Most people say “hi” by shaking hands, fist bump, hugs, etc. Well, that’s even done differently here. People here are a bit more European. When you see someone you know, you give them a kiss on the cheek. Now, there are more rules to this. Typically, women only give a kiss on the cheek to other women. Men only give a kiss on the cheek to other men. NEVER do the genders collide. Inter-gender greetings involve just a “Salam”; usually, there is no touching.

So kisses on the cheek are done to people you know or to welcome someone. While I many kiss many strangers, this one was truly different.

I have been working on my IRBing skills (Intentional Relationship Building) with some of the convenience stores near my work. I go in to the store, look around, say hi, and buy stuff. I do this to try and build a relationship with the store owner. If we create a relationship they are more likely to trust me and be willing to let me help them with their store (if they need help). On Saturday after work I went into 1 of the stores I frequent weekly. I bought kontor (prepaid minutes for my phone), oatmeal, and 1 egg. The owner said it was 11.70 manat (manat is the currency). I gave her a 20 manat. She proceeded to give me 18.30 in change. Now, if my math skills are correct, that just doesn’t work. I looked at her with a confused look, and then started to recount the money. She also recounted it and assured me she was correct. My change was 18.30. Not wanting to argue, I said “Ok” and took the money. As I walked home, I kept thinking “There is no way I should have gotten that much back!” After doing the math 10 times in my head, I decided to go back and give the store owner 10 manat.

I dropped off my stuff at home and started to walk back. My language ability is still very limited. So, on my walk I was trying to create a strategy on how I would tell her she was wrong and that I owed her 10 manat. Unfortunately I realized I didn’t know many of the words I wanted to say like “plus”, “equals”, “owe”, etc.  I got to the store, went in, and said,

“I give you 10 manat.” 

She asked, “Why, are you buying more kontor?”

I said, “No.  I bought oatmeal, 1 egg, and 10 manat kontor.  That was 11.70.  I gave you 20 manat.”

Her eyes got wide as she reached for the 10 manat in my out stressed hand. I thought she would just take the money, but she came closer and gave me a kiss on the cheek! She then proceeded to raddle off something in Azeri to the other worker that I didn’t completely understand. But I understood that she was thankful I came back and gave her the 10 manat. 10 manat is a lot of money in this country. I can take a marshrukta and go all the way across town for 20 qepik (qepik is equivalent to cents). When it’s apple season, I can buy 1 kg of apples for 1 manat or less. When it’s not apple season, I can buy 1 kg of apples for 3 manat. For 3 manat, I can travel all the way to Sheki (up north, in the middle finger, closer to Russia or Dagastan).

I’m glad she understood what I was trying to do. If I couldn’t explain myself, my plan B was to put 10 manat on the counter and run out of the store! That probably would have made me the weird American instead of a kind American. Hopefully this incident will make it easier to create a relationship with the store owner. Then maybe I can see if they need any help.

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