As my adventures in Russia continue, I am discovering things I never thought could happen and the hilarity of limited communication skills and unmet expectations.
I have gone to a few friendly business dinners while I’ve been here. The first time, I was told that we would be meeting at a bar. Knowing the Russian capacity for drinking, I spent a lot of my day eating really fatty foods to prepare myself for this meeting at a bar. We went to a place called Baga Bar. An Indian style bar-restaurant with incredible decorations. And we spent the entire evening drinking. Whenever we were running low, a hand shot up for the waiter to bring us more. As I have come to find out this may be the most common drink in Russia. It was not Vodka. Truth be told, it was not any type of alcohol. It was tea. You can find so many different types of tea everywhere, it’s incredible. Everyone has the basics of green and black, but then you’ve got so many other types. It has been an absolute pleasure.
Most of the countries I’ve lived in have never had outrageously cold weather. So imagine my surprise one day when I found out the unexpected effect this can have. In an office building, I go looking for the men’s room. I see a sign in Russian that says that the WC doesn’t work because there is no water. I was a bit confused by this sign so I go back to my host and ask what happened. He explains to me that the water in the pipes connected to the men’s room froze because of the cold weather. This is not something I ever thought of as a possibility. I’m not entirely sure how they fixed it but I do know that they brought big electrical machines into the bathroom (it took a few hours for them to bring them) and did something to the pipes.
After a few weeks here my understanding of Russian has improved greatly. Speaking though is still not an easy endeavour. Everyone I’ve come across though greatly appreciates my efforts, which has gotten them to open up to me even more than they normally would do a stranger. At the supermarket, they realize that it’s in my nature to smile at them when I say hello, goodbye, thanks, etc. and so they have started to smile back. This may seem like nothing to an outsider but keep in mind that there’s a Russian saying that anyone who smiles without reason is an idiot. In the office building that I go to the most, the ladies at reception see me and immediately start chiming “Hello Ludovic” (the Russian way of saying my name is charming! It sounds like ‘lyu-DO-vic’) and when I leave in the evening, I get a wave goodbye. This is so uncommon that is sincerely surprised my host when he saw it happen. Going back to the supermarket, the people there keep their sentences short and simple.
An adventure I had was ordering a camera. One of my hosts helped me with that and put his phone number so that the delivery guy could call him and tell him that he’s at my building, where my host in turn would call me and let me know to go downstairs. I found myself at 19:00 walking out in my pyjamas that were not made for cold weather, looking for the delivery truck. The scene had the makings of a drug deal. There I was standing in the freezing cold, wearing my pyjamas, handing the delivery guy cash and making sure he count it correctly. He laughed at my horrible accent as I found the words for the amount I was paying. He half slid out of his truck (based on his expression, I presume this was a common occurrence) and handed me my camera.
The last example of making do with limited language skills has to do with going to the doctor. I fell on a doctor who thankfully spoke English. Before he started what he had to do I asked him if it was going to hurt. He looked at me and said “hurt?”. Thinking about the best way to explain what I meant, I saw his left forearm right in front of me. I pinched it and say “ouch”. The look of surprise on his face was priceless. I don’t think he ever had a patient pinch him before. He smiled and said “No, no hurt”.
If you’re going to use cash, make sure you have every type of denomination. Since most transactions are done by card, the cash reserves tend to be limited.
One thing that I find hilarious is that they are certain that all Israelis speak Russian. When I asked why they think this, they say because there are so many Russians in Israel that of course everyone speaks the language. It was very hard for them to accept that this is not the case.