1. The Urinator
Elizabeth and I were walking along the Griboedova Canal on a beautiful, sunny Sunday afternoon and decided to go poke our heads in a souvenir shop in a courtyard just off the street. As we entered the courtyard, we noticed the man five feet to our right was urinating (a not altogether unknown sight in most courtyards/hallways/elevators/any-place-you-can-stand). We kept walking, unsure of how to respond. We poked our heads into the shop, didn't like it, and walked back towards the canal. Our friend, I. P. Freely, was still, somewhat incredibly, heeding the call of nature, nonplussed.
2. Papa Gets Thirsty
We walked past The Urinator back on to the street, and before we could even process Mr. Freely, we were confronted with another sight. A huge, shirtless, deeply sunburned man (with a man purse slung over his shoulder, by the way) stopped in the middle of the sidewalk with his baby and baby stroller, chugging cognac straight from the flask bottle. After some deep swallowing, he let out a sated "Ahhhhhhh..." and then placed his liquor in the diaper bag of the stroller.
3. Breaks and Shortages
The other day I went to go get some food over at a little lunch place across the street from the school. I walked in and was informed they were on their lunch break and I should come back in 5 minutes. Lunch break? They are only open 4 hours out of the day!! I came back in 10 minutes, and saw they were still coming off their break, so I went to the little shop next store to get a coke because the lunch place doesn't sell beverages. Come back in 15 minutes, I was told, they were on their break... Ok, I thought, no big deal, I'll just get myself a little pizza and drink water. I went into the lunch place and asked for a pizza (like I have done once a week for the last 10 months). Sorry, the lady said, no pizza today. This failure of restaurants to have what they advertise on menus is very, very common in Russia. Very common; so common, in fact, that later on that night, when Elizabeth and I went out to Georgian food on Nevsky, both of our first attempts to order were stopped cold by the waiter promptly informing us they didn't have that today.
4. Can't You Help a Brother Out?
There's this attitude that men have here, that may be a left over from Communism, that if you need to buy a beer or cigarettes and don't have any money, then a total stranger should buy them for you. So, while waiting in the metro today for a friend, I thought, since I had a few moments, now would be a good time to put some money on my cell phone account, as I was running pretty low on minutes. As I was in the process of doing this, a boozy gentleman approached me, tapped me on the shoulder, held out his public transport card, and asked if I could help him out and give him some cash so he could put some metro rides on his card. The card he was holding aloft as proof of his noble intent was the one that costs about $50 to put money on. If he really was stranded, he could pull out 22 rubles (about 60 cents) and buy one trip. He wanted money for booze or cigarettes; I have drunks ask me for money about 3-4 times a week, and this attitude that I should give him money for his beer and cigarettes made me go to the trouble of being smart aleck. Here's the exchange that followed:
Supplicant: Can you give me some money so I can charge my card?
Me: (in exaggerated American accent) I... don't...understand... Russian.
Supplicant: (unperturbed) 10 rubles (which is about 30 cents), just give me 10 rubles.
Me: Listen, I'm poor. I NEED those 10 rubles.
Supplicant: Come on, it's 10 rubles, just give me 10 rubles.
Me: You need to to understand, I NEED these 10 rubles. You know what? You should give ME 10 rubles, I'm so poor.
Supplicant: (less confident) Just 10 rubles...
Me: Yes! Just 10 rubles. I NEED 10 rubles. Please, give me 10 rubles. Help me, please.
Supplicant: I... uh...
And with that he turned to walk away.