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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

'Just Drop By', They Said. . . and Meant It

The best - some would say the only - reason to be in Moscow is for the sake of that wonderful institution, The Russian Friend.


Maybe it's the lack of infrastructure in the society, but Russians seem to rely on each other to help solve problems that in the West are usually handled by professionals. I can call Russian friends in situations where I would never dream of bothering an American.


When I ran out of gasoline on Leninsky Prospekt at 2 A. M. , I couldn't just phone an all-night garage. Zhenya, a "can-do" kind of Russian, showed up, though, and flagged down a passing bus to beg a few liters to get me home. He had to suck the gas out of the tank through a thin rubber hose. Now that is real friendship.


When my dog developed an upset stomach, Sasha sat with me most of night pouring salt water and vegetable oil down her throat. and one year Igor stored all my things for the summer in a one-room apartment - he covered the boxes with cloths and used them for extra seating until my return three months later.


But even with close friends, cultural differences can cause problems. Tanya and Misha, a young couple, frequently suggest that I "just drop by - you don't have to call first. It's better when it's more natural, less formal".


This is a charming idea. I am flattered by the impression it creates that Tanya and Misha have absolutely nothing else to do in life except sit home on the off-chance that I may want to visit. But hiking out to Tyoply Stan from my native Taganka to drop in on busy Muscovites who may or may not be home, or in any mood to receive visitors, is not my idea of a good time.


Different views on basic questions like career versus marriage and family often intrude. I am constantly bombarded with worried remarks about my single and childless status.


Irina, a woman of my own age, spent several hours persuading me to have a baby. Brushing aside my timid objections - no mate, uncertain plans for the future, longing for independence - she said, "I'm sure we can find a man. How about Fedya? So what if he's married? Once you have the child, you wouldn't want him around anyway. It would just be more headache".


Some of my friends combine strong opinions on these subjects with a brutal honesty I find disconcerting.


Tamara, an older friend, recently sat me down to convince me to marry Kostya, a mutual acquaintance. "He's from a good family", she said persuasively. "And he's got money. You could do a lot worse".


"But I don't love him", I protested. She eyed me critically. "Let's face it, you're not getting any younger", was her verdict.