I prompt her, as practiced. She turns, her lips part to show some teeth. I sigh.
“No, you need to really mean it,” I remind her.
She frowns, “But I don’t.”
“Yeah, that’s not the point. Okay, here, I will say something, and you’ll smile like I said something funny.”
“Okay, so last night I was at the bar, and this girl came up and talked to me and...”
“What girl?” she snaps.
“No, it’s a story, a made-up story.”
She crosses her arms, “It better be.”
“Okay, anyways, I was at this bar last night and this girl comes up to me and says, ‘nice jeans’ and I bought her a drink and she was like super into me and we went back to my place and I said, ‘hey, you liked these jeans so much, why don’t you have them.”
My girlfriend glares at me.
“You’re supposed to smile,” I tell her. “Remember, it’s just a story.”
“A terrible story.”
“That’s the point. Just smile to be polite.”
She spreads her lips to show me her teeth.
It is absolutely terrifying.
Smiling aside, we arrived in America, safe and sound in Boston. Luckily, no one ever tried to tell her any bar stories. But we found a new travesty in the food aisles of Stop N Shop.
Being in America for New Year’s meant that my girlfriend was determined to make Russian salads. Little did I know the troubles ahead.
I’ve been eating Russian mayonnaise for the past two years and never once did it occur to me that it was anything I hadn’t tasted before. Boy was I wrong, I was wrong in the only way you can be wrong when arguing with a Russian woman; absolutely and unequivocally wrong.
Despite finding ourselves in an outrageously large supermarket laden with all sorts of things my girlfriend had never tried before; spaghettiOs, Twinkies, Woo-hoos, easy mac-n-cheese, etc.
Instead I find her in the condiment aisle, holding out a bottle of Heinz mayonnaise and proclaiming, “What the fuck is this!?”
As it turns out, Russian mayonnaise is very, very different from American mayonnaise. Little did I know that there are a multitude of blog-posts by Russian-Americans complaining about the same thing. And so, alas, New Year’s passed without Russian salads. Though, and I am constantly reprimanded for this, I just can’t consider them actual salads. This is the actual definition of salad: “a cold dish of various mixtures of raw or cooked vegetables, usually seasoned with oil, vinegar, or other dressing and sometimes accompanied by meat, fish, or other ingredients.”
(But don’t you dare tell my girlfriend I said that.)
As an American, I’ve never spent more than 15 minutes in Walmart. When you need something, you get it, you get that thing, you get out. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would ever find myself perusing a Walmart for an hour and a half.
“Why do you need so much poop medicine!” my girlfriend cries, surrounded by an endless wall of stool hardeners, stool softeners, laxatives, laxative + softener combos, ointments, rubs, pills, poppers, suppositories, sprays, vitamins, and so on. I try to respond but she has strolled off to the countless aisles of shaving paraphernalia.
“Why do you need so much of everything?” she asks.
“Americans like choice, I guess.”
She takes up an electric bulbous white razor and turns it over in her hands, “But what’s the difference between them all?”
“Honestly, not sure.”
I turn to find an employee shelving 30 boxes of beard stimulants. I get his attention and ask, “Excuse me, which of these razors is the best? He looks up, stands, and comes over.
“Uh,” he points, “that one is good, that one too, that one isn’t bad, my girlfriend uses that one, I think.”
I look back at my girlfriend, she is staring at the man, aghast.
“American smile,” I tell her.
The most staggeringly useless store my girlfriend experienced in America was PetCo. It is a massive chain of massive stores dedicated to catering to every whim and need of ever dog, cat, hamster, ferret, rabbit, mouse, goldfish, snake, spider, monkey, or any other living thing you might have in your possession.
“Why is it so big?” she asks as we dodge a Great Dane and cover our noses through cage after cage of squeaking rodents. She finds the clothing aisle and fingers through a range of kitty-cat-christmas outfits and then finds a spiked leather collar.
“We have these in sex shops,” she tells me.
I shrug and follow. She eventually stops at the dog treat cookie buffet and looks around.
“American pet stores are stupid,” she says decidedly, and walks out.
Certainly, the most amusing discovery my girlfriend stumbled upon in America was the all you can eat menu at Applebees, a typical American restaurant.
“There are three options,” the waitress went on, “the ribs, the chicken tenders, and the popcorn shrimp, you just let me know when you want more.”
My girlfriend ordered the ribs first. It came with French fries.
“So, when I finish this, they will bring more?”
“But I can’t finish this, portions here are huge.”
“Well, you’re the type of person they make money out of.”
She looked at the heaping plate of ribs. “Can I finish it and then order more and then take it home?”
“This is ridiculous, no wonder Americans are so fat.”
I looked around the restaurant and was unable to argue so I just smiled and nodded as she made her way through the ribs.
About three-fourths through she leans back. “I can’t!” she cries.
“If you want the next plate, you have to.”
She looks at my empty plate, then back at her ribs. She picks up her fork and starts pulling them apart into small little pieces.
“What are you doing?”
Without saying anything she takes two napkins, divides the meat and then takes one clump in each napkin before balling them up and putting them on my plate. When the waitress returns, she looks impressed.
“Would you like more?” she asks.
“I’ll take the chicken this time,” my girlfriend tells her.
I roll my eyes.
“This is why you don’t have all you can eat in Russia,” I tell her.
Benjamin Davis is an American journalist and author of The King of Fu living in St. Petersburg, Russia where he spent a year working with Russian artist Nikita Klimov on their project: Flash-365. Now, he primarily writes magical-realism flash fiction stories about Russian culture, self-deprecating mishaps, and babushkas while sharing his exploits on his Telegram channel.
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