This will be the first of many language notes, designed to give you readers the inside scoop on the sound and character of the Armenian tongue, as well as, perhaps, a glimpse of the Armenian mind. I'm going to begin at the beginning, the foundation of Armenian life and culture, a wonderful item without which we human beings would never have known such things as wagons, firearms, sea travel, or silly walks. Yes, I speak of bread.
The Armenian word for bread is hats, pronounced with a soft "a", like the a in ball. However, in a peculiar twist of fate that stems I think from boredom and eating a lot of fish, people in my city of Martuni often pronounce the word "khats", the first sound being similar to the French r in apres, except the sound originates more in the mouth than in the throat. It's probably not a sound that you've ever made before, but for Martunetsis (locals) the regular old "huh" sound wasn't enough, at least not when they were saying something obvious. They say "khats".
The first word is pronounced "aree", and it means "get your butt over here before I tell your Tatik you buried her knitting needles in the garden." It is the imperative of the verb "to come", and also the word used to invite a person to do something. Ari genank lich means "come on, let's go to the lake". Ari haghank means "let's play". Ari kenank means "let's sleep" (variety of uses).
And finally, the word ger, which means "Eat!" This is perhaps the most spoken word in the Armenian languange. Armenian hospitality (hyoorasirootsioon, from hyoor "guest" and sirel "to love") is incredible. I literally can't walk down the street without getting invited into people's homes for coffee, vodka, homemade juice, and food. I don't know these people; it doesn't matter. In Gyulagarak women would invite me into their homes for coffee, which includes cake, biscuits, fruit, homemade juice and jam, and more, limited only by time and your insistence that you are absolutely stuffed, couldn't eat another bite. The first question I get from men on the street is "Russkie?" which means "What is your nationality?" and the second is "khmes?", accompanied by a finger flick to their own throat, signifying liquor, specifically vodka. I could drink forty shots of vodka a day if I wanted to.
The Armenian table is a magical land of plenty, laden with meat, vegetables, dolma (sort of an egg roll but wrapped in grape or cabbage leaves) (yum), matsoon (yoghurt, to go on top of the dolma), khorovats (the Armenian national pride), drinks, and, of course, hats. As you eat and they keep putting more food on your plate and you get more and more full (goosht is the Armenian word, and it sounds right, I think), more and more plates piled with food appear out of the kitchen until they are stacked on each other, there is tons of food left, and everyone is stuffed. All food, including all the items in this grand ceremony, are referred to collectively as "hats". The table is the pride of the house, the symbol of plenty, health, and family. It is undoubtedly the most important place in Armenian culture, where birthdays and wedding parties take place, where the whole family gathers, eats, drinks, sings, dances, and celebrates their life.
So don't get me wrong: when they say "Ari hats ger!", they mean it.