Friday, June 12, 2009

Galina, My Guardian Angel

I know I have gone on and on about how Russians can appear fierce but really are softies. Especially in shops or other public settings. But all it takes is a little decency and regular purchases from you, the foreign guest/customer, and you'll have them looking out for you as if you were family.

At the grocery store I was startled the first time it happened.

There's Meat Counter Lady. Unlike the Avuncular Meat Counter Man who likes to practice speaking English with me, she looks intimidating. She greets you, without looking up, by barking, "SPEAK!" in Russian.

About a year ago, I timidly asked if I could have some of those nice stuffed peppers, please.

"Nyet!" she replied.

Thinking this was a classic case of "Yes, we have no bananas," I persisted.

"These . . . right here," I cajoled, pointing at them.


She wasn't backing down. But when my shoulders drooped, she leaned across the counter and said in a stage whisper, "They're OLD! Don't buy them."

Ahhhh! I see. Duh-oh!

A few weeks ago, I ran into Meat Counter Lady on the street one morning. She was wearing her civvies, and all gussied up the way middle-aged Russian women can be. She had on a very girl-y skirt and lipstick. And when she caught my eye, she waved, said "Hello," and gave me a huge smile.

Another time, in a different branch of this grocery store chain, I took my oranges to be weighed, only to have the clerk examine my choices, pronounce them inferior quality, chuck them in the trash bin, and select other, better ones for me.

I didn't even have a relationship with this woman.

Lately my Guardian Angel of the Grocery Store is Galina.

I know her name because I can read her name tag.

She's relatively new in my store. And she works the deli counter, slicing up meats and cheeses for customers. She apparently spotted me dealing with the meat counter one day because by the time I got to her to buy bacon, she figured out I was Not a Native Speaker.

Not a problem. She likes to practice English, too.

I'm guessing she's mid-50s. Sort of zaftig. Resembles a Russian Susan Boyle, but with more gold teeth. Which I see a lot of because she always smiles.

One day, a couple of weeks ago, I was buying a chicken at the meat counter. Neither of the regular Meat Staff was on duty. I don't recall whether I was being served by 20-Something Meat Guy (who is always visibly relieved when he understands what it is I want him to weigh and hand to me) or some Generic Grocery Clerk Girl.

In any case, I asked for a chicken, and whoever was working the meat counter selected one for me. But before that chicken hit the scale, Galina came flying, like OJ Simpson in an old Hertz Rental Car ad, right over her colleagues in Prepared Foods and around the corner to Meat World.

She snatched that chicken mid-air, sniffed it, pronounced it a Lesser Chicken, and whisked it away to the back while admonishing her colleague for fobbing off an inferior product on me.

I have no doubt that chicken came right back out the minute I turned the corner to World of Dairy.

But my point is she was looking out for me.

This comes at a price, as I learned about an hour ago.

She was in front of me in the check out line just now, paying for two large cabbages. There was a young man in between us. She was chatting with the woman working the cash register, so I didn't think she noticed me.

Oh, but she had.

As she was bagging her cabbages, she suddenly spotted me and exclaimed in Russian, "Hey! How come you didn't say 'Hello'? Some friend you are!"

And then she laughed, her eyes all bright and twinkly.

"Здравствуйте," I obliged her. Hey, I can play along.

"How are you?" she replied in English.

Then she cracked herself up again and went back to work with her cabbages in a big plastic bag.

Lesson learned. Next time, I'll vault over anyone who gets in the way in order to say hello.

Might have to hug her, too.


TRex said...

Through a lack of attention I got caught in the 7 items only line at a local shop here at Belorusskaya and the girl gave me two bags and rang me through in two separate transactions while telling me what a stupid I was.

First transaction, one pack Marlboro Red. Second transaction, 7 bottles of booze.

In fairness I’m sure that has happened to me in some other countries, but this time I was sober and it stung!

TRex said...

Whoa, OT but "Memoirs of a Geisha" is on the teevee. Channel 103 or TV1000 or something. Check it!

The Expatresse said...

Kids watching Simpson's. I'm outta luck. Tried watching There Will Be Blood on SKY, but lost the feed about the time Daniel Day Lewis's son looses his hearing in a blast from an oil well. Merde.

valentina said...

Just goes to show you what patience, friendliness and lots of smiling can get you!

Glad you have some friends there watching out for you!

We're looking forward to having you home for a while!

Heh, they speak English here!

I always remind myself of that when I get lost in Columbus!

It calms me right down! xov

Annie said...

Oh, how true this is! Thanks for bringing up all sorts of fond memories. There is no place like Russia! How much better the brusque beginning and the true friendliness...than the manufactured friendliness (to which you are forced to courteously respond) that is really a false front, signifying nothing.

Your stories beg the question - WHO gets the inferior items?

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