We recently went on a road trip to a small town, roughly three hours south of Saint Pete.
And when I say “we”, I mean ten friends in two cars (neither of which is the one in the picture, btw… and the road in the picture isn’t the one that we went down either… it’s just a picture, alright?.. I didn’t take it… Well, I did take it, but from the internet, not with a camera!).
Anyway, we arrived, we walked around a bit, we ate, we drank, we were merry, we checked out the local nightclub…
All waking up fully intact in the (nicer than expected) apartment we’d rented, the girls (and it’s only now that I’m realising how validating of sexual stereotypes this is) started to prepare some breakfast, which somebody had had the forethought to buy along with the vodka for the previous evening… except for eggs, and I rather like an egg for breakfast on a Sunday.
After having some bits of ham and cheese on bread, I elected to venture out and buy some eggs for everyone. However, as I closed the apartment door behind me, I noticed an American friend from our group, having a cigarette with a stranger in the stairwell one flight up. I went up to say hello and it turned out they had been drinking cognac (Russian cognac, but still…), which I was immediately invited inside to share.
Our new host Kolya was very friendly and we talked about Russia, and the differences in the UK and US… and we drank cognac. And because most Russians like to keep their alcohol and mixer separate, we also had glasses of домашный (domashney/home-made) compote, which is normally made here with apples and pears, but this one was summer berries and was simply divine.
We were given сельд (syeld/marinated herring), and кольаса (kolbasa/sausage), and generally, as nice a welcome as one would expect from a long-lost friend… never mind from a stranger we had just met.
I’d had two shots of cognac (or possibly three? I wasn’t counting), before I remembered that I should have been buying some eggs, and conveyed my apologies to Kolya in broken Russian. “I have eggs. How many do you need?” said Kolya, pouring another cognac – This was also in Russian, but… you know what, most of this conversation was in Russian… yes, the conversation, not the pouring of cognac… oh, come on! really??
I refused his kind offer… quite a few times, before I realised it wouldn’t do any good. I finally gave in when he started to get a pan out, in part because I thought it would be quite funny to go out for eggs and then come back with a pan of them already scrambled… and certainly my return to the apartment with a cry of “eggs up!” before slipping them onto a plate and leaving did to some extent achieve it’s desired result.
Back in the stairwell, Kolya and the American were smoking again, so I went inside and started to wash up the pan… which of course I was stopped from doing, because more importantly, we still had cognac to drink. And when it had been drunk, we said our cheerios and went smiling back downstairs… Just in time to join the others, who were on their way out to a museum.
If anything, you might think that this guy was rare,
but I said “nah, forget it”, “just come to Rus-sia!”
Sorry, don’t know what came over me there… but my point is, that this is certainly not a one off thing. From my experience it is fairly typical of Russian hospitality, even towards strange foreigners they’ve just met…
In fact, some of my Russian friends have pointed out that this is especially towards strange foreigners they’ve just met, and that they don’t treat other Russians very well at all… And as we were about to find out, they sometimes don’t treat strange foreigners very well if they’ve already been friends for a while…
[sometimes my segues are so seamless it even makes me smile]
So later we were heading off for home, when I realised we didn’t have any driving beers. (we the passengers that is, naturally). Our Russian friend who was driving, sportingly stopped (which we hadn’t entirely expected) so we could get some, after which we took a back road through the forest towards home to avoid traffic.
We assumed the empty road would encourage faster speeds, but every time the driver got up to 80 or 90 km/h, he would brake slightly to slow down and then accelerate back up to the same speed. This was baffling, and once noticed could not go unnoticed, but served only as a mild bemusement throughout the journey and caused no real annoyance.
We got lost going through a village/small town. We shouldn’t have, because we had a sat-nav (although this was always on but never used, and was only in the car [I found out during the outward journey] so that nobody else gave the driver advice), and mobile phones, but again, it was just part of the adventure.
We got a flat tyre, and all got out to help the driver to put the spare on… By this time it was very late and we all hoped that this would be the last chapter.
The distance-to-Saint-Pete signs were gradually counting down… We hit 25. Only half an hour or so to home… until… the driver took a left off the highway, dismissive of our queries as to why the signs were suggesting we should go straight on… “we have to avoid traffic in Gatchina” “we’re 25 kilometres from home, Gatchina was miles back” – two english and an american. Yes we did mix metric and imperial in the same sentence.
We passed another Saint-Pete-is-in-the-other-direction sign… “Have you been this way before?” “Yes, I come this way a lot… We’re going to Kronstadt!”
Kronstadt is a town on an island with a lovely old cathe… who cares? It’s miles away from where we want to be. We were almost home!… Our driver explained that he would go via Kronstadt to the north of Saint Pete (where he lives), and then come back into town to drop us off, although he soon changed his mind about that, and decided he was dropping us at a metro station, as he either a/ didn’t want to drive on too many roads with lamp-posts, or when it was pointed out how stupid this was, b/ didn’t want to use too many crossroads(?!?)
We asked if he could drop us at a metro station in the south of the city (as we were almost there), rather than take so much time to take us so far out of our way. He proceeded to explain that the 25km-to-bed sign didn’t actually refer to the centre of Saint Pete, but to some unspecified point on the outskirts… He really did try to convince us of that. I was flabbergasted. After the-kindness-of-a-stranger this morning, we were now all being subjected to the-selfishness-of-a-friend.
What made it worse was that he then kept crowing on about how pleased he was that he hadn’t listened to us, because he was going to be home so much quicker…
[As it happens, that wasn’t true. It took us over an hour to get round to the north of the city after being half an hour or so away from home. The Uber back to the centre took 20 minutes, so he’d have been quicker driving us home… or even driving us straight past our homes and not stopping!]
Yes, because you screwed us over! What kind of person screws over his friends and then boasts about how happy he is that he screwed over his friends?? I’m all for a bit of patriotism, but taking that much pride in your cuntery (*) is something else entirely!
* [sorry, I don’t like to swear unnecessarily, but I couldn’t resist that pun]