Friday, December 10, 2004

On The Mark -- Reporting From Russia VII

Dating in Russia. When one travels to Russia as a tourist, you must provide a detailed itinerary of your trip, as well as letters of invitation and vouchers from the hotels where you will be staying, to the Russian embassy in the USA in order to get a visa. When you arrive at the hotels, it is necessary to provide your passport and visa, which is registered with the local government authorities and returned to you a few hours later. You cannot make any deviations in your plans without the proper paperwork and authorization in advance (or you shouldn't, anyway). In Moscow and St. Petersburg, I'm guessing it's probably a little more difficult to determine if you've settled into your room each night (but, then again, maybe not -- I certainly wasn't brave enough to find out). In the smaller cities it's a much different story. No matter how hard you try, you stick out if you're not a local.

I state this information as a setup to the following story. In a smaller city in Russia I stayed at a smaller hotel, actually a converted communal apartment building from Soviet times (not far from a Lenin monument saluting me). There was always a clerk at the entrance desk, and a gentleman keeping an eye on the elevator. I didn't pay much attention to them, and they didn't pay much attention to me (or so it seemed). I went out on some dates while I was there, enjoying great ballets and dinners for about $50 total. Our "dialogue" was limited to translation dictionaries since neither of us understood the other's language. We "spoke" in pictures, basically. Even with that drawback, we had very enjoyable days and evenings. But when we got back to my hotel, it got very interesting, because my date would automatically start looking for a taxi. Now, I have to admit that I'm used to this avoidance technique in the USA, but in this circumstance it seemed incongruous to how we had been enjoying each other's company up to that point.

So I asked an interpreter what was up. She said, "I thought you knew this. In the smaller cities, they still follow very strict rules. A lady is not allowed any further than the lobby of your hotel at any time, and is not allowed in the hotel at all after 10 pm. They can actually be arrested." I was a bit flabbergasted. I responded, "So tell me this, then. Every night I get at least three calls (in English) in my room asking me if I'd like a Russian girl sent to my room. How does she get past the clerk and guard?" The interpreter looked at me as if I was playing dumb or had a low IQ. After a few moments (which seemed like an hour), she said, "Well, that's easy. The girl pays off the clerk and the guard. How do you think these callers know you are there, and your room number? Especially since you are the only American in this city right now?"

Oh well, at least my self-esteem and confidence were restored.

No comments: