I had the pleasure of attending an Armenian birthday party last evening. It was not held in an Armenian’s honor, (rather a Peace Corps volunteer from Huntington Beach) but it was Armenian nonetheless. There were similarities to an American birthday party and many, many differences. Because of my deep well of experience with Armenian birthday parties (or party as it were) I feel it proper that I generalize.
-As at all parties (I’m assuming it’s a worldwide phenomenon) the first 15 minutes are spent moving through formalities like “how are you?” “how is the job going?” “What are you up to?” et cetera. In summation; talking about things that no one cares about, but feel obligated to ask.
-People bring gifts
-years ago someone on that specific day of the year was born. In this case it was 26 years, but it obviously varies according to age.
-The Armenians are toasting machines. They give the most lengthy, lavish, well thought out, impressive toasts ever. At weddings, oftentimes someone will be specifically hired to be the “official toaster”. Not joking, I saw a wedding video (which, on a tangent, is just as boring in Armenia as it is in America… go figure) and there was a professional toaster who toasted consistently for well over 7-8 minutes. It doesn’t sound that impressive…. But you try it. I, feeling the pull of constant public attention being directed somewhere other than myself, felt obligated to give numerous “amerikatsi” toasts. I fit in well. Not in the “lavish, well thought out, impressive” realm, but certainly in the length department. I probably needn’t even inform you that the “Irish Blessing” was in full affect that night.
-The Armenians love to dance. The Music is very different and the dancing looks to be a fair mix of middle eastern wrist action and Russian footwork. No one is conscious of their dancing, and the whole of this crowd chose to participate (which is a definite difference from an American party).
-Though the women prepare all the food, and do a heck of job of preparation, they don’t actually sit at the table with the men. It really pushed the bounds of my social sensitivities. It’s all part of the cultural adjustment and acclimation I realize, but difficult to put up with regardless.
But overall the party had quite a life of its own. John Steinbeck in “Canary Row” (which I recommend to anyone) does the greatest job of describing the life of a “typical party” I’ve ever come across. This party made me think of that passage. Though I don’t have the book here to reference…. He talks about how a party has waves. How a party begins slowly, grows to a crescendo (in the book a fight breaks out/or in this party’s case the alcohol takes ahold) and then the party fades a bit. But once the music begins it is revived with a new fervor, more powerful than the first…. Just like in Steinbeck’s story this party kept taking on new life as new guests kept arriving and departing in a random manner. With every new wave of neighbors or family (seemingly every family in the town was invited) glasses were refilled, food was offered anew, and the dancing revived. Pretty cool.
Similar to the United States, I’m trying to convince my host family that the celebration of my half-birthday is a completely valid/ and necessary reason to throw a party. As in the US they don’t seem to be buying it.