Azerbaijan is a country made unique thanks to its location that straddles both Europe and Asia. As a result, Azerbaijan features a mix of Persian, Russian, and Turkish cultures intertwined with their own local traditions. Because of this, it’s important that tourists avoid doing certain things without realising that could cause problems or offend their hosts.
Here are some things that tourists may not know but should be aware are big no-nos in this country:
1. Forgetting to register with State Migration Service
If you’re planning on spending more than 10 days in Azerbaijan, tourists must register with the State Migration Service. If you’re staying in a hotel or hostel, check that they’re doing this on your behalf, as most do; but if you’re staying in an Airbnb, this is something you must do yourself. It’s quite easy to do it online, but if you forget, you’ll face a large fine when you exit the country. You also want to be sure to carry your passport at all times or you’ll be breaking the law. Police are known to stop and check your identity as a tourist, so avoid a fine and carry your passport.
2. Mentioning Armenia
Azerbaijan is in a war with Armenia over a disputed area called Nagorno-Karabakh. This is a territory that officially is a part of Azerbaijan, but ruled by ethnic Armenians. There has been conflict in the region since 1988, and tensions are high, especially as hundreds of thousands of ethnic Azerbaijanis were displaced from this area. Mentioning Armenia is a definite faux pas. By the same token, you don’t want to be seen as supporting Armenia. This includes bringing goods from there into Azerbaijan. You may also face additional questions from immigration officers if you have an Armenian stamp in your passport.
3. Making the okay sign
Making the okay sign by touching your forefinger to your thumb is universally known in the West as a symbol that everything is fine. In Azerbaijani culture, however, this is an extremely rude and offensive sign, like in Turkey. While on the subject of hand gestures, also avoid pointing at things with your finger, another rude no-no. Instead, use your whole hand to gesture in the direction that you mean.
A guide to help you enjoy a new city by finding those hidden nooks and crannies, and by meeting new people.
Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, is spotless. One stroll even in the busiest area will show you that it’s very clean. There are garbage bins everywhere and they’re used by everyone. Littering brings with it a hefty fine, but more than that, it’s actually considered taboo in Azeri culture.
5. Being negative about the country
Azerbaijanis are known as some of the most hospitable and welcoming people in the world. For this reason, as well as common respect and politeness, don’t complain about the country. Locals know that there are some downsides to their nation, but they won’t appreciate tourists mentioning it. Even though the media may sometimes portray the country negatively, Azerbaijanis are proud of their beautiful country and its culture.
6. Showing rudeness to women
This is good news from women travelling to Azerbaijan! When you’re rude in Azerbaijan, it means a lot more than it would if you were in your home country, especially toward women. Men in Azeri culture are extremely respectful of women and they will expect tourists to be as well. Women always have priority on public transportation and all men are expected to give up their seat. If an Azerbaijani woman goes to dinner, the man must always pay.
7. Sticking only with tours
You don’t want to be relying only on tours when discovering Azerbaijan. Tours are extremely expensive because of a recent boost in tourism from the Middle East. Expect to pay a minimum of USD70 per person for a day trip with a driver. Instead, use public transport and you’ll spend under USD5 for a return trip. However, be sure to plan it in advance so you’re not stuck somewhere having missed the last transport back to the city.