Hmmm… I initially mistyped decide then and ended up with decode. Freudian slip? I’ll let you decode…
Anyway, few would argue that Russo-American tensions are currently perhaps as high as they have been since the fall of the iron curtain. This is a very interesting time to be in Russia and I’ve had fascinating conversations (with locals and foreigners) giving me a deep insight into a great many aspects of the current situation.
But I don’t want to go into that now… I want to tell you about a social gathering on Friday evening run by the ex-pat website people… and our own Russo-American tensions which came in the form of one very strange individual indeed.
His name badge (yeah, yeah, we wear name-badges. these are networking events, get over it) said he was an American, and he spoke fluent (*) English with an American accent, however he also told people he was Russian and spoke fluent Russian with (I was told) a Jewish accent, the relevance of which is unclear to me but I include it for the sake of completeness.
I foolishly called him across to say ‘Hi!” (mistaking him for a Dutch guy I’ve previously met) and instantly realised my mistake (and I don’t just that mean he wasn’t the Dutch guy), but even if I hadn’t there’d have been no escape. Throughout the course of the night I think everybody at the party had to put up with his imposition at one point or another as he offended, alienated, or otherwise stretched the goodwill of all the other guests.
But before all that I noticed the odd colour of his drink and asked what it was.
“Cognac, I’ve brought my own.”
We often get a free glass of wine when we arrive at these events, but since finishing that he’d been topping it up with store-bought cognac… I questioned whether this was a tactic which was particularly appropriate at the current event (or indeed for an adult/non-student at any event), but he snarled (in an “already had quite enough of that cognac” kinda way, not a nasty way… yet!) that he wasn’t prepared to pay for alcohol in an expensive bar.
At this point I hadn’t realised quite the level of his obnoxicity (sorry, I love making up words), or I’d have suggested that it would in that case be better all round if he didn’t ever go to bars… The venue was actually a record shop-cum-bar/venue (and fairly reasonably priced all told), so we spoke briefly about music until he disagreed with a point I made about pop and started raising his voice in that way that drunk Americans and Russians (oh yes, you’ll find no bias on my account) sometimes do.
“Keep it quiet, everyone can tell you’re an American,” I joked… (not bias, we were talking English) “I… don’t… care!” and neither did I so I turned away and avoided him for the rest of the night. Well almost the rest of the night, but the conclusion is still to come… I’ve put it at the end this time, like the bluff traditionalist I sometimes am.
I’m not going to provide a full list of his offences throughout the evening (after all, I was avoiding him so wouldn’t be able to), but I will make special note of perhaps the most offensive thing he said that I am aware of… to a very dear friend of mine. A young woman with two large scars across her neck following an operation for cancer. Fortunately she’s quite at ease with this, but even she found it hard to stomach when he asked if she’d tried to kill herself!
In the sake of openness and honesty I should point out that I have in the past mistakenly made a quip about a girls belly-button ring, only to be told that it was a mole and she had never felt able to wear a bikini before the exact day that I saw it (and I doubt was able to wear one again for quite some time after)… but that’s amateur hour compared to “Did you try to commit suicide?”… what by cutting her own head off twice?
Plus, I was absolutely mortified that I’d upset this girl and couldn’t apologise enough (I actually couldn’t apologise enough because she refused to speak to me, but even if she had then I wouldn’t have been able to apologise to the point where I felt I had rectified matters to even any small degree), but our Russo-American (I can’t even bring myself to use the word ‘friend’ in jest here) then repeatedly referred to it as her “permanent necklace”??? Luckily I didn’t find this out until afterwards…
So the party starts coming to an end and the guy has few people left who will give him the time of day. He makes a paper aeroplane out of a flyer or something (I’m not sure whether to draw attention to this unintentional pun… I quite like it, but really can’t take any credit… maybe I can take subconscious credit?), and throws it, hitting a girl (in the group of people I was chatting with) in the face.
Needless to say he didn’t come over to apologise, but a few minutes later he did come up and try to join the group in conversation, all of whom very deliberately and visibly ignored him. I don’t even remember if he looked put out by this, but being English I adopted my most polite tone and explained that perhaps after hitting a girl in the face with a paper aeroplane and not even having the decency to say sorry, nobody really wanted to speak to him any more.
And this is where it got weird (oh yes, the punchline is on its way, don’t fear!)…
He said “If you want to be exceptional, then act in an exceptional manner, and people will see you as exceptional.”
I’m sure by this he was referring to himself, and meant exceptional as in unusually good, although quite how that related to hitting a girl in the face with a paper aeroplane at a party for grown-ups (and me) I’m not sure. The joke is (and this isn’t the punchline), that if he had meant that he wanted to be exceptional because everybody in the room had taken exception to him, he had succeeded and then some!
He turned to me (everyone else was still studiously ignoring him but secretly listening in astonishment to this exchange) and said “If you want to be ordinary, then act in an ordinary manner, and people will think you are ordinary,” obviously not considering me to be as special as my mum once said I was.
Now although I believe that manners maketh the man, I’m not afraid to occasionally sharpen my tongue (although I usually use it in jest rather than riposte), and purely in terms of rhyme and structure his first two utterances beg to be completed with a third. You can try this yourself. The first two sentences both have three sections, and if you say them out loud and stop it feels empty. They really are itching for a three-section finale.
Also, simply following his logic through to conclusion allowed me to imply without resorting to actual name-calling (never a good look). He acted as the perfect straight-man in our comedy double act… Setting up the gag for me to knock into the crowds.
“And if you want to be an arsehole, then act like an arsehole, and everyone will think you’re an arsehole!”
I got a polite but audible round of applause as he sloped off. Conflict resolved… I think I’m ready to get my teeth into something bigger.
(* insert your own joke here)