(Sidenote: the below sidenote is really old. This post is from October 23. Man, I have a lot of drafts saved up.)

(sidenote: this post is a week old)

Last night, my Russian tutor, Zukhra (whose name I’ve been mispronouncing for a month–great), invited me to an American friend’s house for a pizza party and Russian movie.

This was all jolly-ducky until she called me the day before and, instead of answering, I dropped my (brand new) phone in a toilet.

While I hauled around a sack of rice with my disassembled phone stuck in it for two days, I looked for an opportunity to go get a cheap replacement. For a variety of reasons, that didn’t happen until about an hour and a half before I was to meet Zukhra on the other side of the city for the shindig. When I was finally able to pop into the MTC store, here’s how it went down.

MeWalks in, looks at phones hanging in the display case on the wall, locates cheapest option. Approaches counter, where attendant is probably Facebooking. 

Attendant: *silence*

MeLeans in very close and stares at her

Attendant: What’s your question?

Me: I would like to buy a phone.

Attendant: Which one?

Me: …It’s over there. With the other phones. Do you want me to photograph it for you?

AttendantHeavy sigh. How sad to have to work at work. 

She follows me to the phone case, and I indicate the one I want, while thanking Russia for making it culturally acceptable for me to sass back at people who sass me.

Attendant: That will come with a 150-ruble guarantee, so the price will be slightly higher.

Me: I don’t want that.

Attendant: It doesn’t matter.

Me: Fine then. Go ahead.

Attendant gets phone and goes to her computer station.

Attendant: I need your passport.

Me: Why? It’s a phone. I’m not signing a contract. I don’t need a SIM card.

Attendant: I still need your passport.

Me: I’m already your customer. Can’t you just look it up?

Attendant: Another heavy sigh, but then, to her credit, she does start looking for my passport in the system. I take pity and hand her a Xerox, hoping that will suffice. It does. 

About a hundred years later, she finishes typing and starts programming a SIM card for me.

Me: I don’t want that. I already have a SIM card.

Attendant: It’s free.

Me: Decides it’s not worth arguing. 

After paying for the begrudgingly-rendered goods and services, I step out into the freezing twilight, perch on a park bench, and try to turn the phone on. Nothing doing. Turns out $12 phones don’t come with pre-charged batteries. So I set off for Svitr (fun fact: that is the actual Russian word for “sweater”), an entirely-too-polished-and-Starbucksy cafe in the Central Universal Store (read: mall) that, because of its polished Starbucksness, is more likely than average to have outlets available.

Walk in, sit down, plug in phone, order cappuccino. Waiter goes to put my order in. Not ten seconds later, the entire shopping center loses power. One of the baristas shouts, “Svechi! Svechi!” (Candles! Candles!) and, as if from nowhere, the entire staff starts producing candles and distributing them to the tables, using their cell phones to remind me of my folly–I mean, navigate.  Because I am dining alone, no one brings me light. I suppose they think it would be a waste of resources.

I can’t find my waiter. I can’t charge my phone. I can’t leave, since my order’s already in, but I don’t want to stay. I need to be leaving for the metro station, like, 10 minutes ago, but I can’t until I get in touch with Zukhra. Finally, I try my phone again, and as if by a miracle, it turns on. And that’s when I discover that my SIM card doesn’t have any of my numbers.

Long story short: I guzzle my cappuccino and ask for the check, which my waiter somehow manages to deliver scornfully. Apparently I was supposed to savor my drink. Tough–I’ve got places to be.

Sidenote: The exchange with the cell phone lady is exactly what you expect Russians to be like: angry that they have to work, and not afraid to show it. But I very much prefer that to the new-wave customer service, where the waiters are either smiley-friendly or quietly deferential. Their politeness is clearly a ruse, and underneath the whitewashing, they still hate you just as much as the MTC lady. Just imagine that every worker of the service industry is Thomas from Downton Abbey. It makes it that much worse, because at least with the MTC lady you can be rude back.

You want a coffee? How … unremarkable.

Long story short: I wound up having to walk to work, where I asked the secretary for my boss’s number, called my boss, who did not wish to talk (she was probably in the middle of feeding her toddler) but who obligingly texted me Zukhra’s number, so I could call her and make sure that we were still on. We were. From here on out, things start finally heading uphill.