September 30, 2007 Things that have changed

Posted in Rodger's Russia Book | Posted by rodger |

It’s almost time to go. Tomorrow I leave for the long home. Fifty two hours of train, bus, and cab to get back to LA.

Russian Trivia

Russian hot dogs come in inedible plastic skins, and are sold by number. You tell the clerk how many you want, and she snips that many off the chain. To get the sheath off, you cook the hot dog and, while it is hot, puncture the skin with a fork or knife and, if you got it right, the hot dog pops in the pan and you peel the dog out of the now shredded skin.

What happens if you get it wrong and the dog is not ready? You contemplate the wisdom of the phrase “Win some, lose some.”

Things that were not here the last time I visited.


French Fries

Air Conditioning

Lettuce (in some restaurants)

Yellow Cabs


Magnet Stores (Groceries, not magnets)

Pizza – lots of parlors

Insurance Salesmen (Well, not all progress is good.)

Children with cell phones

Techmarts (appliance/computer stores)

Little stores in place of kiosks

Microwave popcorn

Polite Sales People.

Stores with warranties on their products.

Frozen food in the stores.

Diet Pepsi.

Pet Food.

Things That Have Not Changed

My dear wife wants her Russian passport to have her new last name. We have been married for six years, but only in the States. Russia and the US do not have an agreement to recognize each other’s marriages, so her passport still has her maiden name.

She announced last week that we needed to get re-married in Russia so that she could get a new name. I would be flattered, but I think that her real reasons are that one of the most famous porn stars in Russia and one of the most annoying political activists in the Caucus are both also named Larisa Romanova. (Larisa is reading over my shoulder. She insists that I say that she only wants to change her name because I am the last husband she will ever have.)

All it took, she said, was to show our American marriage license at the marriage bureau and they would remarry us that day. Anyone out there still believe that?

Our first stop was at Marriage Registration Bureau. Good news, they said. Karbodino-Balkariya now recognizes all marriages from everywhere. All Larisa has to do is to show the American marriage license and they will record the marriage and change her passport. Oops (you knew that was coming), it has to be a certified and notarized translated copy in Russian.

The next step was to find a Notary, as we figured a notary would know the procedure for a notarized translation. There are a lot of notaries in town and they have nice offices. I should have known that a regime as hung up on triple stamping everything and cross filing it twice would have a lot of notaries.

Off we went to find a notary. The first one had no line in front of his/her office. Inside the office there was a woman typing at a computer. For several minutes she refused to acknowledge our presence in any way. Eventually, she got up from her computer, did several fussy office things, and then, noticing us for the first time, began screaming at Larisa for disturbing her work.

At the second notary’s office, there were several people waiting in chairs in the hallway. When Larisa asked if the notary was very busy, one man replied “He’s not in there.” When Larisa asked “Then why are you people sitting here?” a woman said “We heard that he might come to work.”

The third notary said that there were no actual translation firms in town. What we had to do was to find someone with a degree in English to translate the document then that person would have to come to the notary office with us and a certified copy of his/her diploma to attest in person that the translation was accurate.

Fortunately, one of Larisa’s old college friends had a degree in English and had a copy of her degree. She lived in Nalchick, but she agreed to help. No problem. Larisa translated the license herself, we took a 20 minute bus ride to the station, waited a half hour for a one hour bus ride to Nalchick, took a marshutka (mini-bus) to meet her friend Olga, made a 20 minute walk to the notary, and after 45 minutes of poking, examining, questioning, copying, retyping, stamping, binding, and sealing the notary made the translation legal.

Then we had to go home, the same way. Some people go fishing or boating or hiking or sun bathing on their vacations. I go to Nalchick.

Next day Larisa took the document to the Marriage Bureau – who told her she was now in the wrong office. Since she was registering a marriage rather than getting married, she had to go to the Passport office. The people at the bureau were not certain where it was, but they had a phone number.

On the 15th or so try, someone at the passport office reluctantly picked up the phone and told Larisa “We are moving. Call back in a week.” Larisa explained that would be difficult because her husband was leaving a few days. The woman told her to come to the office and said it was behind another building down town. When Larisa asked for the address, the woman replied. “I’ve already told you enough. Goodbye!”

When we found the office, the woman rather reluctantly accepted the documents and said that she would check with her boss as to whether they were adequate – when she saw him in Nalchick the next day. (If I ever write a book about this, it will be titled “101 reasons to go to Nalchick”.)

Things I Hope Never Change.

Skirt and dresses, four inch heels and makeup. No one has yet told Russian women how much easier it is in the morning if you cut your hair off and look like a man.

Women are not insulted by the idea that they are female, and could not possibly understand the concept of burning your bra for the right to urinate standing up. (My college actually did install standup female urinals at the height of the Steinhiem madness.)

People wear blue jeans to work in – only. They don’t show up for a date or a dinner party in their best worn Levis.

Children go to mountains and parks with their school groups – and never worry about the responsibility wavers and multiple permission slips that have strangled American children. Take that, you damned lawyers.

Speaking of lawyers, there are not a lot of them here. The profession is poorly paid and is respected even less than in the states. There are no such things as the thousands of frivolous law suits and class actions that support the legal leeches of America. Here in this growing town, the sidewalks are not even. There are sudden 4-8 in steps between new areas and those still waiting to be developed. If you fall down, break your leg, and sue the business owner, the first thing the judge will ask you is why you weren’t looking where the Hell you were going.

Men are not asked to apologize for being born into the wrong gender. They swagger, cuss, drink, fight, argue, look at woman and generally act manly without apologizing. However, in private and between each other, the women do sometimes express pity for the unfortunates who were born men – but only between themselves.

School children are still assigned to rake leaves in the park and once a year to pick crops in the fields. It was grape season here recently and our niece was sent to spend a day picking grapes. She picked 10 baskets full was allowed to take home as much as she could reasonably carry. I like that kids know where the food comes from, and I’ll bet those grapes tasted great.

Women are proud of motherhood. ‘Nuff said.

No one believes a single word that ANY politician says. Don’t deny it; there have been American politicians you believed.

There is a tremendous amount of personal freedom here. You remember freedom. It’s what you had before you surrendered the county to the PC Police. No one gets sued for a racial joke (sometimes you can get hit, but not sued), and no one pretends that calling a crippled man “mobility challenged” will get him out of his wheel chair. Today a woman that I squeezed by on the Marshutka, told me politely but pointedly that I needed to eat less. Ah, freedom. My old friend, I remember you well.

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