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May 24, 2006

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Bernard Guerrero

Why, pray tell? There are a lot of things I would have accused the Soviets of being retrograde about, but women driving wouldn't have been one of them.

claudia

It's an Armenian thing. A friend of ours describes Armenia as the most Christian Muslim country in the world. It's a strange mixture of deeply backwards behavior combined with Soviet-style emancipation. Women can be doctors but they won't drive cars, something like that.

It doesn't bug me so much, mostly because I'm always distracted by little boys, and also because I attribute much of the staring and the rudeness and whatnot to my being an obvious foreigner.

I think, though, after a year or two I could become seriously grumpy about some female-related things here.

BTW, the staring at woman driving is even worse, and veers into open-mouth-staring, when Doug is the passenger. I'm sure they think he must at least have a leg amputation for allowing his wife to drive him!

Even worse off are gay people. One hears grim stories of murders and killings, often by the own family. Very sad. But I have to investigate that a bit before I write something about that.

Mike Ralls

Huh, I didn't figure out it was the woman-thing until you mentioned it either. So often it's like that when one is immersed in a foreign culture; things that are obvious in retrospect take forever to figure out while you are living your life.

Have either of you made any female friends there yet? That would probably be a good source of info as well as a good solace if a year from now you are becoming seriously grumpy about some female-related things over there.

Best wishes,
Mike

Andrew Lambdin-Abraham

Funny, I assumed it was the woman driver thing as soon as she mentioned people looking. Perhaps I have different expectations of what non-European countries will have for gender roles, or at least what likely issues are when they come up.

la loca

people have been staring at me my whole life. my purse could be on fire and I would never think to look around because I am so accustomed to not seeing people while they are looking at me.

I wonder if I can mention that I am fascinated by report of all this driving you are doing.

because of the american discussion about gas prices now, the chatter is all about how, yk, Only In America are people So Wasteful of the earth's Limited Resources that they Drive Everywhere in a Private Automobile. and in other places, Holy Places, where People are Decent and Kind and Not Americans and Don't Shop at Wal-Mart, well, they would never ever ever Dream of Driving to get from here to there.

and I think yeah, yeah, ok, suck it. but here you are, not here, somewhere else, all road culture. in-car dvd screens. etc. men staring while they idle at red lights. a whole township filled with drivers, driving.

maybe the man-driving is like the Greek what-do-you-call-thems where the men play whatsit all day long on the weekends and if you happen to stumble in all flushed and looking for baklava you feel like that scene from the outlaw josey wales. like, they're driving because they can and women won't. they can all drive to the jiffy lube and chat or something. pump gas. etc.

claudia

Hm. It's a bit of a different subject but I find this city refreshingly easy to drive in for the lack of traffic. Oh, the traffic is bad, no doubt about that. But compared to the US, or Germany, much less people own a private vehicle. Even compared to Bucharest, I find the traffic a lot less dense. Of course, they are all insane and don't follow any rules but that's a different thing.

There is public transportation, mainly in the form of marshrutkas - little mini vans that get stuffed to the brim and who don't follow even the few rules that there are. They veer into traffic in an utter act of self-denial, and you never, ever want to find yourself behind one when driving. I learned that one very quickly.

[As to the "see, we're not so bad, others drive too and waste energy" -- well. The US has some 4,5% of the entire world population but uses 25% of the world's energy. It does look kinda wasteful to the rest of the world. But it doesn't come alone from driving. And it's a different matter altogether anyway.]

Carlos

I got questions too!

a) What's the cost of gasoline in Armenia?

(On the one hand, Armenia borders two countries where they could give away a free tank with every car wash. On the other hand, Armenia only has open borders with one of those countries, and that, what, only six months of the year? On the third hand, Armenia would probably follow a European tax structure on gasoline prices anyway.)

b) Are there any horse-drawn carts like in Romania? (I sent my dad a photo of one of those Romanian horse carts refitted with an auto suspension, like the scrap metal wagons they have in Bucharest, carrying a junked car on top. He got a kick out of it.)

la loca

"see, we're not so bad, others drive too and waste energy"

I didn't say that. what I said was, yeah, yeah, suck it.

I am certain there are many fewer privately-owned automobiles in the rest of the world. in fact, I am certain that I don't even understand the prevalence of privately-owned vehicles here, having always lived in a major city.

nonetheless, I was surprised that you wrote of privately owning one. not that you own it, per se, but that you have need to drive it. (so much so, you see, that you have a rental in lieu of your own)

because the fantasy breathlessly expounded upon here in the states is that there is a utopia when you leave behind the pernicious and influential legacy of dwight d eisenhower and everyone can walk and there is nothing so base as a car, anywhere! all a small family needs is an emmaljunga and etc, etc, etc, and so then you see, yeah, yeah, suck it.

places with lawless driving are kind of exciting to me. but in that case I would leave the driving to Carlos. haha. who stammers and stops just short of covering his eyes every time he is in my passenger seat. haha. ha. it makes me giggle just to think of it. ha.

Larry

Two words; Tinted Windows

How, or where you can get them in Armenia will be tough but perhaps there are some old Soviet limos that still have parts available for sale.

claudia

Tinted windows - yeah! Well, we have tinted windows in the back and the car is unusal in its make and size -- one friend told me today that she thinks it will scare the police into thinking I'm an oligarch's daughter-in-law and they would never dare to single me out.
Because, you see, one of the sources of income for a police man here in Yerevan is to randomly pull cars out of traffic for some infraction or another, and then charge an insane amount of money (like, $5, which is really a lot here). I had been wondering how to avoid that.
The general corruption here is bad, bad. A post in its own right, one day.

Bernard Guerrero

Wouldn't you be better off just forking over the 5 bucks every once in a while? Call it your "leave me the hell alone tax". It's how I justify my occasional speeding ticket on the Thruway. :^)

Failing that, self-apply tinting is cheap and widely available. Carlos can probably mail you a batch. It actually used to attract cops in northern New Jersey, but I suspect the dynamic is a little different. Also, you probably don't have a phat 1500-watt sound system in the van. :^)

claudia

Ah, but you see, we don't do corruption. The US goverment does not pay us to support extortionist systems. The Embassy doesn't approve, USAID doesn't approve - and we don't approve.

Doug is battling this omnipresent corruption every day. Yes, things would go smoother and faster if we handed over money left and right. And yes, the amounts are laughable for expats. But it's not right.

However, there is often no way to tell whether something is corruption or whether it is an official thing and the grey zone is immense. Handing over money to the person pushing your hospital bed from the ICU to your room - is that corruption? When you know he doesn't get paid by the hospital? What about the night nurse? The elevator lady? Where does it begin, where does it end? Things are MUCH more complicated here than we first thought.

Mike Ralls

Sounds like a good post. I'd be very interested in hearing about corruption there.

Best wishes,

Noel Maurer

Driving? Did someone say driving? Hoo-ah!

I am about to take my car to New York because I haven't gotten to drive it enough during the past six months. I love driving. I'd hate to live somewhere where I have to drive, but I can't imagine enjoying carlessness, not in Manhattan, not in Paris, not anywhere. Even if I sometimes have to jump start the thing because I left it on a Cambridge street for three months.

More apropro, per capita car ownership in Mexico is one-third of the American level. The US reached that level of car ownership in 1924, at a time when US productivity was about two-thirds of the current Mexican level. I suppose you could take that to mean that Mexicans have a slightly lower proclivity to own cars than Americans ... but I doubt it. Give 'em a few more years of economic stability.

American energy use is wasteful, but the statistic Claudia gave provides an odd picture, since the reason why most of the world uses so little energy is that the rest of the world is poor. The U.S. still comes off badly in indicators of energy use per unit of GDP, but much less so. It's more like 10% higher than the world average, rather than fivefold. Even against Western Europe, the gap isn't that large; on the order of 20%.

Of course, considering weather patterns on the North American continent, higher energy use than Europe is to be expected. California, however, has no excuse.

Syd Webb

Claudia wrote:

Doug is battling this omnipresent corruption every day. Yes, things would go smoother and faster if we handed over money left and right. And yes, the amounts are laughable for expats. But it's not right.

However, there is often no way to tell whether something is corruption or whether it is an official thing and the grey zone is immense. Handing over money to the person pushing your hospital bed from the ICU to your room - is that corruption? When you know he doesn't get paid by the hospital? What about the night nurse? The elevator lady? Where does it begin, where does it end?

The Australian public has recently been educated - for reasons to complicated to go into here - on the difference between 'bribes' and facilitation payments.

It is a criminal offence for Australians to pay bribes anywhere in the world. And bribes are not tax deductible.

But facilitation payments, provided you keep proper records, are legitimate and tax deductible. A facilitation payment is defined as an amount "incurred for the sole or dominant purpose of expediting or securing the performance of a routine government action of a minor nature".

So if you're trying to influence a government official to take your business over that of a commercial rival - that's bribery. But if your trying to get a surly or harassed official to give you your entitlement - say the connection of a phone line - that's a facilitation payment.

Note: The above is a discussion of definitions and taxonomy, not ethics or morality. It doesn't answer the question of whether facilitation payments are 'right'. But the OECD doesn't mind them as much as bribes.

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