy goes, with his wife and children, to this flat to live. So usually actually parents, his parents live with the youngest one.
That’s interesting. I would assume it’d be the oldest one.
No. the youngest one to help. He’s the youngest one, so that’s why he will be helping. I don’t know.
Alright. And so are there any strange, unusual, traditional, peculiar, too westernized customs?
Oh my god yes, John, there are a lot of strange, really unusual customs and traditions in Armenia. Just I will try to remember a couple of them. So for example, newborn. A newborn is only introduced to a close family, close close close relatives.
You can’t see a baby for 40 days. It’s a kind of a superstition of course, but our parents pay attention to this fact so you can’t show a baby, a newborn, to other people. They are afraid of evil.
So that’s important – 40 days. One more interesting but strange thing about newlyweds. On St Valentine’s day, the 14th of February, newlyweds jump over open fire. I did it!
It is not so big, it’s enough to jump over. It is a nice tradition, it is called in Armenian Trndez which means ‘to help God’, to warm the planet, to warm the soil. It is in February, before spring. And it defends ourselves against misfortune and evil.
After that, so all guests after newlyweds, after we jump over this fire, we all enter the house and we treat them with delicious, of course, food and wine. Wine! It is also very important. It comes from pre-Christian period when people worshipped fire and sun.
But after, now we do it, it’s a tradition. One more strange thing about Armenian girls. Armenian girls on this day, unmarried girls, they eat a salted cookie. A salted cookie, right. Our grandparents or our parents, moms, grandmothers, they cook a salted cookie on this day according to a special recipe.
So these girls can’t drink, mustn’t drink water after this cookie. So yeah, it’s strange. There’s a special purpose. They are going to bed after eating this salty cookie in order to see their future husband, yeah, their future husband, their future boyfriend in their dreams.
This boy, this husband in their dreams gives them a glass of water. And mostly, John, it coincides, they marry to this person. Actually, my situation was the same - I saw my future husband in my dream on this day and we got married.
Right. So the idea is that you eat a salty cookie or a biscuit, so that dehydrates you, so when you’re asleep you’re dreaming of water as you would. And as you’re dreaming into your mind comes a dashing young prince with water, and he becomes your husband. Excellent.
It coincides, it coincides! Strange, of course! Strange, but it mostly coincides.
One more interesting fact about splashing water on each other. In Pagan Armenia there was a goddess Astrik, the god of love. So they used to go to the temple, and splash on each other with rose water. So after that in Pagan Armenia after that period of time, this tradition was preserved.
So nowadays we do this thing in summer of course, in July, at the end of July or at the beginning of August. So what do we do? Children, teenagers, adults – they run out of their house with a bucket of water and they splash this water on each other.
And the most important thing is that nobody is annoyed. Nobody is frustrated. What have you done, I’m going to a special place in my expensive dress or expensive suit? No! No one! So everybody plays, everybody splashes the water and it’s fun. It’s interesting.
So, you’re minding your own business, you’re walking along the street, and some complete random stranger runs out of their house and splashes a bucket of water on you!
It’s okay. Right. What date is this?
There isn’t a fixed date. It’s at the end of July, according to our calendar. I’m not sure.
I’ll just remember not to book a holiday to Armenia at the end of July.
Or you should stat at home the whole day. One day in a year. One day.
I can imagine though that in Armenia in July it’s quite hot.
Yeah, it’s hot in Yerevan, in the capital. It can be up to +40.
Actually, being thrown bucket of water on can be quite nice really, if it’s that hot.
It’s hot and green, hot and green.
Not so, as in Novosibirsk maybe. No, not so much.
And, other peculiar customs particularly around Christmas and New Year?
Actually, it is not so strange, not unusual, but we celebrate New Year and Christmas according to our traditional ways. So for example we cook a special new year cookie, bik. And our grandmother put into this cookie a coin, a big coin, not to swallow it.
A person who gets this coin during the meeting will be lucky. He will be lucky in the new year. Of course, mostly it’s again coincides that hits person is very lucky when he gets this coin of course. Of course, we present gifts to each other and the doors of any house on this day is open.
So we are ready to welcome everybody, even strangers, on this day and to treat this person.
And is Christmas date in Armenia the same as in Russia or the same as in Western Europe?
Actually, we begin celebrating on the 31st of December. But Christmas we have our special day – it’s on the 6th of January. In Russia it is the 7th of January, but Armenian one is on the 6th of January. And we cook a special dish which is called Harissa which is cooked with meat, chicken, and wheat.
And everybody eats harissa on this day. We go to church, we pray, we light candles of course, and after church we come back, we have guests of course on this day, and we eat harissa. It’s very tasty. It’s like a porridge, like a porridge.
And the traditional religion in Armenia is Christian, is it? More like Orthodox or Greek or Russian?
Right, it’s Orthodox. It’s Orthodox. I’m really proud. Armenia is the first country in the world that accepted Christianity, adopted Christianity as an official religion. But we’ve got a lot of churches, John, a lot of churches in Armenia. In 301 AD it was adopted for the first time in Armenia.
And am I wrong that Armenia was a part of the Roman Empire at that time?
No, I’m not sure. I’m not sure.
I’ll google that later then.
Inform me later, that will be interesting to know.
But I have a feeling the weddings are quite extravagant affairs, are they?
Weddings, right, you’re right. Wedding’s quite a long ceremony. Actually, it is divided into parts. So the first one is proposal. The second one is engagement of course. And the last one is the wedding day.
But this is not on the same day surely.
No. Quite another day. So proposal is organized at the meal in the bride’s house. The groom arrives there with some relatives and his close friends. And the eldest member of this family, of the groom’s family, actually proposes a proposal. If the bride’s family gives a positive answer, they drink coffee, by the way, they adore coffee.
Armenians adore coffee. We drink coffee with sweets. After that, the wedding date is set. Before wedding day we’ve got a special day when bride and groom go shopping, try to fit on wedding dress, shoes, bags, and a lot of jewelry, a lot of jewelry.
So actually we have a lot of guests on a wedding day. I remember on my wedding there were 200 people. It was a big restaurant, a big hall. There were relatives of my and my husband’s families. Their parents, their grandparents. Actually we have never seen them before and we don’t see them right now.
We don’t know them. But actually, we have to invite them, it’s a kind of a tradition as well, and we invite neighbors, friends, relatives, far, close, it doesn’t matter. So everybody’s present and all of them, so the tables are full of food. Just barbecue, by the way, it’s the main dish, barbecue.
And we dance a lot, Armenian dances of course, we dance a lot. So it’s nice thing of course, nice. But maybe Western countries can consider it strange enough to have 200 guests, 250 guests. What about you John? What about England, Great Britain?
Some weddings can be very large. What about my wedding? A hundred. So it’s not unusual to have large number of guests at a wedding and just like in Armenia, you end up inviting distant relatives, you don’t see them for one year, you may never see them again.
And the same goes for certain friends and you’re always obligated to invite the great maiden Aunt who lives in Newcastle and can’t get there and so have to.. I mean I remember the night before my wedding.
I had to collect my wife’s aunt from some distant place and drive her to Bristol – I’d never met that woman before and never met again. But it’s not unusual to have huge weddings in Britain, but they cost a fortune. I believe in Britain we’re talking about someone spending 20-30 thousand pounds.
Oh my god, it’s really expensive.
Is it expensive in Armenia?
It is expensive of course, everything’s expensive. It’s a lot of guests to treat with different expensive dishes. Its of course costs a fortune. What about your traditions? Something unusual maybe connected with wedding?
Not just cake, big cake. And the idea used to be – you’d eat the bottom cake and that would be dangled amongst the guests. The next one – you keep that for the christening of the first born.
But what do you actually present, John, on a wedding day? What did you get on this day? Or when you got engaged?
Me? Just rings, I guess. We don’t give each other presents.
We have a tradition to present money, the most right, More often people present money. Close relatives know what do they need. Maybe some equipment, maybe just some kind of a.. Maybe some trip to warmer countries.
I’m sorry I misunderstood. I thought you meant what the bride and the groom exchange between themselves.
Ah. Oh, yes. It’s very organized, cause you produce what’s called a wedding list. And it can be as specific as page 73 of such and such catalogue. And this color, this size. And people write back and say they’ve chosen that so you don’t get four…
There is always a standing joke when you’ve got four toasters on your wedding, or electric carving knives. I’ve got quite a few electric carving knives on my wedding day.
But do you inform them before?
Oh yes, long before. It goes with the wedding invitation. This goes in the same envelope.
So you write – I don’t have this this this things, you can choose what to present. Oh it’s quite… Not to buy four toasters or washing machines.
Yeah, we’re trying to avoid it.
We don’t do it. Actually we prefer to present money In an envelope – you van buy whatever you want, whatever you need. That’s just quite…
Right. So it was weddings. So, are you proud of being an Armenian Inga?
And what particularly are you proud of?
I’m really proud that my country was the first country, as I’ve already told you, that adopted Christianity as official religion. I’m proud of it. So I’m really proud that our cognac, or brandy which is called Ararat is known all over the world. Even Winston Churchill used to drink only Armenian cognac of 50 degrees, John! Which was called Dvin of 50 degrees.
Yes, percent I mean. Very strong! And only Armenian one. And one more interesting fact is that one bottle of 70 years old cognac was sold in London’s auction for 120 000 dollars. The most expensive cognac I guess.
You couldn’t drink it though, could you?
No, I can’t. Armenian women don’t drink strong, by the way. We can just sip wine, a little bit wine during our holidays. But we don’t drink. Our men drink wine, sometimes they drink cognac. We have all this alcohol on tables during our holidays But actually we don’t drink.
Especially Armenian women, The next one I’m really proud of, John, is our lavash. It’s our bread, which is made in a tandoor – it’s a kind of a hole in the ground. It is a thin pita. Thin pita. Which is listed by UNESCO as part of intangible cultural heritage of humanity. Really serious thing I guess. One more interesting thing is that…
The idea is that somebody can’t set up a lavash baking enterprise somewhere in, say, Solihull Birmingham, England and say Genuine Armenian lavash. No no no! That’s to protect the heritage.
Protected heritage! The next one is our rugs, Armenian rugs. We’ve got Persian rugs as well, but Armenian rugs is kind of a must-do activity. It used to be a must-do activity, our women used to weave rugs with different colors and different patterns, it’s also very important I guess.
To have warm floors, to have warm walls. So that’s why we have big walls with different sizes. We use them, we use them. One more thing…
So you have rugs on the walls and on the floors, right.
One more thing that I’m really proud of is our khachkars, which is cross stones, cross stone, right, with different interlaces and botanical subjects on it. It’s also been listed as UNESCO’s intangible cultural heritage.
Oh you mean like gravestones? They’re simple crosses, but…
It’s not actually a gravestone, John, it’s a kind of a stone, big stone, with a big cross on it. And a lot of patterns go to this stone, a lot of patterns. Even pomegranates there.
So a lot of carves on this stone. And even colors as well. Just pink color, black color on these cross-stones.
How old are these stones then?
They’re really old. They’re really old.
And the colors have survived?
It’s kind of a culture. I’ve already told you about pomegranates. It is also our symbol, symbol of Armenia, pomegranates. By the way, what is your symbol? Have you got a symbol in Great Britain?
Fruit? Not really. Roses, there’s a red rose of Lancashire and the white rose of Yorkshire. But that’s to do with Royal houses and there was a war of the roses back in 600 years ago. We’ll go to that. So, we put three lions on a football shirt, so it’s lions I think. I think it’s, peculiar, a lion. Why a lion? I don’t know. After all, there are no lions anywhere near.
Maybe. And Britain is the only country that has a lion as its national symbol. I mean, I think. I’m trying to think of another country that does. There are several that have lions. If you imagined Sierra Leone having a lion as its national symbol, that’d be obvious, but Britain, why? I don’t know.
The pomegranates are our symbol, and they symbolize good fortune and fertility. It is also seen in stone carvings and historical manuscripts as a common ornament. And I’m really proud that Serj Tankian, do you know him?
He’s a famous singer in the band System of a Down. Charles Aznavour, do you know him?
Oh hang on, Charles Aznavour!
Yes, he’s Armenian actually!
Yeah yeah yeah, I used to do this, wait.
He used to help Armenians a lot, with money, with a lot of buildings, trying to construct after.
00:31:14 J: He only died recently.
He was 90 years old already. He’s Armenian.
He had quite a big hit in the 1970s in Britain I think. Can’t remember. I vaguely remember. Anyway, I do remember Charles Aznavour.
Yeah, I’m really proud of the fact as well. And one more thing – Aram Khachaturian, one more composer.
Aram Khachaturian? Do you know him?
Oh I though you pronounce it as [kachachurian].
Oh really? No Armenian pronunciation is Khachaturian.
I think his piece of music is Sabre Dance, is that right?
Yes, I seem to recall back in the 1960s, a guitar group did a version of Khachaturian’s Sabre Dance and it reached the top 10 in 1963.
So he’s Armenian and I’m just really proud of this fact.
Okay. Well, that was interesting, thank you.
Thank you, thank you. I’m so excited to have an opportunity to speak, to tell about our traditions and customs, because Armenia is very small, and many people don’t know, they haven’t even read about Armenia. There are such people by the way.
You’ve stimulated my interest It’s on my list of places to visit now.
Oh I’m so glad, I’m glad.
Okay, thank you very much Inga. And this is John and Inga signing off from BigAppleSchool. Thank you very much!
See you very soon! Bye! See you in a next podcast maybe.