Azerbaijan is a southwestern Asian country mostly populated by ethnic Azeris, with some minorities like Dagestani, Russian and Armenian. The vast majority of the population is Muslim, but there are also some Russian and Armenian Orthodox sects. Most people speak Azeri, which is a Turkic language, but many people also speak Russian.
In society, the family is very important. Traditionally, Azerbaijan was made up of rural clans that worked together doing agriculture, and were very close-knit. This style of family dwelling used to be of up to 40 people, but today, families are much smaller, and usually just consist of the nuclear family and sometimes grandparents. Though they live separately, extended Azeri families are usually still very close and individuals seek financial and emotional support from one another. More likely than not, gender roles are the way they were in the past, where the male head of the family works and the wife takes care of children and other domestic tasks.
Hierarchy still persists in Azeri society, and families will often regard religion, family, tradition and culture over any administrative or official law. Even if government officials need advice on finding a solution to something, they will regard the “Agh sakkal,” who is an important and respected man in the community.
Many superstitions are still kept with Azeris. If a cat crosses one’s path, that is a connotation for bad luck in business; people should not lend others money or bread in the night time; if one meets someone with empty buckets, that results in bad luck.
As for greetings, Azeris tend to be warm and friendly. Men will shake hands and kiss one another on the cheek; women hug each other and kiss on the cheek, but do not really shake hands, unless they are greeting foreigners. After these gestures, it is common to ask one another about personal matters like family and health. People who know each other well of the same age will communicate using first names.
As for gifts, they can be given for birthdays and anniversaries, and do not need to be anything expensive or flashy. People will usually refuse the gift twice and say it is too much before finally accepting it. Azeris appreciate the intention of the gift over the actual gift itself.
If you are invited to someone’s home, you should give them an even number of flowers, and have them wrapped. Do not give alcohol unless you are sure that the person drinks, as it is a Muslim society and some people are against this practice. You can show up within about 30 minutes of the given invitation time, as punctuality is not paramount. Before you enter the home, you should take off your shoes. Casual dress is fine, but refrain from wearing tight apparel. You should try to shake hands with everyone if there are a lot of people.
Before dinner starts, you should wait to be told where to sit. Try and observe how other people are practicing table manners. The hostess is generally the one who serves out food; older people are served first, then the guests, then finally the children. If you must pass something, only do it with your right hand.