Earlier this year, an Irish exporter found a potential buyer at an annual event in Moscow. It was looking promising, so the importer invited the exporter, Damian, to go to dinner. Then Damian asked if I would like to go as well. I wasn’t comfortable at first, as I didn’t want to impose on discussions they might have, especially as the importer had not specifically invited me. I voiced my thoughts to Damian, who said it would be fine.
We went to the company office to meet with the importers, they gave us a tour of the place and then we went to the restaurant nearby.
At the restaurant, the CEO, Aziz, ordered the first of several large bottles of vodka, poured for everyone and things began to relax. Aziz was a fiery, emotional individual who gesticulated, and was clearly from the South (the Caucasus, most likely), given his name and the fact that he had much darker skin than regular Russians.
He dominated the conversation throughout the evening, telling lots of interesting stories about the company and about his work in the United States running health clinics before taking over as CEO at his current company. Whenever a bottle of vodka was emptied, he would simply order another and kept refilling our glasses.
All of a sudden, he veered off topic onto more political themes, such as gay marriage and the Russian interference in the US election. His rant about homosexuality went on far longer than I was comfortable with. Not because I don’t find societal or political topics interesting to discuss, or because his views were the absolute opposite of mine, but because of the way he was talking.
As he spoke, he grew more and more animated, to the point that he had stood up with his hands on the table, staring at me continually and at nobody else.
He was what one might describe as emphatically homophobic.
I generally don’t get offended easily, and was not offended then, but was more acutely aware of the fact that this was not the time for me to voice my true opinion on the matter; nor was it the time to get The Giggles, which was precisely what I could feel rising up.
It was a sensation reminiscent of my school days, when I would get The Giggles, even while the most terrifying teacher was yelling at me. The more they would shout, the more I would laugh. Church was even worse for that. You were not allowed to laugh and everyone around was wearing sombre expressions; therefore ANYTHING would make you laugh.
I bit my tongue very, very hard, but could still feel the corners of my mouth twitching.
‘I do not understand this whole gay thing and gays being allowed to marry in the West. It’s so completely weird! You understand that men and women were made by God to be together, not a man and a man or a woman and a woman. It’s written in all the holy books!’
I nodded. So did Damian, who kept his eyes averted.
‘It’s the same with magnets.’
At this, I feigned a coughing fit and sipped some water. I wanted to excuse myself to make a beeline for the bathroom, but I felt it’d be rude to interrupt.
‘A negative charge is not attracted to another negative charge and a positive charge is not attracted to a positive. Do you have a wife, John? Do you believe in God?’
‘Not a wife, a girlfriend.’ I said.
‘And where is she from?’
‘She’s from here.’
‘She’s Russian? Very good! And what about you, Damian?’ said Aziz, turning away from me, after what felt like an eternity.
‘My wife is German,’ said Damian.
‘Nobody’s perfect, I suppose,’ said Aziz.
I used this comment as an opportunity to finally release some of the laughter pent up and the atmosphere relaxed again. We drank more and he continued on the same topic, albeit more calmly, but he then asked me if I agreed with his views on the matter.
‘Do you agree with what I’ve said?’ he said, staring straight at me.
‘Of course, everyone is entitled to their opinion,’ I replied.
The dinner was very good, and the conversation finally moved on to other topics, where Aziz would stand up again, gesticulating, but this time his attention was directed to Damian.
‘Damian, my friend! We are going to make a loooot of money!’ he said, arm around Damian’s shoulder, the other patting his chest. ‘I think we need to drink to this!’
So that was that. We all tipped out merrily into the freezing night, but even under the warming influence of about 8 or so vodkas, I was still very much aware of how close I had come to getting uncontrollable Giggles at the wrong time and place.
It reminded me of all those painful times in church as a kid/teen, such as the time in primary school, when my class was standing in a part of the church where the sun was shining down through the high windows, reflecting off my wristwatch.
‘Here,’ whispered my classmate, Woodsy, ‘shine it on Jesus’s mickey.’ He indicated the model of Jesus on the cross, which was overlooking the altar.
For non-Irish readers, “Mickey” is Irish slang for penis.
I duly reflected the light upon Jesus’s mickey and then the priest said:
‘And Jesus said, take this, this is my body.’
*Muffled snorts of laughter*