We, that is to say I, another Irish person, a Polish/American, and a Russian, were in a restaurant buffet on Arbat street, when a guy sat at the table next to us.
This wouldn’t sound unusual, except for A) how he was dressed B) his hairstyle and C) the fact that he joined our conversation, having taken an interest in us foreigners. While A) and B) are superficial details, but all the same add to the overall experience, the conversation is what made it.
So, I’ll start with A) how he was dressed:
He was dressed in a suit that made him look like he belonged in a Russian gangster film set in the 90s (see below). Now, although it wasn’t pink, it was a questionable cream colour, and he was wearing a large, chunky gold ring to go with and a colourful tie.
B) His hair was a sort of mullet, which again screamed of early 90s hairstyles.
C) The Conversation:
This was interesting. It went on for over an hour, and some parts are sort of hazy while others are more clear in my mind. It began with the usual ‘where are you from?’ etc etc. As the conversation continued on, we learned from him that he worked in the legal world. More interestingly, he told us that he worked as part of a body that drafts government laws.
Him: ‘I helped draft the law to legalise the unification of Crimea with Russia’. (Unification of Crimea – His words, not mine)
He handed us each a business card.
Me: ‘Your surname is Daneiko? That’s not a Russian surname, right? It sounds Ukrainian because of the -ko at the end.’ (In light of what has happened over the past year, and what he said about drafting the law re Crimea, this would have been a sore spot. I pointed it out in all innocence, however.)
Him: ‘Well, I suppose it is a Ukrainian name…’
Sensing the discomfort from my companions, I struggled to avoid making eye contact with them, for fear of getting a fit of nervous giggles.
Him: ‘I mean, it’s a Slavic name, but I’m a Cossack.’
Note: The pronunciation of the words ‘Cossack’ and ‘Kazakh’ in Russian sound sort of similar to a foreigner (in English letters its ‘Kаzаk’ and ‘Kazakh’), especially if you’re in a loud public place and are struggling not to get the giggles.
Me: ‘But you don’t look like you’re from Kazakhstan.’
Him: ‘No, I’m a Cossack.’
I look bemused.
My companions (in English) say: ‘He’s a Cossack!’
Me: ‘Oh, you’re a Cossack! Sorry, the words sound very similar to me! I was wondering, because you don’t have the asian look at all.’
After this, I left for the bathroom – at this stage, upon realising that I’d put my foot in it more than once.
The conversation digressed then to other subjects, such as why he thought Greece should also become a part of Russia, and what currency Poland has. He then asked for our numbers (I made up an excuse that I’d only just arrived and still didn’t have a Russian phone number)
It was an interesting evening.