When it comes to hospitality, many countries like to claim they are the best in the world. Armenians are no exception. Now, I can't tell you who are the most caring and hospitable people in the world, I simply haven't been everywhere, but what I can do is tell you about my experience with Birthright Armenia, and my journey as a guest in the homeland.
Being a Guest in the Homeland
First of all, if you are Armenian, no matter what percentage, you will be welcomed to Armenia not as a stranger, but maybe as a family member who people haven't seen for a while. Knowing the Armenian language may be helpful, but is not a necessary precondition. Personally, I came here with nearly zero Armenian language skills and as half-Armenian, my looks differ from the general public. However, the experience of people being able to pronounce my name and welcoming me as one of theirs has made my arrival more than pleasant.
If you decide to live with a host family, you might as well browse the internet for a gym at the same time. The Armenian cuisine is rich in healthy and unhealthy foods, and all of them will be served to you. If you don't know Armenian, “Ker! Ker!" will be the first words you learn. Now, whether the Armenian cuisine is the best in the world is a whole different article, but let me tell you this: It is pretty damn good.
Host families care and host families share. My experience with my host family has been unbelievably enriching to my stay in Armenia. Since most of my family does not live in Armenia, I now feel like I have a second family in Yerevan. If you, like me, don't speak Armenian, I can only recommend doing so anyway with your host family, no matter how slow or difficult that might be at first. This way, you will be able to say you're full in no time (However, that won't save you from eating anyway) and a few days later you're Armenian might even be convincing enough to stop your plate from getting refilled.
Being a Guest as a Foreigner
However, Armenian hospitality is not only reserved for Armenians. Foreigners will be received with an equal amount of care and hospitality. To prove this point, let me share a story from my volunteering workplace, Armenia Tree Project.
Armenia Tree Project (ATP) is an NGO that is dedicated to the reforestation and afforestation of Armenia since 1994. As part of my volunteering work, I accompany guests from all over the world to ATP’s tree nurseries and tree planting sites. The story I want to tell you about includes me, two German researchers, and an ATP employee driving us to remote locations where ATP plants trees.
During our drive to the forest planting sites, our driver and ATP forester moderated the road-trip conversation, letting us introduce ourselves and telling us how he would love to drive on the Nuerburgring (a race track in Germany). One of the researchers from Germany also introduced himself, one of his hobbies being alpine hikes. At the end of the day he wanted to be dropped off in a remote village at the foot of the Aragats mountain. He had brought his tent and everything he needed to climb the mountain the next day. So far, so good, right? No, he had made the calculation without the Armenians. Letting someone just wander off alone at night simply was not something our driver could arrange with his conscience. So, he took out his phone and started making calls. Armenia is a small country, but finding someone he knew from that village proved to be not the easiest task. However, after an hour of car ride and fast and spirited Armenian conversation on the phone, a fair share of the village knew a guest was going to come and promised to protect him at all costs from wolves, dogs, bears, and whatever other dangers awaited him in the nights of Aragatsotn.
Overall, Armenians keep proving every day that they are capable of racing for the most hospitable people in the world. In the end, it is not about competition, but about welcoming guests and sharing a rich culture with a beautiful world for them to carry a small part of that culture back home. And so will I, enriched by the experience of Birthright Armenia, take a part of Armenia back to Germany.