Above: The Road to Kharkhorin
Taken while traveling in Mongolia. October 2010.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Можно ли это назвать рутиной?

Journal entry for 10 March 2011 (translated from Russian)

I don’t know if you can call this a routine, but ever since I moved, things have become a bit calmer. I finally have a set schedule, I’ve attended two rehearsals of the Gnessin Musical College’s concert band, etc. But I don’t know if I’ve reached the point of “routine”. I still feel lost in this huge city, and I can’t say I think Muscovites are the best people (or, should I say, people living in Moscow, since most people in Moscow aren’t actually Muscovites). But I still think every day is a tiny bit better than the last, which I also felt when I was in Irkutsk, the rate was just a lot faster there…

12 March 2011

I just thought of something. Yesterday, when I was in the supermarket Perekryostok (“crossroad”), I think I saw a few different facets of the Russian personality, or soul if you will, within the span of ten minutes.

I walked into the store wearing my backpack (which I apparently was supposed to wrap in plastic on my way in, or leave in a locker or something, oops!) and within five minutes I knocked over a little glass bottle of an unknown liquid, causing it to shatter. This item cost 31 rubles (a little more than a buck). Almost immediately a guy, an employee I’m guessing, approached me and started questioning me about how this all happened, making sure to make me feel like a criminal. After I tried to explain to him that it was a complete accident and that I was just walking and sluchayno knocked it over with my backpack, another guy, a customer, jumped into the conversation at the scene of the crime and blurted out that if it was a complete accident I’m not liable to pay anything, and that I could call the police if anyone tried to make me pay for anything.

After the second guy left, the employee tried a little longer to make me pay, saying we could spend 10.000 rubles trying to figure this out with the police if I wanted to. Eventually he just walked away, frustrated. Keep in mind this was all about something that cost 31 rubles.

When I was in line to pay for my müsli and deodorant, there was a lady next to me who I wanted to cut in front of, seeing as I only had two items. While I was in line, David called, and I took this as an opportunity to let her know I was a nice foreigner who meant her no harm. I told David I was near Yolki-Palki and to wait for me near there. After hanging up I decided to ask the lady in front of me what kind of restaurant Yolki-Palki was (this was all for small-talk; I had been to Yolki-Palki before and knew perfectly well what kind of restaurant it was, and either way I had no intention of eating there with David). After our little chit-chat, the lady told me I could go in front of her, seeing as I only had two items.

Why did she let me go ahead of her? I don’t think it’s because she hadn’t seen me before David's call. It’s because I was no longer a neznakomyj chelovek, an “unfamiliar” or “unknown” person, much-feared above almost all people by Russians. Or maybe she simply hadn’t noticed me before. But I like to think I’m starting to figure out how to act around Russians, and how to “give them what they want”, in this case letting the lady know I wasn't this dangerous man trying to steal her groceries. But why this inexplicable fear? Why try to avoid any contact whatsoever with all “unknown” people? These are just a few of the many questions that frequently go through my head in Russia. You’d think by know I would have learned to be comfortable with confusion. Guess not.

Comments, advice, thoughts appreciated.

2 comments:

  1. why, why, why...what for a question is this?
    remember you are just a friendly, harmless foreign student trying to make the most of your time in a new country. whereas the people who have been living there have gone through unstable times where you really have to be careful how you interact with others because you never know who the other REALLY is. I dont think you need another lecture on russian history at this point in time.
    Just think of it this way, you are changing the world by your example of openness and kindness. Yes it may not be much but it's all anyone can do and I want you to keep it up. Only this way, through pleasant interpersonal exhanges, can things ever change for the better in Russia.
    sploodge ya later

    ReplyDelete