Friday, June 26, 2009


Don't tell ANYONE, but it is possible, albeit only slightly, that Moscow has started to, well, maybe grow on me.

Just a little.

I've seen the weirdest things here. No, seriously. I swear my kids have seen every bodily function in public except, perhaps, childbirth. And, anymore, I wouldn't be surprised to see that. In the Metro.

We did see a guy puke in the Metro this week. I heard a funny splashing sound, and, sure enough, there was some poor man, in a wee bit of a corner, vomiting. A very splash-y vomit.

We sort of had to step O-V-E-R the resulting river.

Sorry. I probably didn't need to share that detail with you.

He ended up on the escalator in front of us (although we were separated by a good many empty steps). The girls were skittish. ("Is he going to do it again?" "Do you think he was drunk?")

No. He completed the ride without further incident. And, no I do NOT think he had been drinking. Since you didn't care much for my last TMI detail above, just trust me here. Swine flu? Maybe. Liquid lunch? Er . . . nyet.

Today I saw an albino woman in the Metro.

An Asian albino woman.

Now many People With Russian Passports (and even this is an over-simplification) have Asian features (it is complicated . . . see Comments). One Russian woman I know looks totally Asian. I thought she said she's of Tatar origins; other friends say that her last name is Korean. Anyhow, my point is that Russians are not as homogeneous looking as one might initially think. So maybe the albino woman was a citizen of Russia or the Former Soviet Union. Or maybe she was Japanese.

Japanese was what I thought first because they would be likely to be bleach-bottle blond by choice. And she was really blond.

Her skin was the most remarkable color. Maybe she was an albino with a jaundice issue. Combined with full eye make-up, she looked like she was on her way to a kabuki performance. And since I'm slow, it took me until I had completely passed her to think, "Oh! Maybe she's albino!"

Have I ever mentioned that my Metro station seems to be the meeting point for every deaf person in Moscow? They hang out in the central hallway between the two platforms or outside in the park. Chatting away in sign language. It is a lovely thing, actually: all these people speaking in sign language.

But back to the strange sightings.

As I was waiting to cross the Garden Ring (which is wider than I-70, the interstate highway that cuts through my ancestral village), I saw, across the street, a cute little black and white dog trotting along. He was clearly not a street dog. But where was his person?

By now, I had crossed the first half of the street and was waiting for the light to let me complete the second half.

I saw a woman with another, larger dog on a leash.

Ah, ha! She must be Little Dog's mom.

The light changed, and I crossed the street only to fall into step with her while Little Dog checked pee-mail messages.

Larger Dog had a collar, but his leash was just a length of clothesline. Now that I was right next to her, I could see she, too, wore a slightly ragtag air.

But the strangest thing was that while she held the leash in her left hand, in her right hand she carried a clump of sod.

Made me think of this scene from Love and Death:

But the best thing came later. I was walking near Chistye Prudy and saw a couple walking with two dogs on leashes. The young woman had on a rather large backpack. The kind you might use if you are really going for a trek.

On top of the backpack rode a cat.

He looked just like our Cat-O. He wore a harness and a leash that she held in one hand. He did not care much for this mode of transportation: he was hanging on like grim death and, as they turned into a building courtyard, I heard him meow.

I told the girls, "I saw Cat-O. I think he has a secret life and goes out when we aren't home."

"Don't be silly," they didn't buy it for a minute. "He's always home when we get there."

"True," I conceded. "But have you ever noticed he's always right by the door? Like he's only just got in?"


valentina said...

I have only one a one word response, as the Famous Seabury would have said, "HA!" xov

Anonymous said...

Expatresse wrote: "Now many Russians have Asian features."

No we Do Not! Can you tell the difference between Russians and Tatar/Uzbek/Tajiks/Mongols, etc.? Calling Central Asian people - "Russians with Asian features" is like calling African-Americans - "white people with darker skin".
I know its hard for American to understand but there is HUGE difference in Russia between ethnic (Russians) Russkie (European looking people) and Rossiyane (who are not ethnic Russians)
Even people who look completely European (in Russia) but happens to have; French, American, Latvian, etc roots/parents certainly are Rossiyane and not Russkie (Russians) Got it? If you don't get it, thats okay. Long term Assimilation certainly will play tricks on "holly Russian blood lines"

katbat said...

I love it- I have seen more men with banana clips, mullets, fanny packs, pointy shoes here than I care to count! When the weird stuff happens, I often wonder - ok, is this something that could happen in any big city, or is it just a moscow thing? I am a sheltered suburban northwest US gal - so a lot is weird to me! :-)

The Expatresse said...

ARG: I thought my friend was Central Asian. She says, "NO! I'm Russian!" But she LOOKS Asian. So what am I supposed to call her when she says she is "Russian." I know there is a difference between ethnic Russians, Russkie, and Rossiyane, but how do I get the people-who-live-in-Moscow-and-have-Russian-passports-but-slanted-eyes to cop to it??

And I know you view Judaism as an ethnicity, too. I taught Russian Jewish immigrants in the USA and they showed me their passports. But to us, it is like having "Protestant" on our passports.

Katbat: Yes. It is Big City stuff. Read Mimi Smartypant's blog (there's a link to it on mine). She rides the El in Chicago and sees similarly weird and wonderful stuff, although she is more likely to relay conversations than I am.

The Expatresse said...

ARG wrote: Calling Central Asian people - "Russians with Asian features" is like calling African-Americans - "white people with darker skin".

In the US any color of skin/country of origin would = "American" on the passport. Japanese-American, Indian-American, African-American. My grandparents were "Finnish-Americans."

I know Europe is VERY different. I have a friend who is Hungarian, but she has a Romanian passport.

"Where are you from?" I asked.

"Romania," she said.

"So you are Romanian," I assumed.

"No. I'm Hungarian," she explained.

"But how can that be?" Very confusing.

"The maps changed," she said. "But we did not."

I grasp the concept now, but it took a while. North Americans just don't think that way. If you are born inside the boundaries of a country, and that country issues you their passport, then you are a citizen of that country. Your ethnicity doesn't play into it and has no relevance. It is not mentioned on your papers.

Anonymous said...

My husband, who is Russian (with a pointy slavic nose and everything), is most impressed by the facilities we have in the uk for helping the mobility challenged get around. Special wheelchair places on buses and ramps to get them on in the first place and so on.

I, with an English potatoe nose, was always most impressed by the number of people signing away in public in Moscow. I always wondered where the British deaf population must be hiding.

Anyway, I am feeling extremely homesick for the Metro now. Not to mention Moscow. Enjoying your blog.

Anonymous said...

Expatresse said:
"I thought my friend was Central Asian. She says, "NO! I'm Russian!"

Maybe she didn't want to confuse you even more, since your Russian skills are not that great. But it is possible that she assimilated into Russian culture so much, that ethnic origins of her parents are not important to her. If you can, ask her about her parents.

"but how do I get the people-who-live-in-Moscow-and-have-Russian-passports-but-slanted-eyes to cop to it??"

It depends... If they are life long residents, then we call them - "Rossiyane'. Actually most of them are proud of their: Uzbek, Buryat, Kazakh, Tatar, etc (too many to list) roots. Eventhough lots of them speak only Russian. As you know it is hard to maintain your language without learning it in school.
But can you tell the difference between a Russian and Azeri/Armenian/Georgian? Since you have been to Georgian restaurant, so I guess you can :)
Can you tell the difference between a Russian and Chechen/Ingush/Dagestani?
Luckily for your family that your husband looks "Russian" or European, otherwise cops would have been your husband's best friends :)

Not to confuse you even more, but there is like 10 kind of Tatars, I kid you not. There is Kazan' Tatars (largest one) Siberian Tatars, Crimean Tatars, Astrakhan Tatars, etc. All of them speak their own languages (if they have not lost it yet) Most of them are muslim, some are christian. Some look completely Asian, some look completely European, many look like something in between.
When Kazan' Tatars and ethnic Russian mix in (Tatarstan republic) and have kids. THis 'new' breed called "Tatarstani" and not Tatar or Russian.

katbat said...

interesting conversation going on here - in the US, most people are such a mix, they dont know what they are (well, my dad is part irish, part russian. part chinese and my mom is part mexican, I think part german, maybe some french, etc). My dad (greek) was always annoyed when we would have friends over and he would say - "oh your lanst name is whatever, that sounds whatever" they would look at him blankly and say - I dont know. We always warned ahead of time to just pick a country and stick to it.

katbat said...

btw - we are heading out today on the metro - an hour each way - something fun is bound to happen! frankly I will be disappointed if it doesnt!

Anonymous said...

Katbat good luck with Metro! Perhaps drunk woman part 2 awaits you :)
Moscow Metro is one of the few things that works well in Moscow :) You'll find out.
Your dad is cool :) Many Russians have Ukrainian, Polish, Latvian, etc, Last names. Sooo thus there have been more mixing than Russians would like to admit.

The Expatresse said...

ARG: I am getting better with all the different ethnicities, but, as you explained (thanks) it is a big task. Ten types of Tatars . . . wow. (You should be proud of me for not calling them "Tartars" . . .)

I can only now distinguish Australian accents from English speakers from the British isles. (Although I still have to ask UK friends what things mean from time to time.)

Argentine Spanish from European Spanish.

French Canadians from European French.

When I lived in Taiwan I was able to describe a Chinese person to another Chinese person so that they knew who I meant without resorting to "dark hair, dark eyes, Chinese looking . . ." And I could generally identify Taiwanese and Hakka from Chinese on the Mainland/Thai/Japanese. Not sure if I can do that by sight so much anymore.

This IS an interesting conversation.

Anonymous said...

I will try again.
I guess my response was too long, the system did not except it.
Actually, most Russians do have Asian features, thank to the Mongol invasion. I am blond, very fair skin (pink type), very light eyes, high chick bones - typical Russian. One late night, working in Holland in the lab with one of our Asian customers in the dim light I got a question from him - what part of Chine are you from? Forgot to mention that it was a Clean Room, so we were wearing complete Clean Room outfits.
I will stop here and try to post another comment

Anonymous said...

I was trying to put a "war and peace" size comment before and it failed. The subject is of great interest to me. I will try to chop my comments to small pieces. They are both funny and serious. If I have patience, I may get to serious ones.
When we came to US, the first job my husband got moved us to Cleveland, to Cleveland Height to be precise. I can write a book about this little town.
But, as far as your ethnicity identification question. I had very funny experience there. In every little shop when the shop owner will ask me where I was from and I said that I was from Russia, they looked at me in disbelief and say - You do not look like Russian. It puzzled me for a while. And it took me some time to understand it. It was 1979, most people coming to US from Russia were Jews, so it is how Russians looked to Americans. I did not fill the bill.

Anonymous said...

I just love this topic!
To give you an idea about what Russia really is (short of sending you to the Library of Congress index on the books about Russian history) - just imagine that we did not kill all the Indian Nations here in the North America (which is the USA now). How would you reconcile all the differences?
And most of the "Nations" did leave on the same land for generations in Russia.
Either Russians or not.

Anonymous said...

Olga what are you talking about?!!!

You wrote:
"most Russians do have Asian features"

Who? Name few important ethnic Russians with "Asian features"? It should not be tough since you wrote that most of us have 'asian features'! Do Putin, Medvedev, Pugacheva, etc, have 'asian features'? I don't know if I should laugh or cry at your comments.
Have you watched Russian tv in last 30 years? Name one Russian actor/actress who has 'asian features'? Once again it should not be difficult for you since you claim that most Russians have 'asian features.

You are so off-base, I'm questioning my sanity right now. ok maybe not. A.r.d.

Anonymous said...

you just got me!
I read your comments about skin color in America.
Let me tell you a story.
When we where defecting from USSR in 1979, we where waiting for our permission to enter the US in Italy. At this point we had no citizenship, no affiliation to anything in this world. We where refugees. Pretty scary.
We had an interview with US representatives. We had to fill the form, some of the basic questions where - the color of your hair, the color your eyes, the color of your skin. My husband and I settled on eyes quickly, hair we argued about(my husband is bold), and skin question confused us completely. We put our forearms against each other and we concluded that I am pink and my husband is beige. We where very proud to figure it all out and went happily to the clerk.
The lady looked at out forms and turned bright red and started to yell at us -You are WHITE, your are WHITE.
Her anger puzzled us. But white is as bad approximation of your skin color as beige or pink, so we settled for white.
It took me years leaving in US to understand her anger. She thought that we are making fun of American racial problems. We neither new about them, or where in any position to make fun of anything. We were scared to death.

Anonymous said...


"Indian nations' have to do with our topic? Most Central Asians, Armenians, Azeris, etc, are NOT native to Russia, unlike 'Native-Americans in USA.

Anonymous said...

The anonymous,
do not get so offended, I am just talking about my personal appearances and general Russian history.
Get yourself a copy of Satiricon Palata #6, you will see what I mean.
And, by the way, the people you named did not bother me when I lived in Russia and still hold no interest to me 30 years later.

Anonymous said...

your are puzzling me - what do you call Russia?
I guess 30 years out of the country can make a big difference.
How old are you?

Anonymous said...

Olga, having fun? Are you trying to be funny? Pochemy i zachem?
What you write is actually very funny -

"Forgot to mention that it was a Clean Room, so we were wearing complete Clean Room outfits."

I'll try to be serious because American gals here do not know that you are putting on an comedy act .
Russian people have not changed in last 30 or 50 years.
There was no Russia 30 years ago, it SOVIET UNION. But apperantly you don't know the difference between Russia and Soviet Union?

I'm 30 years old but I have seen movies from 1950s-70s. You know what? Russians back then look exactly as now.

The Expatresse said...

By "Asian features" I think Olga means high cheek bones and a slight slant to the eye. Most of us outside the Russian borders will agree that it is these characteristics we see and admire in classic Russian beauties.

This IS an interesting topic.

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