Aaron in Azerbaijan

Just another blog about Azerbaijan.

Azerbaijani Adventures on eBay; or, the Equality of Corruption

with 8 comments

It really is as bizarre as it sounds.  Who would think I’d be navigating purchasing policies on eBay for some of my local Azeri colleagues?  Well, that’s the situation.

A few weeks ago, one of the guys I work with at the bank called me over to ask if I could help him out.  I was surprised and slightly amused to see that he was on an eBay page (To protect his embarrassment, I’ll keep him anonymous).  This guy happens to drive a Subaru Forester, of which I have no idea how he obtained.  That’s a few steps above the lovely Lada.  Since there are probably two Subaru vehicles in this country, there aren’t many options for spare parts or maintenance.  Our friend found that eBay could help him out in his search for parts such as a moonroof and floor mats and more.  He had managed to find the parts he wanted, and also managed to click the Buy It Now button to purchase a few of these items.  This is already farther than I would expect a lot of Azeris to get; this is working within a system that I bet 99% of Azeris cannot conceive of.

At this point, the two questions became: 1) How do I initiate payment? and 2) How do we figure out shipping?  The first question was answered fairly easily.  Our friend has a credit card and now a PayPal account!  The second question was tougher.  It was difficult to figure that out on the eBay site.  Instead, we elected to call America.  We called Dave at ‘quirkparts’ auto parts in Massachusetts.  Dave provided a fantastic customer service experience (the kind I’ve been missing since I’ve arrived here) and we figured out that a Subaru Forester Moonroof can be shipped from Massachusetts to Lənkəran for about $40.  Not bad.

Fast forward about two weeks.  Our eBay-savvy friend calls me over and tells me that he’s been having some problems with his account.  I look at the screen to see that his account has been suspended.  What happened?! It turns out that our friend didn’t exercise much control over his clicking finger and had a bunch of repeat clicks on the moon roof and floor mats and a few other items.  He couldn’t figure out how to get them to go away, and he didn’t want to pay for them, so he just ignored them.  They turned into the feared Unpaid Item on eBay, something eBay users will be familiar with.  If you build up a stash of unpaid items, eBay is going to notice and shut you down.

This is where the clash of worlds occurs.

eBay has rules.  If you click to buy an item, you are essentially signing a contract saying you will buy the item.  Not paying for the item, then, is a breach of that contract.  For Americans, who grow up in a system where things like ‘contracts’ are honored and the words written therein mean something, this makes sense.  For Azerbaijanis, where things like contracts are rare and the enforcement of anything depends much more on the pressure of having to save face in front of your neighbors and relatives, this sort of thing is a heretofore unencountered mystery.  Our friend was understandably confused by this state of affairs.  He thought there should just be a way we could remove the items from the unpaid items list and he could move on, clicking away at the Buy It Now button.

This was not so.  Instead, I explained to him the appeals process, how you can’t just click willy-nilly on purchase buttons, and that he might be held back for a little bit on his eBay surfing.  I helped him write the short appeals on the unpaid items.  One of the best parts of this brief process was his pacing around the small office and then saying to me, “Couldn’t we just pay them 10 or 20 dollars and they can just remove it from the list and I will not be suspended anymore?”  Great idea.  Except that this moment brings into sharp relief a feature of Azerbaijan that doesn’t exist in America.  We’ve talked about corruption here before.  The reality that presented itself was that corruption in Azerbaijan is much more equal-opportunity than corruption in America.  In the USA, you’ve got to have a pretty serious amount of cash to be able to really play the corruption game.  In Azerbaijan, however, 5, 10 or 20 AZN will buy you a stack of chips to play with.  Corruption is available at all levels of society.

I checked back with the situation this week, to see how the appeals process went.  Our friend informed me that they didn’t do anything about his suspension.  (My guess is that he probably could do something, but he won’t read the emails he’s got back from the eBay team.) Instead, he has decided to just create a new eBay account and continue the spending spree unhindered by Unpaid Items lists.


Written by Aaron

December 3, 2010 at 2:54 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

8 Responses

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  1. nice post, except perceiving 99% of Azeris unfit to do business in ebay is not that nice. I would argue 99% Americans would seem stupid by Azerbaijani business standards, but that would amount judging americans with Azeri values/perspectives – that is what you were doing. Other than that keep posting my friend.


    December 4, 2010 at 4:11 am

    • Hi Sanan–
      Thanks for the encouragement. I might have exaggerated a bit on the “99%” figure…What I’m saying here is just that I think most Azerbaijanis outside of Baku are probably not very familiar with shopping on the internet. Maybe it is common for you or your friends to use eBay, but that is not what I am seeing here. Am I seeing wrong? I think that it is a fair observation to say that most Azeris don’t use eBay or other online shopping sites. If you disagree, I’d be glad to hear about it. Otherwise, I said nothing about the capability of Azeris to do business–it is obvious that there are capable people here. Yet, I think that it is also true that Azerbaijan is a young country, with many opportunities for growth.

      Thanks for reading,



      December 4, 2010 at 6:56 pm

  2. I wonder what Peace Corps trying to achieve with its hatred filled “workers” in Azerbaijan?

    We can all see and talk about the problems. What you gringos do to make the situation better, please?


    December 4, 2010 at 5:04 pm

    • Hi Elman–
      Thank you for taking the time to read my blog.

      First, if I expressed any hatred, that was not intended. If you see hatred here, please point it out to me and I will be happy to fix that. I have no hatred for Azerbaijan or its people.

      Second, I am living and working in Lənkəran. You are welcome to come visit and talk with me about Peace Corps and our work here anytime you want. My door is open to you. I would love to have you come and visit me and the other Peace Corps Volunteers in the area.

      Third, this post was about highlighting differences between the world that Azerbaijanis live in and the world Americans live in. After living here for more than a year, I can tell you that there are many similarities and many differences.

      Last, yes, you are right: mən xarici adamam. I am not interested in using ethnic slurs or insulting people. I hope that you, too, will be respectful of that when commenting on my blog. Our conversations will be much more constructive and much more interesting without words like “gringo”.

      I’m looking forward to hearing from you.



      December 4, 2010 at 7:27 pm

      • Aaron, irony is one thing, humiliation is another. I think you often forget the line between them.
        May be you are not using direct words to address people and environment around you as I do, but your indirect description and language results in more scornful attitude.

        You xaricilər (by now you should now xarici is not a slang, hopefully) are hard to solve when talking face to face. You are always so kind, so full of love towards others, always smiling and etc. when talking.
        I think you are more sincere when you are to yourselves or writing. So, I’d prefer to read your and your friends’ posts.

        I am not saying we are better than what you describe, but it is not the right way of putting it forward.


        December 5, 2010 at 8:27 am

      • Hey Elman-
        This is disappointing. I would like to encourage you to get to know some of the people who write the posts. It will give you a context for understanding why we write. If you want to ignore that knowledge, then that is your choice. Perhaps if we met, you would better understand my thoughts and my writing. My stories and thoughts don’t change from being spoken to being written.

        This is not about scorn or hatred. If you talk to my friend at the bank, you’ll see that he is laughing about the situation. It’s a situation where we all should laugh because we know that it’s difficult to navigate new environments, and we all make mistakes when we are in a new situation. I know my friend is a smart guy, but I don’t expect him know how to use eBay–how could he? He hasn’t used it before! It is like when I first used the internet–I didn’t know what I was doing, and I’m sure I did stupid things.

        As for being a xarici adam, yeah–I used that because what you said about me being a ‘gringo’ is offensive, and I think that you are probably a smart person; a person who is above using offensive slang. I also think you are a smart enough person to know that this is a story we all can learn from. It is a story about different worlds coming together, and learning how to work in those different worlds. And also how we can do dumb things when we don’t know what we are doing.

        As I said, my door here in Lənkəran is always open to you, and a pot of tea will always be ready. I’d be glad to meet you and talk more.

        Stay well, Aaron


        December 5, 2010 at 10:08 am

  3. “This is already farther than I would expect a lot of Azeris to get; this is working within a system that I bet 99% of Azeris cannot conceive of.”
    This sentence of you is a problem of mental capacity to do business in ebay, and less of “I think that it is a fair observation to say that most Azeris don’t use eBay or other online shopping sites.”

    Simply the sentence claims that people there are not mentally capable to use ebay system.

    I assume that wasnt your intention, but intention and outcome are two different things. Good intention does not always lead to a positve outcome. So, I urge to be more careful next time.



    December 5, 2010 at 2:42 am

    • Perhaps I will be more careful next time, Sanan. I will just offer that there is a better way to read that sentence:

      Instead of a mental capacity problem, I think it is just a fact that in Azerbaijan, many people are not exposed to shopping online and the world they live in doesn’t include eBay as a “market”. It’s not their fault, and it has nothing to do with their mental capacity–if anything, my sharing this story shows they do have the mental capacity. This is a problem of what they have grown up with. Much like you and I cannot conceive of being on the moon (we haven’t been there–how could we even know how to walk there?), people who are not exposed to the internet may not understand how to use it until they have experience using it (You and I might do well on the moon if someone teaches us or we learn how to walk around without gravity to help us). As I said, not mental capacity, but more about environment.

      Thanks for engaging in this discussion with me. I’m enjoying your comments.



      December 5, 2010 at 9:39 am

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