Sunday, November 30, 2008

Sağ olun

You will hear this phrase a billion times (and then some) in Azerbaijan. Sağ olun (or, more commonly, sağ ol) literally means ‘be healthy.’ It also means ‘thank you’ and ‘good-bye.’ Oh yeah, and it’s also what you say before you take a drink with friends. It’s a phrase with various meanings, and I’ve given it a bit of thought.

Why, you may ask? Well, it actually dates back some time ago, a couple months, give or take. My buddy Charlie who lives down the street just so happened to be locked out of his house (by the grandmother, who was in the house. We won’t delve into that subject here.), so we walked together down to my host family’s house, opened the heavy, metal gate, and walked onto the front patio to see my host dad and mom firing up the wood grill. They looked at us and said, “kabobs!” I can’t say I was disappointed, and neither could Charlie. So we sent a text message or two to our friends in our cluster, telling then we probably wouldn’t be able to get together for a movie that night, and kicked back for a tasty meal.

And a tasty meal it was. They grilled the meat mighty fine, set up the table outside, since the weather was nice, put out the plates, vodka, and whatnot, and Charlie and I spent time jacking around on the patio with Maharab and Nerman. It was delicious, quality time spent with Charlie and the host family. Heck, Our cross-the-street neighbor Abdullah even showed up, no big deal.

Anyway, as we enjoyed a fun night at the house, and we clearly had limited language skills, one of the things we could say was ‘sağ ol,’ especially as we were taking another drink of vodka. We would say it in thanksgiving to my host family, and eventually Charlie would say it as he walked out the door to his house. It has a few meanings, but I find it interesting that the same phrase for ‘good-bye’ is the same phrase for ‘thank you.’ Would you say that has any bearing on the culture? I would dare to say yes, because it seems like, when one enters a home, chances are he should not only say ‘good-bye’ but also ‘thank you,’ because it’s important to treat a guest very well in this country, and how convenient it is that there is one phrase that includes both.

And I don’t just pinpoint Azerbaijan in making this analysis, either. I was raised by parents who also take hospitality seriously. I used to wonder why the heck we needed to wash the sheets and all that before a guest entered our home. It seemed unnecessary, but little things like that: making sure they have a nice place to sleep, food to eat (whether they’re hungry or not), something to drink, heck, maybe even a shower to use, these things don’t just happen when someone enters a home. It takes effort on the part of the hosts, and, to me, the fact that one can say ‘good-bye’ and ‘thank-you’ at the same time makes all the sense.