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Stereotypes May 6, 2006

Posted by BiB in Uncategorized.

Now, darlings, you mustn’t fall into that nasty (but very tempting) habit of going for stereotypes and thinking nasty things about, say, Russians, but the Russian ‘found’ a wallet yesterday. There was the exciting story of the mobile phone last week. Now a wallet. With money in it. And a resulting angry homosexual.

The boy and I went out for a late afternoon sunshine stroll. The Russian in nice shorts, some appropriate 2006 casual footwear, and a vaguely freshly-purchased upper-body garment. I was wearing a pair of sandals that cost about 3 baht in Thailand five years ago which STILL cut my feet to shreds every time I put them on, a 50-year-old hand-me-down T-shirt from my ex-boyfriend and a pair of shorts that made me look like a homeless explorer. But it was only a stroll. It wasn’t as if we were going to go anywhere, and be seen by anyone. We popped in, still pretending this was a minorly domestic-themed strollette, for the sake of convenience, to an extortionate Asian supermarket to buy coconut milk and some tikka stuff in a jar. Could get precisely the same things for half the price round the corner at Spar, of course, but there was solidarity amongst foreigners in buying there. Actually, to de-Spar the event, we made sure we bought a ton of chillies – wrap them in newspaper to make them keep was the top tip from the lady working there – to make sure my stomach ulcer never gets a moment’s peace.

(Darlings, I must tell you about my Russian stomach ulcer one day. OK, now. I got a stomach ulcer in Russia, I think from working with some of the nastiest individuals on the planet. Amusingly, once, the very nastiest one, with a Thatcher hair-do, the bluest make-up this side of South Shields and a look of hatred etched into her wicked features, à propos de rien, at a ‘party’, declared to me, “BiB, in vyest, you laaaaaav only maaaaaaaaaney. Khere, ve laaaaaaaaav only people.” So, yes, from her – yes, it was you, Svetlana Grigoryevna, in case you’re reading, you wicked old hag – and assorted like-minded devils, I ended up in Russian hospital. (Alzheimer’s check. Have I posted this before? Have I posted this before? Don’t think so.) The Russian was allowed to sit with me during the admission process, which included having a finger inserted in my bottom in a room full of the general public – for my sins, I then saw it happen to others, so it wasn’t special treatment or anything – and then inspected by the doctor, but was then sent away, departing to the sound of heavy, clanking metal doors. “They’ll be a story about me on the BBC website in 70 years’ time,” I thought. ‘An Englishman whom, for years, the Russian authorities considered a raving hoax, has been found by a visiting psychiatrist from Swansea in a mental institution in Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskij. Dental records were checked and proved that the man was who he said he was. Local staff member, Svetlana Grigoryevna, commented, “Oj, ve just sink he is raaaaaaavink. He shout somesink laik, “Get me the fuck outta this hellhole,” over and over for 50 years, but ve ignore and shout byeck, “Shut up, Boris. You crazy feesh”. He is now being repatriated to a village near Swansea, where the visiting psychiatrist can keep a close eye on him.’ A dour, glowering, depressed female member of staff asked me to hand over all my valuables. I was led to the most depressing room ever, along the lines, I imagine, of that big place in Camden Town – what’s it called? – where homeless men can sleep. Six beds squashed together. Soviet paint job. Light-bulb. “You can khev own room if you pay half-rouble,” the dour, glowering, depressed female proffered. “I’ll take it,” I said and was led to my luxury equivalent of aforementioned room which actually had an en-suite bathroom with a loo with no water in it – but I got a potty – and a bath with no plug. (Soviet stereotype number 1.) As a foreigner, I was soon the star of the ward. Stars of the Russian stage and screen – OK, the hospital – were dropping by to tell me about their ulcers. One doctor from another section of the hospital came panting in one day. “You vörk khere for charity?” “Yes.” “Vot number I must fone to get much maaaaaaaaaaaaaaney?” There was a nurse, the only unbeautiful woman in all Russia, who asked me, “You laik some kaaaampany for night-time?” And the star of the stars, the nice, young, student doctor who had no interest in medicine but liked me enormously. “You from Inkland? I been Manchester. I like Beetlz veeeeeeeeeery maaaaaaach.” And then sang, yes, sang, ‘Dyezmond khez barrel at market-plyaaace’. He was crestfallen when the Russian, who happened to be present for this performance, asked when I might be released, seeing as no medical attention appeared to have been paid to me since I’d been committed, I mean admitted, however many days before.

This bracketed aside is just going to have to have a second paragraph. God that hospital’s got legs, blog-wise. Every morning, we ill folk had to go and line up to get something inserted into our buttocks – probably window-cleaner, à la Man with Two Brains – to the procedure room. No, they didn’t come to us. We had to go to them. And queue. And there was nowhere to sit. Once, as I stood ulcerously in line, an old gent toppled over before me. I was convinced he was dead. Quick as a flash, and without a word, two of the other ill folk had a hand under each arm and, thank goodness for lino, slid him at a frenzied pace back down the corridor and round the corner, reminding me of the scene in many a nasty WWII film where someone is taken round the corner to be shot. I don’t know if they just dumped him there and it was a case of, “Put him where no-one can see him. It’s no good for morale to have dead folk littering the corridors of a hospital.” (Mind you, another foreign friend who ended up in a Russian hospital had a perfect and privileged view of a cemetery from her bed. I don’t think I was allowed a window.) The next morning, there he stood again, waiting for his window-cleaner, right as rain. The procedure room had a door-sized grinning bunny holding a massive, fuck-off syringe painted on it, to cheer us up, no doubt. When I went in, having waited my turn – this was a rare privilege. Normally, cringing, I’d be ushered to the front of any such queue with some official explaining bumblingly to the rightfully annoyed other folk, “Foreigner” – I made some greeting and the window-cleaner administrator, not actually a bunny but a virago with hair so stiff you could knock a nail in with it, softened slightly – there was the sound of cracking plaster as she removed her frown – and said, “Oj, English gentleman. Russian vould nyevyer, nyevyer say hello.” Which just can’t be true. But I decided not to challenge her stereotype and offered my buttocks. As I shuffled back to my suite, foaming at the mouth, probably, a gentleman just emerging from the smoking room abutting my suite – yes, there was a smoking room on the ward – approached me with fresh enthusiasm, thinking he’d found a light in this endless darkness, and asked, plaintively, “Are you from Azerbaijan?” I was so gutted to let him down. If I’d even had O-Level-level Azerbaijani, I’d have given it a shot. But we only had Greek and Latin at my school.)

So where were we? Oh yes, chillies on Schönhauser Allee. This got us thinking of food. Dropped into a Thai place. Had (bad, actually) food accompanied by beer for the Russian, ginger ale for me. (Yes, still sticking at it. God, it’s boring.) Strolled onwards. Bar Gagarin, or Cafe Gagarin, or whatever it’s called. Not a Russian in sight, apart from the Russian, and I was hoping to satisfy a minor pang of nostalgia. Getting towards evening time now. Festive evening time. “Queers?” “OK.” Dived on the U2 to Nollendorfplatz. Looked at all the stunningly handsome queens littering the bars around aforementioned U-Bahnhof – thank god it’s spring. Even the Russian, who’s never paid anyone a compliment ever, had to admit some looked lovely – and drank, me, ginger ale, still, the Russian beer, wine, beer, wine, beer – can’t be good for you – and smoked till the early hours. I got home none the wiser about “the find”.

Today, not early, because of being out till all hours, the Russian announced, mysteriously, “I have to contact a certain young man”. “Yes?” “Yesterday, in toilet, I find vollet.” My heart sank at the repeat realisation that I live with an insane person. “Darling, what a sane person would have done,” I explained, teacherishly, “unless he intended to steal it, which only an absolute cunt would do (I didn’t say that bit) (I’ve actually been pickpocketed in a gay bar. Still livid), is hand the wallet over to the staff there, in the bar where you found it. The owner might still have been there, or might have at least worked out that that’s where he lost it and rung them the next day etc. etc.” “Oj.” Voices may or may not have been raised in the ensuing exchanges. In any case, the loser’s telephone number had been found online, but there was now a further inexplicable delay in phoning him. “You must phone him now,” I hectored on. “He’s probably considering suicide this second. It’s ruining his day. You MUST phone him now.” The Russian then phoned, using a hilarious phone voice nothing like his own, and was apologising within seconds to the clearly utterly unthankful and bollocking loser for having managed the find all wrong. So now I think he should have just stolen it. Not really. They’ve agreed to meet, at somewhere fantastically inconvenient for both…

But while the Russian’s away…



1. Bowleserised - May 8, 2006

You found the Russian Nurse Ratchett! And what about The Russian? Are you going to trail him in an exciting way? Drama?

2. BiB - May 8, 2006

Gosh, now there’s a potential twist. Maybe he found the wallet, picked it up, saw that the man who’d lost it was stunningly handsome from his driving licence and thought making the returning-of-the-wallet more complicated would secretly give him the chance to arrange a surreptitious meeting with him. Which would have all been acceptable were he single, of course. Anyway, the loser wasn’t handsome (or interesting, as the Russian explained to me after they met and he returned the wallet to him, but he did finally get round to saying thank you).

Gosh (again), I shouldn’t have put ‘found’ within punctuation in my first paragraph. He really did just find it, but what a convoluted way of doing a good deed. Too odd.

I shudder at the thought of that nurse still, although I don’t think she had the paper headwear of what’s-‘er-face in OFOTCN. Actually, even though that hospital was the most depressing place on earth, in a way, and they sort of forgot to attend to me for a few days, medical services in Russia were actually pretty bloody fantastic.

3. Bowleserised - May 8, 2006

The problem with this theory is that no-one looks stunningly handsome in their driving licence photo.

4. Michael Scott Moore - May 9, 2006

“De Spar,” by the way, really is the name of Spar stores in Italy. But from across the street the name looks more like “Despair.” I even had a picture I was going to post before the hard drive went kaput.

5. leon - May 9, 2006

I look depressingly young and optimistic in my driving licence photo (or alternatively “like a French pornographer” as an ex phrased it).

Do Spar still operate in the UK? I haven’t been in one for years.

6. daggi - May 9, 2006

Did you use to have a ‘tache, Leon?

Spar as far as I can remember only have branches in small regional towns where children might be (were/are) forced to go on holiday to, maybe at a caravan park, maybe with some kind of cathedral. And I don’t mean “Paddy’s Wig Wam”. Although that is Britain’s nearest thing to “some kind of cathedral”.

The brand is about to disappear in Germany – they’ll all going to become “Edeka”.

7. BiB - May 10, 2006

Is a French pornographer good or bad? I mean, in comparison to an English one?

I don’t have a driving licence, of course, as I am incapable of making any machine function. I did have a provisional one, in a flash of 17-year-old fervour, but instantly defaced it by making my date of birth the necessary number of years earlier to get me into an awful local night-club.

Mike, hello! We don’t normally see you around these parts. Spar and despair deserve, perhaps, to be mentioned in one breath. Although, since I moved, and since there’s a big Spar round the corner, and since its main competition here is Lidl and Aldi, both of which have me longing for SSRIs, it’s vaguely gone up in my estimations.

Daggi, is your blog just having a blogger-is-up-shit-creek moment – other blogs were inaccessible earlier too – or have you actually half-deleted the bastard? If the former, bad luck. If the latter, recreate immediately. (No pressure, of course.)

8. Michael Scott Moore - May 11, 2006

Hello! I tend to read and not comment, so it just seemed polite. There *is* at least one Spar in London; I saw it last month. I went in just to see if it was as moldy as the ones in Germany, and it wasn’t.

9. leon - May 11, 2006

[daggi] I had a beard too, but it was near-invisible. Coincidentally I just shaved my winter beard off, it was getting a bit straggly.

Yes, yes! The only Spar I knew near where I grew up was in a town called “Hope”, which was depressingly one-horse and kind of ran into another even worse place called “Caegwrle” (this was Wales, remember). There was a local saying: “Live in Hope, and die in Caegwrle”.

[bib] Probably much the same only with more hair.

10. BiB - May 12, 2006

Leon, a near-invisible beard? Is your hair skin-coloured? Or it was just a majorly embryonic beard?

RFM/MSM, the one Spar near me – why do we always end up on supermarkets? Whether I write about my identity crisis or Russian misbehaviour, we get back onto supermarkets – is a luxury, hyper-Spar with a huge(ish) wine selection, so it’s sort of at the top of the minor-supermarket league, I suppose.

11. leon - May 12, 2006

I don’t grow a particularly thick beard, it has to be said. A friend of mine once reappeared after a few months’ absence with a spectacular Edward VII-style job (in brown) – it was superb. He looked like a youthful and more dissolute version of Captain Birdseye.

12. daggi - May 14, 2006

Leon: The youthful and more dissolute version of Captain Birdseye is in fact just the German version of Captain Birdseye, “Käpt’n Iglo” (Capt’n Igloo). Though they might have given him his beard back and changed the facial expression, as many people I knew decided he “looked a bit too poofy” to be able to sell them fish fingers. I may provide links for this.

BiB: On supermarkets – whenever my brother posts blog comments at the “watercooler of the British left” he will regardless of the original article get on to North London branches of Waitrose. So it seems to affect us all.

13. leon - May 16, 2006

I really fancy a fish finger sandwich after reading all that (I haven’t had one for about a decade).

14. BiB - May 16, 2006

When I first came to Berlin, the Russian had already been here a few weeks before me. It was his first time properly abroad – Bulgaria doesn’t count, as any Russian will tell you – and he excitedly told me – remember, he’s a bit of a foody – that he’d discovered this wonderful new food-item. What could it be? Good ol’ fishfingers, of course. The 94-year-old woman I visited this weekend, who’s never met a working class person in her life – I’m probably the closest she’s ever come – swears by them. And if they’re good enough for her…

Daggi, you mean there’s a brother? Oh god, I’m going to start having fantasies about you and Leon again. Blood relatives? And now there’s an Alan for me to worry about too. Is the water-cooler Harry’s Place, by the way? Each post gets 700 comments there, so I don’t know if I’ll be able to toil through them all to look for Waitrose comments.

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