Daily life for most Armenians revolves around family, religion, and hard work. What little time is left over at the end of a busy day usually is spent relaxing with family and friends or, if money is available, going to a cultural event such as the ballet or a classical concert. Housing is in very short supply thanks to the influx of Armenian refugees from Azerbaijan and the 200,000 people still homeless from the 1988 earthquake. As a result, most Armenians live in an apartment that Americans would consider very small. They likely live with at least one set of grandparents and often some aunts, uncles, and cousins. This means there is very little privacy. People sleep in the living room and several children will share not just a bedroom but even a bed. Overnight guests also are common, as distant relatives come to visit or to stay while they look for work.
The typical Armenian family lives in the capital city of Yerevan or in one of the small towns dotting the country. Even those who work in agriculture frequently live in small villages instead of on isolated farmsteads, although people in the smaller towns are more likely to have individual houses than apartments. The parents will both work, if they can both find jobs, and the grandparents or other elderly family member will take care of the household and young children. Luxuries are rare in Armenia since the breakup of the Soviet Union. Many families may own an older car, but it is seldom used for daily transportation. Instead, the children and parents will either walk to school and work or they will take public transportation. Fuel prices are still very high because of the embargo on natural gas and petroleum by Turkey and Azerbaijan. As a result, the automobile is used only for emergencies. Larger towns have adequate train or bus routes that take most people within a few blocks of their final destinations. Public transportation also remains inexpensive—about 25 cents a trip—thanks in large part to the Soviet days when subsidized public transportation was mandatory.
In the clubs and mansions of Nork in Yerevan, the elite text each on cell phones, hang out at the latest new cafes and shop on fashionable Abovyan Poghots. Money comes in from everywhere to keep the country alive – sons in Moscow, daughters in Greece, cousins in Glendale, Toronto and Sydney. Although the national income has climbed back to where it was in the Soviet era, the distribution of wealth is now wildly uneven. Out in the grim factory towns around Lake Sevan, life is a lottery. Jobs are nonexistent, and a whole generation has emigrated to work overseas. The least affected seem to be people from the country, who can usually feed themselves from the land parcelled out to them soon after independence.
Armenian work culture is happily relaxed. People might stay out until midnight, arrive at work the next day at 10am or 10.30am, pop out for an hour or two to pay the bills, and leave work around 6pm. This relaxed attitude to time stretches to appointments – an hour late is no big deal – and to restaurants, where waiters let you linger over coffee or drinks for hours before you ask for the bill.
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