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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

GAI Problems? Just Whip Out Your Potato

My ever-changing life in Moscow has entered a new phase, thanks to a budding association with a diplomat from what shall remain, for now, an unnamed country.

I had forgotten what it was like to live on the fringes of the diplomatic community, in a building with militiamen to greet you morning, noon and night; where the apartments are so big you have to scatter bread crumbs to find your way back out the door; and the kitchens come equipped with all the modern appliances, such as refrigerators with doors that actually close and freezers that can hold more than a pint of Ben & Jerry's New York Super Fudge Chunk.

Of course, all this luxury has its disadvantages. The telephone bleats at random hours, but when you pick up the receiver, no one's there. I had forgotten about things like that, too.

But what's a little breath of the Cold War compared to a real, working dishwasher?

My beloved flat on Taganka is looking smaller and shabbier by the day. Even my dog, Sasha, looks pained when I whisk her home from the spacious splendors of dipdom.

A few more weeks of this and I'll be totally unfit for the rough-and-tumble Moscow world I really inhabit. I am having enough trouble adjusting from my summer vacation. After three weeks of breathing the pure air of Cape Cod, my lungs are ruined -- I have been flat on my back with bronchitis.

To make matters worse, my trusty Moskvich did not survive the separation. It is as dead as a doornail, and major surgery will be required to put it back on the road. But my solicitous diplomat friend jumped to the rescue, insisting I borrow his car until I felt well enough to brave the metro (which should take me comfortably into the next century).

So, when I am able to drive, I will, theoretically, be zipping around town in a little red Lada with diplomatic plates from a country whose language I don't speak, whose history I do not know and of whose geographic location I am only dimly aware.

This seems a rather risky proposition to me, and I expressed some consternation: What if I'm stopped? No problem, he assured me. His young assistant then delivered a lecture on evading the GAI, dip-style. "First, you pretend you don't speak any Russian," he began patiently. "Then, if they keep after you, just say, 'Ya ne ponedelnik.'"

This, for those uninitiated in diplomatic linguistic humor, means "I am not Monday" and is guaranteed to send the GAI into fits. I don't know whose idea it originally was to substitute ponedelnik for the faintly homophonous ponimayu (understand), but this joke was pretty hoary when I was a diplomat in Moscow almost 10 years ago.

I was about to deliver a don't-teach-your-grandmother-to-suck-eggs retort when he continued, "Then just offer to show him your potato."

My what?

A dip card, or KARTochka, has been mangled by generations of Moscow diplomats of all nationalities into karTOCHka, a short step from karTOSHka, the noble spud. That seemed like a good one to me, until I remembered that I didn't have a potato -- er, dip card.

Any poor GAI who stops me will have to wade through a U.S. driver's license, an accreditation that vaguely hints that I am from the Netherlands and diplomatic registration from yet a third country.

I can see him now, scratching his head and saying, "Ya ne ponedelnik."