Armenian culture and its customs go far back in history. Armenians are often characterized as hospitable, friendly, and kind people who respect elders, have a gentle attitude to children, and have strong family values. Here are some of the customs travelers should know a bit about before visiting the country.
It’s always a good idea to be aware of the customs for greetings and farewells in a new place. In Armenia, visitors might notice locals kissing on the cheek when they meet, which is the most common greeting among friends and family. Additionally, it’s not uncommon for women to hold hands. This is not necessarily an indication that they are in a relationship; it’s simply a common way for close friends to show affection.
Technically, the Armenian word for “thank you” is shnorakalutsyun. Instead of using this long word, many Armenian-speakers will use the French merci, along with the term of endearment, jan. The latter can’t be translated, but it expresses a tender attitude.
Armenians are open-hearted and keep communication simple. Sometimes, this might mean they don’t leave a lot of personal space. Locals like to speak face-to-face and look straight into someone’s eye while making some kind of physical contact. It’s also customary to ask personal and detailed questions. It’s a perfectly normal thing to do in the country and isn’t considered rude.
Just like any country in the Caucasus, Armenians are hospitable and love having guests at their homes—especially foreigners who are likely to be greeted with warmth and a table piled with as much food as it can hold. Moreover, you’ll be “forced” to try all the dishes. To not try everything would be considered insulting to the host, so starve for a while before going to an Armenian dinner to avoid embarrassment.
Armenian parents are known to be protective, and it’s very common for adult children to live at home until they get married or possibly even for the rest of their lives. Parents usually pay for education, marriage, and all of their children’s other life events, which is a concept that might be completely foreign to many people from the Western part of the world. Moreover, if someone is traveling with their kids in Armenia, it’s normal for a local to stop by, compliment the kid, and ask questions. This is rarely anything concerning, but it’s another custom of which travelers should be aware.
Even though it’s kind of a superstition, many families still follow this custom and opt to not allow anyone to meet their newborns for 40 days. The only exception is very close relatives. The custom is rooted in safety and medical precautions, as newborns are quite vulnerable and might easily pick up bacteria.
Armenian holidays consist of Christian and Pagan culture, which are both deeply rooted in Armenian customs and traditions. As people couldn’t forget all their favorite Pagan celebrations, the Armenian Apostolic Church has adopted some of the traditions and holidays. For example, during the holiday Trndez, newlyweds jump over an open fire to defend themselves against misfortune and evil.
This might be another odd custom for many foreigners, but it’s a fun thing to do. On St. Sarkis Day, the Armenian version of Valentine’s Day, elderly women in the family bake an extremely salty cookie according to a special recipe. The single girls in the family eat it, and it’s believed that they will later dream of their future husbands. It could be a complete stranger or someone they know, but if he brings them a cup of water in the dream, they know it’s him.
Armenia has a limited water reservoir, and, therefore, locals know the worth of this natural resource. Many of the country’s traditions that involve water symbolize appreciation, life, and good luck. One of the most fun holidays is Vardavar, which has Pagan roots and celebrates the goddess of purity and water. On this day, everyone gets splashed with water in the streets of every Armenian city and town. It’s a way to get out of the normal routine and to purify the body—and have the time of your life.