Granted, I’ve been stared at before—usually because I am a freak. Take, for instance, when I had bright orange hair, whilst wearing an orange shirt and an orange boa in Bloomington. I sure attracted a lot of attention then!
I’ve also stuck out before—like in Spain and Portugal where my 5’10” height makes me about a foot taller than the average person in these nations (well, not a foot, but I’d guess at least 4 inches taller). That’s the opposite of The Netherlands where I need a step ladder to see over the crowds of tall people and tell where exactly I am—average height of a Dutchman must be close to 6’3”.
However I usually can blend in some way—in Bloomington I spoke English and looked otherwise normal. In Spain I could find groups of tourists to hide behind, and in the Netherlands people just do not notice me, except the recruiters trying to convince me to join the World Wildlife Federation.
In Armenia, none of this worked—although, at least, I was of average height.
My first problem was, generally speaking, my skin color: I am much whiter than the average Armenian—but, there were many exceptions to this, so that was not a huge deal. On the other hand, (2) my shoes; (3) my pants; (4) my shirts; and (5) my hair were all dead giveaways.
I was wearing New Balance hiking shoes—shoes perfect for the rough terrain I expected to be covering in Armenia—whether hiking up the side of the hill to the Vahanavank Monastery near Kapan, crossing the street in Yerevan, or visiting the monasteries of Debad Canyon. However appropriate those shoes were for me, they did not match the square toed dressy leather shoes that Armenian males seemed want to wear.
Moving up, my pants were typical tan khaki colors—a far cry from the black pants that the men seemed to wear—dark colored pants were definitely, even in blue jeans. To add to my transgression, one of my pairs of pants has those large pockets down the legs—something I do not recall seeing at all on any Armenian’s pants.
Shirt-wise, I did have one burnt orange colored shirt that fit in—but naturally not on the day I wore it. The burnt orange, worn in Kapan would have been better in Yerevan—although Yerevan the men who wore orange tended to wearing brighter, truer oranges. With this loose exception, the rest of my shirts stood out—even my basic black t-shirt was wrong: black either needed vertical stripes of white or they needed to be shiny and reflective.
Finally my hair stood out for two major reasons: first off, and you can laugh about this, it was too long. Most Armenian men wear their hair remarkably short. The other sin was that my hair was two toned—I still have the remnants of highlights earlier this summer growing out of my hair.
Needless to say, I was stared at, even when sitting quietly by myself on a bench. More than once I noticed people take awkward detours to get a better look at me. This did have one fantastic payoff in Vanadzor: my obvious non-Armenianness resulted in David introducing himself to me in order to practice his English—and, ultimately, rescuing me from what was going to be an incredibly dull and boring Sunday in Vanadzor.