muscovites? didn't i get them surgically removed?
a dispatch from the land of vodka and, well, vodka
by adam kraemer
So my company sent me to Moscow last week. No, it wasn't as a punishment. I don't think.
Actually, it was so cool, so much fun, and such a rare thing to do, that I want to go back tomorrow. Really. I also visited London, and that was great, too, but people do that all the time. I don't think I know anyone my age who's ever visited Moscow (except my friend Doug who lives there, but expatriates don't really count as "visiting.")
Anyway, it occurred to me that to most Americans, Moscow (and Russia, by extension) is a complete mystery. We picture it as snowy and gray, but we don't really know the people or that much of the culture. For years, Russia was "the enemy." The less known about its people, the better, right? Well, no. Here, for those who care, is a short list of things I learned about Moscow:
1) The Cyrillic alphabet is only sort of like the Roman alphabet. It's got elements of the Greek alphabet (Ï is a "p" sound) and elements that I personally believe must come directly from Satan himself (Æ is "zh" and Ù is "shch"). The funny thing is that I was actually getting pretty good at reading the silly language right before I left. You can always tell in Russia if someone's bothered to learn anything about the culture before visiting by the way he pronounces "ÐÅÑÒÎÐÀÍ" - Russians either get a big laugh or a good target out of anyone who doesn't pronounce it "restaran" (as in "restaurant.")
Oh, and for those of you who were always curious, ÊÎÍÖÅPÒ is loosely pronounced "concert," not "cohuept" or whatever else you thought it was when Billy Joel released the album.
2) The weather is not always cold and snowy. Sometimes it's cold and sunny.
Actually, it was funny; the second day I was there, the temperature was just above freezing and there was not a cloud in the sky. One of the women in my office actually commented that it looked and "smelled" like springtime. I really like that.
Doug commented that winter was actually his favorite season there because you don't get rain (spring and fall) or flies (summer.) I can see how crisp, clear days would be preferable. Plus, it encourages everyone to drink more, which brings me to my next point.
3) Russian women are hot. Very hot.
I know the prevailing image of a Russian woman is a weight-lifting, testosterone-fueled she-man, but it's just not the case. Most of the women I met and saw in Russia looked closer to the Soviet agents in Spies Like Us than they did Magnus Ver Magnusson.
The thing that I felt about Russians, in general, was that they have been so shaken up by the vast changes that they, as a people, have undergone in the past century, they're partying like there's no tomorrow, because, in truth, they can't be sure that there will be. As a result, there are very few laws in Russia, as far as vice goes. The drinking age is practically nonexistent, the age of sexual consent is 16, and prostitution is not illegal. It's like they're taking advantage of their new freedoms every night because they might wake up the next day to find that there's been another coup and they're no longer allowed to have fun.
Before I go any further, let me just state for the record that many of the Russian women I met, like my new friend Elena, were not only pretty, but very smart and respectable. They're just not as much fun to talk about in a column like this.
And it's not just that a lot of Russian girls are attractive alcoholics. They can also get really slutty.
I really do have total respect for all of the women I met in Russia, but I gotta tell you, the women's movement hasn't quite exploded in their corner of the world yet (or other parts of Europe, for that matter). Example: there's a bar in Moscow called "The Hungry Duck" (you can actually visit the web site at www.hungryduck.com). The deal with this establishment is that from 9pm-11pm only women are allowed in. Once inside, they are treated to an all-nude male review and they drink like it's going out of style. At 11, the strip show stops (or at least women join the men on stage) and guys are allowed in. To a bar full of drunk, horny women. Now don't feel bad for these girls - they know what's going to happen and they know why they're there. But to have a place that actually came up with such an insidious plan for making it really easy for guys to get laid - that's Moscow.
4) There are a surprising number of people who don't speak any English at all.
Only one out of the ten taxi drivers I had spoke more than "You - taxi?" and "Good." Perhaps "thank you," but I knew how to say that in Russian ("spahseeba"), so it was sort of unnecessary.
It's not just old men in gypsy cabs, though. Friday night, I was taken to a bar by a couple of the people in my office. We were meeting up with another girl who was friends with one of my co-workers. This girl happened to have been granted her divorce that day, and she happened to be going out of her way to get really, really drunk. "Good for her," I thought.
The problem was, I was warned in advance, that she, a 20-something-year-old girl, spoke no English. The entire night's conversation consisted of her saying something which would have to be translated to me, followed by my response which had to be translated to her. Not optimal circumstances.
Apparently it's not totally uncommon, even for younger Russians, to speak only Russian. I was surprised.
The other thing that surprised me was that this particular young lady, after speaking only in Russian for two hours while she (and my friends and I) got progressively more inebriated (she was doing a shot of vodka and a screwdriver for every round of beer the rest of us ordered - "Íà çäîðîâüå!!!"), actually started hitting on me in English. Halting English, given, but English nevertheless. I believe she said something like, "I...think...that if...you...come...with...us [to some Russian dance club],...you will...maybe...get lucky." I have to tell you, if an attractive Muscovite learns only one sentence in English, that should be the one.
In the interests of whatever sort of reputation I currently enjoy with my readers, I will reserve my right to privacy and not divulge the outcome of that night. But it makes for a nice segue to lesson 5.
5. Every now and then, you get surprised when someone does speak English.
Lest you think that every Russian woman is a slut and that they don't have any respect for themselves, I present you with my final parable. Doug and I went to a cigar bar called "The Embassy Club" my first night in the city. We'd already been drinking at a different bar while we had dinner and we were getting pretty drunk.
So we walk into this bar, and after picking out two Cuban cigars (which were excellent, by the way), we take seats on these couches, behind two Russian women on their own couch. They weren't really paying attention to us, these women, so Doug started telling me about what he'd observed of the local female population, since arriving there from Washington, DC almost three years ago. Basically, he summed up lesson #3 above.
Long story short, one of the girls started to glance over at us at moments when the conversation got a little too chauvinistic (comments like "Russian girls don't even mind cooking and cleaning"). She was seriously shooting us (me) dark looks. Finally, I excused myself from the conversation and walked over to her:
"Pardon me, but do you speak English?"
"Yes, I speak English very well."
"And you've heard our entire conversation?"
(coldly)"Yes, I understood all of it."
And I went and sat back down, secure in my knowledge that I had very craftily destroyed not only whatever chance I might have had with either of those two women, but probably the chances of any other American they would ever meet again. So what I'm saying is be careful. Not all Russian women are easy.
And there you have it. There were other interesting things in Moscow as well (the snow is incredibly dirty, the toilet paper is dormitory-quality, my hotel was run by the mob, and there were prostitutes sitting at the bar 24/7), but these five were the lessons I have chosen to impart upon you, my loyal readers. Thanks for indulging me.
Cïàñèáî and äî ñâèäàíèÿ.
A native of Elkins Park, PA, Adam Kraemer spends way too much of his time repeating "K-R-A-E..." He moved to New York City in 1998 and earned Master's in Journalism at NYU; don't let his writing fool you. He feels he is best known for saying the things no one is thinking, but afterwards wish they had been. He spends his free time wondering where all his free time goes and why he can never come up with a decent kicker for the ends of his articles.
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2.10.01 @ 12:38p
I discussed “The Hungry Duck” concept with some friends last night (both male and female). They all thought it was total genius.
All I need is a couple of financial backers, and the “hungry duck” will be here on American soil!! What a concept… drunk horny girls! I’ll put the Ruphies (date-rape drug, if that is not the correct spelling) market right out of business!!
2.10.01 @ 7:10p
Hmm... knowing Jeff, this will end badly. I see an indictment and financial ruin.
2.11.01 @ 8:59a
For the record, the Hungry Duck concept already exists in Wisconsin. There's a strip club called the Sugar Shack that is for women only - until ten PM, when the three-drink minimum has been met, the strippers leave the stage, and the doors open to reveal panting, deluded men who are certain they are going to reap the benefits of another man's thong.
2.11.01 @ 9:03a
PS: I am a little confused as to why you're surprised Russians don't speak English. I know very few Americans who speak Russian. Or even Spanish, which really ought to be a required second language.
2.12.01 @ 9:24a
Americans are generally acknowledged to be big idiots when it comes to the whole bilingualism thing. But because much of the world -- particularly Europe -- is so much better about starting out kids in other languages at a young age, there are a whole lot of people in Europe and Asia who speak great English. I think that's why Adam was surprised.
2.12.01 @ 12:17p
It's more about English-speaking countries being so influential in both world politics and world entertainment. I think it's interesting that as the percentage of Americans who speak English is going down, the percentage of people in the rest of the world who do is going up. I think.
2.13.01 @ 11:23a
Sorry. I'll get rid of that right now. Check out this link to see an article on the Hungry Duck by a woman who actually visited that pit of debauchery.