I love coffee shops. I mean, I love coffee, too, but better than that (unless the coffee is really good) is their role as the common venue for people to sit around and work on things, have meetings, go on dates, read books, write books, play bad concerts. I especially love bored baristas who like to chat, like the one I found on my last full day in Ekaterinburg.

Coffee Me.” It’s not a great name, but it’ll do in a pinch. Coffee that’s never known life as a dissolvable powder – that’s my goal. I step inside, noting a blanket of frost on the inside door jamb. “Zdravstvuyte! Chto-nibud’ zhelaete?” Would I like anything? I love that question, new to the Russian discursive landscape. It’s so English. We’re always asking inane questions or making bland observations, expecting our listeners to sift through and read between the lines. Can I get you anything else? = Get a move on. My shift ends in 15 minutes. She’s got such spirit. = If she makes it through college without getting knocked up, it will be a miracle. Bless your heart. = Get off my porch.

This cafe is really more of a glorified closet. Exposed-brick walls, a cramped bar, and exactly one tiny table, shoved into the corner with two narrow chairs, which is one chair too many.

The barista is uncharacteristically patient. And smiley. What’s happening? Where am I?

Could I have a coffee and a – um, that thing? What is that, a börek?“ I point at one of the only items left in the pastry case.

I don’t know what that is… it’s filled with cheese. It’s good.”

Only in Russia can you sell something without knowing what it even is.

It is good. But here I am with this pastry and surprisingly large coffee, sitting at the only table, with the barista just standing there, bored. So we get to chatting. She asks where I’m from, and then is pleased with the answer, as she studies English and Spanish at Ekaterinburg State University. I consider asking her if she knows my friend (who graduated from that program 2 years ago and now studies with me in Berlin), but figure she probably doesn’t, and it’s dumb to ask. She’s been to Kazan before– she says it was hard to adjust when she got back to Ekaterinburg, because everything in Kazan is so clean. I recommend that she come to Cherepovets anytime she needs a pick-me-up – Ekaterinburg is not as well-maintained as Kazan, it’s true, but it’s still above-average. And it couldn’t be the cleanest– after all, the slogan of the city sanitation services is “We keep the city cleaner.” Not clean—just cleaner. Rule of thumb: don’t oversell yourself.

We keep chatting, and I’m very pleased to have a new friend-ish in Ekaterinburg. I won’t be here long enough to establish a good barista-coffee-drinker relationship, but that’s OK. It’s a start.

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