Monday, July 4, 2011

The Importance of Being Foreign

A gas station in the distance gave me hope, and I entered saying hopefully,


Friendly laughter on the part of the clerk assured me that I had no such luck, so I embarked on a linguistic journey that sounded something like,

"Please... We is, where? I want... Novgorod, please? Bus 7, Novgorod?"

She started to respond when a man holding a large bottle of beer in one hand and a matching bottle of vodka in the other looked over at the proceedings and said,

"You- Novgorod? I..." and he finished his sentence by miming the international gesture for reckless drunk driving. My response of, "Da! Da! Novgorod!" settled the issue and the clerk smiled happily at us, pleased to have been the broker of such a quick solution to my hopeless lack of direction and the man's apparent acute boredom and vast excess of spare time.

We hopped into his large American SUV and headed in a direction that I did not think would lead us to Novgorod, but moments later I proved to be delightfully mistaken as it materialized in the distance. Meanwhile, the man used gestures, Russian, German, and English* to piece together some information about his life and mine, while calling everyone he knew to announce that he had rescued a poor American girl from certain death in a swampy graveyard in the middle of nowhere. Suddenly, he thrust his phone at me, and I found myself speaking with a 16-year-old student of the English language who was desperate to meet me, and inviting me on a walk through the park. Of course I had to accept, and we promenaded through the Kremlin, chatting about his life and studies, as his whole family and social circle called him and he explained his great luck as well. Suddenly his girlfriend and another girl showed up to verify my existence, and we adjourned to have tea and blinis in a little cafe. The young people explained that they had never met a native English speaker, and were desperate to practice with someone such as myself, as there was only one English teacher in the town who had ever even set foot in a visited an Anglophone nation. I felt like I was magical.

One issue that that they were very candid in discussing with me was the lack of proper access to English education in their region. The other was my use of knee-high gold stockings, which one girl scathingly described as "in Russia, you are like, very... freak." This explained why for the past week when any Russian women of any age had seen me on the street they had been pointing at my feet, whispering to each other, then, more likely than not, breaking out in barely disguised dirisive laughter.

(My Russian Youth Fan Club and I in front of Lenin in the town square. They are not actually giants, I am just a terribly awkward photo taker.)

Already it was near 11pm, and the sun was setting, so my friends and I posed for a photo in front of Lenin and parted ways, they back to their suburb and myself to have a nightcap of honey and black pepper infused vodka** at a cute, friendly cafe with the cute and friendly name of Nice People. If you visit Novgorod and do not want to learn Russian or eat only things you can point at, I highly recommend this place, which has the most adorable slogan of, "It's easy to find Nice People in Novgorod."***

So true.


*In that order of fluency and coherence.

**A local specialty, according to the waitress, which made my eyes water and pleased me greatly.

***I would patronize them again merely for how clever their marketing is!

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