Russians don’t smile. Not the ones that work in the service industry, anyhow. The uniquely American, “Thanks, and have a great day” doesn’t seem to have hopped on the boat to St. Petersburg with McDonalds and Pizza Hut.
At the metro, after you pass your 20 rubles through the window, they don’t even look at you before shoving a gold metro token at you. If, god forbid, you fumble for the correct bills or coins, several Russians are liable to push by you to purchase their entrance fares.
I’ll admit, it’s not like the Metro employees in D.C. are known for their friendliness either, and I’m sure they’ve put off more than one foreign tourist. But subway workers aren’t the only unsmiling ones.
I’ve already written some about the difficult cashiers at the Paterson supermarket, or универсам. From our travel guide, we recently learned that they’re colloquially referred to as гром баба, or thunder women. Makes me feel a bit better to know that Russians also incur their wrath.
Now, the woman I bought tea (another weapon in the continuing war against jet lag) and some food from today seemed nicer, or at least more low key. But she, too, hassled me as I tried to count out correct change (when the smallest common coin is 50 kopecks, that can be particularly tough). And I also learned that she spoke English—when she told me “You too slow” as I tried to put my change away while simultaneously juggling my purchases, because I had decided against purchasing another 6 ruble plastic bag.
We managed to steal a smile from a waitress today, however.
Restaurants and cafes in Russia are notorious for lacking many of the items listed on the menu. _____ нет, there isn’t any _____, is a common phrase for waiters and waitresses. Typically, food is ordered and delivered with as few words exchanged as possible, with the obvious exception of multiple “нет”s. There’s no friendly banter nor facial expressions, perhaps because tipping expectations are minimal, except in the fanciest establishments (apparently, in smaller cities, tipping means that you want to sleep with the waitress. Here, they’re more used to it.).
This means that the waiters won’t constantly bug you, asking you how your food is, or trying to move you along to make room for another table. It also means that they won’t ask you if you want something else, or offer you another bottle of water or soda—the savvy Russian restaurant-goer orders his whole meal, including dessert, upon sitting down.
There were six of us at the restuarant today, ordering Пироги, or Russian pastries, filled with anything from apple or orange to meat and fish. I actually went for a strange fried egg, cheese, and tomato dish, but only because the pastry I wanted – нет. So much of what we ordered was out that after asking for the umpteenth item and hearing the umpteenth нет, we finally earned a smile, and perhaps even a little laugh, from the waitress. Either that, or she was laughing at our mangled pronunciations of Russian food items.