Each week, I’ll address readers’ questions about the Largest Country in the World. Log in and leave your questions as a comment, or e-mail me
Elizabeth from Providence, RI and her housemates asked the following excellent questions:QUESTION
: Can you see Alaska from your house?ANSWER
: Elizabeth, no, of course I can’t. No one can. And whats-her-name from Fox News can’t see Russia from her house either. But, what I can see from my house is better than Alaska. It’s this:
Open from 7 am to 10pm, its right next door, staffed by an incredible group of people who manage to be cheerful and kind no matter what Moscow throws at them. It’s the same as it is everywhere: same drinks, same Sharpie on the paper cup indicating your name and your preferences. My favorite barista is Larissa. Velvet and I used to pop in every morning for Venti Skinny Lattes and a Hot Chocolate to take to the bus stop. HRH popped in one morning for a quick cappuccino to go, and we were both really touched when he walked away with a paper cup on which was written “Velvet’s Dad.” QUESTION
: I am trying to plan a military campaign similar to Napoleon Bonaparte’s. How do you suggest I invade Russia?ANSWER
: Well, not in the manner of Napoleon Bonaparte in any case. That was a disaster, though it did give the French the name for their cozy, quick eateries. The Russian army, having retreated into the vast Russian interior, allowing Napoleon’s Army to experience the mother of all snow days, attacked, then chased the French all the way back to Paris. Once there, the Russians loved the French food – who doesn’t? But they wanted it fast, so they banged on the table and shouted “Quickly, Quickly,” in Russian, which is “Byistro! Byistro!”
Military prowess isn’t going to cut it in Russia. Benefit from the experience of Hannibal, Hitler and Napoleon: Don’t try to invade Russia militarily, particularly this time of the year. That leaves bribery or the charm offensive. Two words: zip locks. I haven’t met a Russian who didn’t melt at the sight.
I once called up an American friend in Moscow and said, “I have a huge favor to ask.”
“Anything,” she asserted immediately, “Anything but the zip locks.” QUESTION
: “Does anyone in Russia know the lyrics to “Back in the USSR?”ANSWER
: What a great question! The answer is – if you are a Russian over 40, then yes, you know all the words. The Beatles were forbidden fruit during the Brezhnev years, so of course, people focused on very little else but memorizing the words, even if they didn’t understand any of them. Albums were smuggled in, lyrics painstakingly copied by hand and passed furtively from one group of closet Beatlemaniacs to another. Like, for example, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. He knows all the words. During the historical 2003 Paul McCartney in Red Square concert, which a lot of people thought was the final nail in the coffin of Communism, Putin slipped out of the Kremlin and into the front row to listen to McCartney do a few numbers, before he literally had the crowd going wild with “Back in the USSR.”
This was one of the few times that Vladimir Putin was well and truly bowled over. But of course, Ukraine girls like Yulia Timoshenko, do knock him out, and Georgia, well, is always on his mind.
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