Usually, not always, but quite often, the first response from a Russian to even the most innocuous of requests is ‘nyet’. I think it’s just a part of the Russian character. We observed the same situation over and over again while we were in Russia. One person makes a request of another person. Second person shakes head, no. First person then has a discussion with the second person which lasts anywhere from one to fifteen minutes. Sometimes the discussion veers into what sounds like argument territory. In many cases, the second person (the negator) eventually acquiesces and things proceed from there. Occasionally, the requestor is not able to budge Ms. Negativity of 1964 and alternatives have to be explored.
After a while Mary and I started just making up versions of what we thought was happening in these confrontations. Like so:
The Requestor: “I desire access through this door.
The Denier: “No. Go away.”
Requestor: “This is not up to you to decide! If this were still the glorious Soviet era I would report you to the local commissar as an obstructionist and class traitor!”
Denier: “If this were the ‘glorious’ Soviet era, you would be still standing in line at the ‘glorious’ Soviet grocery store hoping to buy a cabbage, instead of escorting fat American tourists around.”
Requestor: “Pah! What do I need with your crummy museum dedicated to the collections of dead czars’ bathroom scales?”
Denier: “Then go away and quit bothering me. You’re holding up another group of tourists that I have to glare at suspiciously!”
Requestor: “Very well. You have established your superiority and I bow before it. Now can we enter the museum?”
Denier: “Of course. That, after all that is what we are here for.”
Mary thought it much more likely that the conversations consisted of the following exchanges:
Our guide: “For the sake of the tourists that I am escorting around the glories of St Petersburg, I shall spend the next several minutes arguing with you for entry into this museum. I suggest that we start raising our voices after a few minutes to simulate anger. For this purpose and since my tourists know no better, I shall recite some dialogue from my favorite Ibsen play.”
The Door Guarder: “Ah, an excellent choice. My knowledge of dramatic plays is not equal to your own, so I shall just read off the prices from this advertising circular for cheaply made electronics. Also using tones that suggest we are having an argument that may at any moment escalate to blows. I hope that this will be sufficient?”
Our Guide: “Agreed. Shall we be about it then?”
Really, we could never get a clue to what was going on so it was more fun just making stuff up.