This is a Poll That Caught Me By Surprise
You need to look at that screenshot I grabbed earlier today. That’s from Today.Az. I’m not sure who comes up with the poll questions and answers for Today.Az, but that’s a fairly stunning set, for two reasons. First, someone is actually considering why foreigners here in Baku (and Azerbaijan, generally) don’t feel comfortable. That’s a step Azerbaijan has been needing to take for a long time. I don’t necessarily agree that any country should just lay out the red carpet for foreigners, but my experience here so far tells me that when a foreigner arrives, he or she is generally met with suspicion or awkward stares, or both. Certainly, most PCVs here have had some great experiences meeting locals for the first time, enjoying great hospitality and welcoming. Yet, the general feeling is one of suspicion. That’s not very comfortable.
Which leads to reason number 2. The highest-rated option is Our people should be less hostile. That’s a rather intense criticism of your people. However, the suspicion and awkward staring help to create that feeling of hostility here, whether it’s intended or not. I think this is one of those times when we can invoke the character of the Soviet hangover in Azerbaijan, understanding the hostility through the Soviet suspicion of foreigners and ever-present concern that someone is a spy. If that was my attitude, I would feel fairly hostile, too.
The last thing to note is that, even though only 89 (now it’s up to 90) votes have been cast, this is an important question for Azerbaijan in a larger context. People here know that the oil will run out at some point in this coming decade. Their plan for the post-oil economy is tourism. That’s all well and good if your country is well-disposed to tourists coming in. That hostile environment, however, doesn’t help things much. The rest of the answers in the poll are sort of strange, and I don’t think they would help tourism here much. Ex-pats and foreigners go all over the world to places where nobody speaks english and there are no “recreation sites for foreigners.” The difference is that in those places, the people are welcoming and open. While I’ve met my share of Azerbaijanis who held nothing against me for being a foreigner, and I have had some great experiences as I begin to develop relationships here, the prevailing feeling is not one of welcome, but of mistrust.