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Having grown up in New York, I had taken for granted that people were always striving for something, or at least striving to be striving for something.
In Russia, most of the guys I met were engaged in some sort of dubious import/export business in electronics; the rest were involved in “business” (if you ask what kind of business, and there is a marked pause followed by the word “business,” you should refrain from asking any more questions).
While all men like a challenge, the average American man tends to stop pursuit once you indicate that you are repulsed by his presence.
These insurmountable standards of beauty can largely be credited to the fact that there are more women than men.
The disintegration of male hygiene and work ethic that occurs when there is (by some counts) a 3:1 female:male ratio should be noted by anthropologists worldwide.
You do not meet a Russian man, you are chosen by one.
You could be sitting in a banya, or at a café, and a man walks by, puts a fruit salad on your table, and gruffly says, “Enjoy.” If you eat the salad, it is a sign that you would like him to come talk to you.
All of which is to say, I am dual in every way, and my plethora of multicolored passports is a worthy symbol of the cultural mish-mash of my personality. The first thing that you’ll notice when you get to Russia is that the women are astoundingly beautiful and immaculately presented.
They will sashay past you with their wobbly stilettos (which are worn even over blocks of ice) and designer bags (which carry a full pharmacy complete with a mini shoe polish and handwipes) and, if you tell them you pluck your own eyebrows and only get a facial once a month, will look at you as though you have just clawed your way out of a swamp.
And when I say “provide,” I don’t even necessarily mean in a monetary sense as much as in a paternal one.
This sense that they are obligated to look out for you, not because you’re weaker or feeble-minded, but because you -- as the fountain from which life springs forth -- are precious and valuable.
Petersburg in 1988, moved to New York when I was five, and then moved back into a different crumbling communal building in St.