07 October 2007

pickles and prejudices

note: This is just a report of some of my Russian friends' take on food and culture. I thought you might like an uncensored show of current attitudes here. Don't flame the reporter, please.

Friday was a professional development day at school. The biggest perk--we get an actual lunch break...and are allowed out of the school to eat! This, for a teacher, is a rare treat. We have no cafeteria at our school, so usually I wolf down my lunch standing up (no room in my classroom for a desk for me...) after I've microwaved everyone's lunch, opened stubborn juice containers and had some second grade chat. Believe me, lunch out on a schoolday is a treat!

Since we had 45 minutes instead of our usual 30, some friends and I decided to go to a nearby chain that serves baked potatoes (jacket potatoes to my UK friends) with a choice of toppings. We were walking and realized it was noon. Then, my friend P commented, "Oh, no. It's Friday."

That's not the usual preface to a comment about Friday. However, we were headed straight past the mosque. This is a place to AVOID on Fridays. On Fridays it's filled with gypsies begging--rather aggressively. P explained that Islamic law says that one must give something to all beggars. (See disclaimer above.)

We were quickly marked and chased down. One little girl, probably about nine years old, tried to grab the Coke right out of my hand. (Professional development gave me a headache. It was medicinal.) I admit, it was a little scary. Even thought she was only nine, she was really aggressive. And, we were surrounded. I was glad to have my big, strong friends in attendance.

Then, I was treated to a debate between my Russian friends about whether or not these were actual gypsies. P says emphatically yes. N says no. P says at least these are Tajik gypsies who only steal and not Moldovan gypsies who are violent. He said they were easily distinguished by their clothes. (I could have my Tajik and Moldovan characteristics mixed up, but I think that's what he said.) Even so, we walked back by a different route.

Over lunch, I was regaled with matter-of-fact stories from P and N of how gypsies refused all schooling and opportunities for a better life, preferring, instead, to live on the streets and pick pockets. I was also told a rather scary tale about another encounter P had some years back. He warned some Americans that they were being followed by gypsies and to watch their wallets. The band of pickpockets quit following the Americans and targeted P and his friend in retaliation. P and friend had to hide in a shop! He said they could see the pickpockets lying in wait--plying their "trade"--outside the shop window. This was at a time when it was not easy to exchange money and he had a substantial sum on him--the grant funding for a project. Eventually, they called a cab and had it park RIGHT in front of the shop. They dashed to the cab and got away with the grant money safely in P's pocket.

There is a strong prejudice against gypsies here. And, I have seen many pickpockets/thieves/beggars to support this. Do I think this is a broad generalization? Probably. But, as I disclaimed, this post is just to let you know how people here feel.

On a lighter note--I was holding the table while my friends got food. I asked for chicken on my potato. (I *love* bbq chicken on a baked potato, but knew that was not going to happen. I was thinking just grilled chicken...) P arrived at the table with my potato--covered in cheese with an ice cream scoop of chicken salad on top--chicken salad with lots of pickles. My thoughtful friend chose the salad with pickles especially for me because the plain one would be "too bland". I smiled and ate most of it. And, I regretted it later! My American stomach isn't keen on the hot potato-pickle combination. I tried to just think of it as potato salad...but...no.

Next time, I'll get the grilled chicken sandwich--hold the pickles.


votemom said...


wow to the prejudices
wow to the potato.

Melissa said...

Ahhhh! Now I am getting the picture. We knew from the interrogation we got in court for K that Russians do not like gypsies, but I did not realize they were considered pickpockets. I just thought the definition of a gypsy was that they move around a lot (don't really plant roots). I couldn't understand why they were adamantly asking us if the fact that he was gypsy bothered us. We could care less. He is an innocent baby for crying out loud. Maybe the judge got pickpocketed once and held a grudge. Who knows?

Debi said...

We heard a lot about how the gypsy children would NOT be allowed to be adopted because they were special needs..they were after all of gypsy decent...we talked long and hard with the Director and some of the others at the baby home but they would hear none of it and assured us that the children like Igor would never be allowed to be adopted...the court would never let it go through...that is Udmurtia Republic...we did get hit by a few younger gypsy children when we first had Griffin and were headed from our car to the apartment...our driver did nothing to help fend them off...DH had DS in his arms and so I was left to fend of the children...I did well, and no one was injured.. but it could have been very different for those children if I had to get momma bear out...I use the term children lightly they were about 8-10 but acted much older and much pushier...