Embracing the Awkward

Well folks, we've made it through almost two weeks here in Yekaterinburg, and as the title of this post suggests, it's gotten a bit...awkward.

It started with the children's performance I mentioned last week. See, I didn't realize John was sort of the guest of honor. But when we arrived at the theater, we were escorted into a separate room where all kinds of treats, along with highly breakable crystal glasses and porcelain cups, were laid out on a table. Since everyone around me was speaking Russian, I smiled and nodded and said spasiba repeatedly like an idiot, without the slightest idea of what the hell was going on (I think it's safe to say this is going to be the status quo for the next two years). I just assumed there was someone way more important coming, so I smacked Jack's hand away every time he tried to eat a cookie or touch anything. Eventually we were taken down to the theater, where it quickly became clear that everyone had been waiting for us to take our seats. And then the show began.

This had to be one of the most...unusual performances I've ever witnessed. Don't get me wrong - the orchestra was absolutely phenomenal. But this was a tribute to American film scores, Russian style. So before the songs were played, previews (as in movie trailers dubbed in Russian) for various American films were shown - Indiana Jones, Pirates of the Caribbean, The Lord of the Rings, etc. They also threw in what appeared to be a montage of video game animation for reasons unknown. But like I said, the music was wonderful, and hey, it's not every day you get to see a Russian dressed up as Jack Sparrow.

We'd been told that John would speak about forty minutes into the program, but after an hour had gone by (Jack was squirming around in my lap for most of this), intermission started and we were escorted back to our private room. By now I'd figured out that no one else was coming, so I let Jack have some of the candied fruit. Then he smacked his head on the table and gave himself a black eye, just ten minutes before John was supposed to give his speech (and take Jack with him).

After the program started again and a few more songs were played, the host (who also doubled as Indiana Jones) came down and handed John a microphone. Jack was dangling off his arm the entire time, but John pulled through beautifully and delivered his short speech (the program was being sponsored by the consulate, and John was there as the representative).

Photo credit: Consulate General of the U.S., Yekaterinburg

We had originally been told we could leave after intermission (not because we wouldn't enjoy the show, but because we had a tired and cranky two-year-old with us), but it quickly became apparent that we couldn't leave without offending about 1,800 Russians. Fortunately, the girls choir performed at the end, and Jack enjoyed watching the little girls singing, at least when he wasn't lying on his back in the middle of the aisle.

As far as representing America that day, Jack didn't exactly do our country proud.

After one more quick stop in the reception room, John and I hightailed it out of there before Jack could bring down an entire tower of tea cups and saucers. We felt like morons wheeling Jack through the lobby of the symphony hall in his stroller, because we were literally the only people who BROUGHT a stroller. (Anyone in the theater who might have missed the giant spotlight on us earlier would have quickly realized who the Americans were.) Jack looked rather smug, however, as roped off pathways were opened up for the little prince in his chariot.

Since last Friday, I've found myself in all kinds of awkward situations. Like at the grocery store, when the woman behind the counter asked me for smaller change because I'd handed her a 1000 ruble note for a bill of 800 rubles (apparently Russians are weird about change, but I didn't know any of this until later, when I asked John about it). Or on the tram today, when the woman who collects the fare went on and on at me in Russian, even when I told her I didn't speak Russian, in Russian, multiple times. Or at a different grocery store, when I didn't realize you had to weigh your produce ahead of time and the woman behind the counter had to do it for me.

So far no one has seemed too pissed off at me for being the clueless foreigner, but I'm not exactly getting a lot of sympathy either. I'm really looking forward to this weekend, when my resident translator will be home from work, and I can fall back on my newly acquired skill set of smiling and nodding and saying spasiba repeatedly like an idiot. 


  1. REPEAT LOUDLY TO YOURSELF: YOU ARE NOT AN IDIOT. And your fam is super cute!

  2. Mara, I can relate to your experience in the grocery store. I made the same mistake of not pre-weighing my fruit and vegetables in Sumatra, my grocery store attendant wasn’t too impressed with me either. I'm sure all the local customs will seem natural (or at least make a little more sense) soon.

  3. Made me LOL as usual - so proud of you for being so brave!

  4. I just love that Jack was holding his Dad's hand. What might seem awkard to you is endearing to me!

  5. What a lot to handle and get used to in such a very short time. As the clitche says...you're off and running! You're doing a great job of adapting and your sense of humour will carry you through any of the awkward moments. You are impressive, gal, and how lucky is your country to have the Rutherford family as representatives. :-) Love the Cutlers

  6. I love reading all your posts! I think my favorite line from this one was the one about "the little prince in his chariot." I can totally visualize Jack's smug face :). Miss you guys and so glad you're muddling through! <3 Hil

  7. Oops! So sorry I didn't mention the money thing. Yeah,they hate when you don't have exact change, but just stand your ground. 200 rub change was doable for that clerk, she just didn't want to do it. Anyone mention not to put money in their hands yet? Put it on the counter. Now we're still in the USA and awkwardly realizing - after slapping out money on the counter - store clerks have their hands out waiting for it. Just know once you embrace one cultural idiosyncrasy overseas, you get to be an idiot in your own country for using it.

    You're doing great! Molodets.

  8. That'll be me in about 10 days...yikes!

  9. Mara -- You're doing a wonderful job! I was stationed in Japan for about 2 years and it's super scary at first, but all you can do is keep doing what you're doing, learn from each mini victory and soon you'll be a pro! Embrace the awkwardness because you will always be able to play the "American" excuse. Before you know it, your tour will be complete and you and your family will return to the US with so many wild and exciting stories to tell!


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