Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Eurovision: Ten things you need to know

Hey, if you are visiting Azerbaijan, it is a foreign country. As with any foreign country, there are some things you need to know before you come here to take full advantage of your visit. Here's my top ten need-to-know list.

1. The average low for May is 15 degrees C (59 F) and the average high is 22 degrees C (72 F). These are the official numbers. However, in my experience it is usually much hotter in late May, so come prepared for hot, sunny weather. Definitely bring your sunglasses.

2. Having said that, men in Azerbaijan do not wear shorts. They just don't do it. And they feel very uncomfortable around a man who is wearing shorts. If I were a guy coming to Baku, I'd pack only very lightweight trousers. Women can and do wear shorts and short skirts. Women are very fashion-conscious here.

3. One thing women do not do in public here is smoke. It is a real no-no. However, if you are a male smoker, you will be in heaven. Cigarettes are cheap and you can smoke just about anywhere. Women do smoke in bars.

4. If you look unusual (that is, a foreigner), people might ask to have your picture taken with them. It's never happened to me because people assume I'm Russian. But my friend from Zimbabwe has been asked a lot. Try to be polite. Or just say No, no, no, thanks. - Yox, yox, yox, sağ olClick here for the pronunciation.

5. The purple taxis are the only metered taxis that I know of in Baku. With anyone else, you may get a fair price, or you may be ripped off. Take your chances. Here is a picture of a purple cab.

6. The fruit and veg in Baku is really something special. If you see a little fruit and veg shop, stop by for a treat. You will not be disappointed.

7. On the subject of food, try the local specialities - Turkish-style kababs, eggplant dishes, lavangi (chicken stuffed with walnuts), the local tandir bread, qutab (thin bread - lavash - stuffed with either fresh herbs or meat). The food here is really great. I have an allergy to gluten, so don't eat the bread but people rave about it.

8. Try the local beers. My husband recommends 33 and Xirdalan. You can also find specialty foreign beers like Guinness (Finnegan's downtown) and Hoegaarden (1/5 Mərtəbə on Sərdarov St.). However, do not be seen drunk on the streets. This is really frowned upon. There are plenty of cabs outside of bars in the evening. If you have had too much to drink, pour yourself into a cab and go back to your hotel.

9. Traffic can be a bit hectic. Never assume that a driver is going to drive strictly according to the rules of road. Take advantage of the many underground pedestrian passages to get from one side of the street to another. Baku is a great city for walking around - just be cautious when crossing streets. Plus, there are many lovely pedestrianized areas. You will see locals launching themselves across busy streets. I don't recommend it.

10. VISA and Mastercards work with any ATM but the fees are high. You are better off bringing American dollars and exchanging it at one of the plentiful exchange shops - called Valyuta.

11. OK, just thought of one more. It is common for men to walk arm and arm here, and to greet each other with a kiss. Ditto for women walking arm and arm and greeting with a little kiss on the cheek. We have lived in the Middle East so long that this seems completely normal, but for a complete foreigner it may strike you as odd. Not common for a lot of public affection to be demonstrated between men and women, so act accordingly.

If you have questions, post them and I'll answer as best I can.


Lilian said...

Thanks for your advices! Good to know as I will be in Baku for Eurovision! Best regards // Lilian

Stormbel said...
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Stormbel said...

Thanks from me too. I can understand that credit cards will be expensive at ATMs but usually debit cards are free at bank ATMs. Can you advise on that?

Ms. Colleen said...

I think both are expensive unless your card matches the bank (which is highly unlikely). I'd bring as much cash as you dare and change it at a Valyuta.