23 October 2007

Life in this Russian Federation

by lizzie b

During my first visit to Moscow, I learned how to have several different conversations using just the same five words of Russian. But my most important communication lesson was that a healthy cartharsis can come from breaking down the barriers between you and the strangers you encounter on daily basis.

If you live in the United States, or maybe anywhere in the West, just think of all the people you pass in public places whom you simply ignore, communicating to them nothing of your own thoughts and opinions about their lives. Russians don't keep these things bottled up. To help you bring home a little Moscow spirit, here are some guidelines for engaging strangers the Russian way.

1. If you see someone quietly passing time on the street, tell him he's doing it wrong. Buster and I were enjoying some afternoon people-watching and conversation in his neighborhood when this babushka stopped to scold him, finger wagging, for about 10 minutes.
Her complaint? He was drinking beer too late in the day. During World War Two, she herself learned to drink beer only in the morning, and that's why she doesn't have a belly. If he would show some discipline by doing his drinking early, he'd be thinner.

2. If traffic is moving slowly, drive on the sidewalk. You'll interact with pedestrians, who are usually over there in their own world with no idea of your problems on the street. If you yourself are walking on the sidewalk, and some asshole drives up there trying to mow you down, drag him and his passengers out of their car and beat the shit out of them. When they pull out pistols, while still throwing punches, run. You may suffer injuries in the get-away, but at least 25 police will show up shortly, and stand around adjusting their hats. Buster and I actually witnessed an event just like this through a restaurant window.

3. If the person sitting next to you on the subway is drunk and a little smelly, punch his shoulder till he wakes up, and make him go sit somewhere else. The designer-jeans-wearing young man who gave me this idea followed up by thoughtfully spraying himself and his neighbors from an enormous bottle of Lacoste cologne. The banished man, meanwhile, retreated to empty seat at the end of the car, and our hero earned a smile of from a middle-aged woman across the aisle that said, "Shucks, these Russian youth today just make you proud. What will they think of next?"

[Ed. note: The work drags on. I hope this post from lizzie b was a welcome personal touch, instead me just posting on this weekend's news: "Sixty-three football fans aged 13 to 16 were briefly detained last weekend amid drunken clashes that left a dark-skinned man dead and two others injured. No suspects, however, were being held Monday for the violence, which police blamed on drunken rowdiness rather than xenophobia." And, "an Uzbek native in his late 20s was stabbed to death in eastern Moscow on Sunday night, Interfax reported. Police found two knives, a glove and 10,000 rubles in cash at the scene, on Pervomaiskaya Ulitsa." ]
[Ed. postscript: "The body of an Armenian music student stabbed 18 times has been found on a street in southern Moscow, while two Vietnamese citizens have been hospitalized after an attack, family and officials said Tuesday."]
[Ed. postscript#2/update: "A number of teenage suspects have been detained over a wave of violence last weekend that left two dark-skinned people dead and three severely injured, a city police spokesman said Thursday...The suspects, aged 13 to 15, face charges of deliberately causing bodily harm, inciting ethnic hatred, and murder, Biryukov said...The teenagers ignited a flare in the chest of their first victim, tournament chess player and Sakha native Sergei Nikolayev, Biryukov said. "Some of them denied involvement, but extremist brochures, and even video of the attacks in which their friends are clearly visible, were found in their apartments," he said."]