I try to cultivate my inner Russian woman at every available opportunity. Not their steady hand with liquid eyeliner (that’s a thing, right? I didn’t make that up?) or their affinity for dramatic photo poses at the drop (or, more often, purchase) of a hat. No, those things I could pretty much leave or leave. But I love their assertiveness. If a Russian woman feels that you have wronged her, she will bring the wrath of God down on you, and you will repent.

Take, for instance, the time when my Russian class in Berlin visited an exhibition at the Russian embassy. No more than 30 seconds passed between our entering the final room and our guide beginning to shepherd us back out– he had another tour group to meet with. We hadn’t even had time to disperse to the pictures hanging on the walls yet. “What are you doing!?” my beloved professor demanded of the guide’s chin, which her bangs were almost brushing. The guide explained his predicament in exactly the voice you would expect a diplomat to use when being harassed by a tiny dissident. “But we haven’t seen anything yet! How dare you make us leave? I brought these Germans, and they want to learn!” 

Although the guide was unable to allow us to stay unattended, he ended up giving her his contact information so that we could return with another group and finish the exhibit (we didn’t, because it was the end of the semester, and we only sort of wanted to learn).

 

On my first day in Ekaterinburg, I got to exercise those Russian woman muscles. The bus ride from the train station to their apartment was about an hour long, and I didn’t know the name of the stop–only that it would be the last one. So I was waiting for the telltale indicators: everyone else getting off, or maybe the bus pulling into a parking lot or traffic circle, or the driver getting out his cigarettes.

We were so far out in the boonies, surrounded by birch trees and half-built apartment blocks, that I wasn’t surprised when the number of passengers dwindled. I figured everyone else was just slightly luckier at real estate than me. Just one passenger remained, an older woman with an Ikea bag perched on her lap. I figured when she got up, I’d start getting my stuff together.

But then the bus pulled over, and this woman, with no preparation, shot off the bus as if she’d sat on a little Russian hedgehog. So I grabbed my suitcase and made for the exit–just as the doors slammed shut. The conductor knew I was there, so I figured that meant we weren’t at the end of the line yet. I sat back down. The bus drove on, finally pulling into a roundabout. It didn’t stop.

Suddenly, the voice of the conductor: “Why didn’t you get off? We’re on the way back!” (Her disdain is more apparent in Russian than in translation.)

Me: “Because the doors closed and the bus started moving before I could get off!”

Conductor: “Where do you want to go?”

Me: “I just wanted to get off at the last station. I don’t know, I’m new here, I just know I was supposed to get off at the last station!”

Conductor, clearly not listening: “But where do you want to go?”

Me: “OUT THE DOOR!”

I knew that she was trying to help, but to try is not to succeed, and I was not going to humor her. She shouted at the driver to stop (it took a couple of times before he bothered to listen), finally pulling over at a little overhang in a haphazard way that suggested that he was in new and unfamiliar territory, instead of the nth hour of trudging along exactly this route. I flung my bags into the snow and disembarked with as much dignity as I could muster (not much–the total weight of my baggage, I found out later, came to almost 95 pounds). Then the bus took off without allowing the three women waiting under the awning to get on. They asked me if perhaps this wasn’t a stop. I didn’t have energy for more than a shrug, but I saw them gather their things and start walking up the road to try their luck further ahead.

The next day, I found myself at the same stop, catching the same bus back into town. It stopped. It always stops there. Except sometimes.

 

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