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Russia Breaks My Brain
I don't understand this place, I just live here.
#13: Cupid's a sick bastard.
Tuesday, February 17, 2004

Hi folks. All set for the next episode of Bizarroworld: The Series? We're actually going to have a slight change in our previously scheduled programming though, since this last week had a special theme, what with Valentine's Day and all. Of course that theme was "don't date a russian if you can help it." Or at the very least, if you do, dating articles won't be of much help, as the rules seem very different here.

Oh, and for those of you dying to know about the nearly suicidal sledding-techniques of the kids here, I promise that and other contact sports will be coming soon. To hold you all over there are pictures of some of that stuff on the website though.

Ok, so back to the Russian dating guide...

Valentine's day is growing in popularity here. Stores are realizing that it's handy when everyone in town feels the need to run out and buy chocolates and flowers, and so it's apparently becoming a bigger and bigger deal to Russians. This in contrast to the Soviet era, where you had Men's Day (This coming Monday, actually) which is supposed to honor brave soldiers and International Women's Day, (in March) which I think is based on Communistic ideas of equality, but ends up being a time to run out and buy chocolates and flowers. Most importantly, I get both of those days off from school.

But now Valentine's Day is grabbing hold of Russia, and so we mentioned it a little in my class last week. We mostly talked about how to describe "people we like," meaning are they fat, shapely, have light/dark hair, and are beautiful or have a pig nose (yes, there is a word for this, unless I was completely confused about the lesson. Both seem like plausible situations.) During all this, the Swedish girl in my class brought up the "fact" that in America, we're all "really hysterical over Valentine's Day." This was definitely interesting to find out. I guess I really should have inquired as to what TV show she saw this in.

Not to be out-weirded by some lowly Swede, my school upped the ante on Valentine's day as best it could. They passed out cards to us to put in their anonymous Valentine exchange on Friday. Four people in my class got cards delivered to them. Not too shabby. Then my teacher called us all up to give us our personalized Valentines from her, which she repeatedly insisted we not open until Valentine's day. When I finally opened it, it was a poem about love (no big surprise there), and how you shouldn't feel bad about it (ok, I wasn't quite expecting that one.)

One line seemed to sum up the tone of the poem quite well: Love, even if nobody calls you their favorite. It was a pretty sad poem. I was a little confused, (and amused, since Kristin was the one helping to translate this poem about my supposed loneliness), but I figured it was just a poem, possibly more randomly selected than I'd first thought. In class on Monday, I found out that Louis' poem was all about how the writer admired him greatly, and thought he was amazing. The kicker was that another guy got a note that basically just said Happy Valentine's Day. No poem. I haven't finished polling everyone, but it really seemed to imply that A) my teacher was hot for Louis and B) thought I was very lonely and C) didn't really care about the last guy.

Don't feel too bad for the last guy though. I'm sure he could find a date if he wanted it, without much trouble, since he speaks English. I say this based on observing the social scene in my dorm, which at best resembles some of the sillier parts of a teen soap opera. I've literally had multiple Australian guys in my room whining about how some girl won't return their phone calls, and then later be totally thrilled when she calls back. This just seems to be the way things work. All the foreign guys seem to have some girl attached to them (or girls, in some cases.) (Oh yeah, cheating happens in both camps.) The motivations of these girls seems a little ingenuine though. Not to seem overly cynical, but after just witnessing my roommate "break it off" with a Russian girl because she would only see him once a week, I sort of wonder how much of a relationship ever existed.

Why is everyone paired off then? Well, for one, these relationships all seem to exist in English, which is great for the Russian girl. She gets tons of practice, often due to her "boyfriend" not being able to really communicate in Russian yet. Another thing seems to be money. There's the expectation that the rich foreigner will always be the one to take the girl out on the town, and what 17 year old wouldn't like to be doted upon like that? (oh yeah, the girls are all 17. Seems to be a rule.) Often this isn't too much of a burden, but I recently found out about a situation where it was really becoming a problem.

In this case, it was a British guy dating a Russian girl with expensive taste, and it was taking its toll on his finances when combined with his general lack of funds. He was trying not to make an issue of it with her, but one night at his apartment some of his friends were talking about how these Russian girls were only interested in money. This girl insisted that that wasn't true, and that she didn't care about money. To prove it, she'd burn a 50 ruble bill right there. Everyone backed down and said never mind. Don't worry about it. But she was adamant. She needed to prove that money was not an issue for her. So she reached right over, grabbed 50 rubles out of her boyfriend's wallet and burned it in the living room. Can't argue with that kind of logic.

Naturally, this isn't how every relationship goes here. My friend Louis, aside from the confusing poetry from my teacher, has also been seeing a Russian girl for a while now, and they seem to get along pretty well. I don't really know much about her, besides that she introduced herself to him as ExtremeFlesh. It turns out that that's her email address, and is supposedly based a metal band an ex-boyfriend was in. I'm not sure what they did for Valentine's Day.

Kristin and I had a pretty good Valentine's Day, and it mostly revolved around finding a kick-ass Korean restaurant. Neither of us had had Korean food before, and I'd have to say I give it a big thumbs up. It was also the first time either of us had been served spicy food here. We've both ordered "spicy" dishes before, but this place was the first to really deliver. We both happily sat there trying each other's food and blowing our noses due to the spiciness. Quite romantic. And you all know I'm not kidding about that.

Meanwhile, across town, another couple was not having Chinese food for the second time. Our friends Igor and Marina had been planning to try Chinese food for the first time for over a year. They wanted to go last year, but then there was the SARS outbreak... in China, and they were afraid to go to a Chinese St. Petersburg. Yeah, I don't get it either. The irony is that this year they didn't go because Marina was feeling sick.

I'll close with a slightly sadder story, but by far the most baffling. One of Kristin's neighbors had been trying to reach her roommate, Nicole, since the beginning of the week. Nobody was sure what this woman wanted, but it was safe to guess (based on her history) that there was some odd request involved, and it was best to be avoided. Holy shit were we right about that one.

On Sunday, when Kristin and Nicole were out of the apartment, I answered the door to a very, very old man. I'd occasionally seen him creeping up the stairs in the building, but was still surprised to be dealing with him face to face. This surprise was amplified by my expectation of opening the door for Kristin and instead being greeted by this guy who seemed to get skin-care tips from mummies. After a moment of looking each other over, he broke the silence and asked if Nicole was there. I said no. Did she live there? Yes, but she's not here right now. Pause. Is Nicole there?

Now, an outside observer would have probably found it pretty funny to watch the two of us communicate. I was struggling with grammar, and I think he was struggling to hear me. Maybe my bad grammar made him think he was really losing it. I dunno. At any rate, I think we were both relieved when he said bye and shuffled away.

Then the phone calls started. Lots of them. No messages. Not even an answer when you'd pick up. Kristin finally just told whoever it was to quit calling. But they didn't. Call after call with nobody there on the other end.

Finally, the mystery came to a crashing halt at midnight when the neighbor woman came to the door to talk to Nicole. She came in and explained how her son (in his 20's)(and a doctor!) had just been dumped by his "first love." She knew Nicole was a foreigner, but didn't seem to be sure where she was from, as she started explaining how the "frau" just left her son. (ok, I don't know German at all. How do you spell that?) Then she asked Nicole if she'd help and take the guy out. She said that Nicole, as a western woman, would know how to cheer her son up, and would pay for everything. To reinforce this, the woman made sure to mention "moneymoney" in English a few times. Somehow, Nicole turned down this amazing offer.

The woman wasn't done though. She asked Nicole if she already had a man, since her husband (the old guy I talked to earlier) had talked to a "beautiful boy" (uh, guess that'd be me.) Nicole stressed that I wasn't hers, but that she didn't have time for any of this. The woman tried a little longer, even mentioning that the reason her son was dumped is because he didn't want to marry the frau, and again stressing the "moneymoney" thing. Then she left, although not entirely in defeat. For whatever reason, she felt the need to call a few more times that night/Monday morning. As far as we could tell, what has happening was that the mom was dialing then handing the phone to the son who wouldn't speak when we answered. As weird as it was for us, I can't imagine what this woman was putting her poor son through.

Who says romance is dead? An old man said I was beautiful!

So clearly Cupid speaks Russian, and was able to get a Visa to come visit us in St. Petersburg. And all this without the help of Hallmark. I'm looking forward to see how everyone reacts when spring comes and everything finally thaws. Apparently one of the activities to look forward to on a hot date is to watch them raise the drawbridges at 2:30am! I'm psyched!

Next time I'll finally get to the sledding stuff, and soon we'll get around to the fact that Russia is being invaded by Americans. Talk to you all soon.

-Angry Giant