Taking a three-day weekend break from Moscow to St. Petersburg actually turned out to be a breath of fresh air from the Russian capital. Don’t get me wrong now; I love Moscow for all that it has to offer (this is my second time studying abroad here), but there are still things here that leave more to be desired. For instance, the daily penguin shuffle, which occurs twice a day during rush hour when passengers are crowding toward the entrance onto a narrow escalator that leads to the metro platform. There, everyone crams into the opening in a wobbling motion, swaying from left to right looking ridiculous for the minute that it takes to break through the crowd to the escalator – penguin. The corruption within the Militsia (police) and the uncomfortable feeling when medical personnel ask you for a bribe indirectly also contributes to it. However, the magic of the city makes it all more than endurable.
Now juxtapose Moscow with St. Petersburg, the epitome of European Russia. In St. Petersburg, the sun shines brightly, the streets are clean and adorned with beautiful European architecture, and the people are even nice! However, the city was developed on a swamp after Peter the Great conquered it from the Swedes. This resulted in the constant attack by mosquitoes on the inhabitants of Peter.
However, the illusion of its perfection is later shattered after a night out at one of the biggest three-floor clubs in St. Petersburg that lasted until 5 a.m. (a luxury that we don’t have back in the States). Now it wasn’t the dancing that did it, but it was what went down after. After my fellow Santa Barbarian Ken, our Russian friend Sofia and I decided to retire from the club early, we discovered that we were craving bananas, having only had liquids all evening. We saw a grocery store, so we ran across a two-way street and into the store in search of some early morning munchies. Upon checking, we were unfortunately informed that we couldn’t buy the bananas.
“Nel’zya rebyata.” (“Can’t do that, guys”)
“A pochemu net? My prosto xotim bannani!” (“And why not? All we want are some bananas!”)
She went on to explain to us that since the woman who weighs the fruit on a machine – literally a few yards away from the register – is on break right now, we can’t buy the bananas. Of course asking her to weigh it yielded an even more useless response, so we turned to the trick that we know, which has worked plenty of times in Moscow: the bribe.
“A kak na’chet esli byl my vam dadim dvacet rubley, mozhna?” We offered her a bribe under a dollar, which had the effect that we were exactly looking for.
“Nu shto vy rebyata?” (“What do you take me for?”)
“Na, sto rublej, davaite, devushka seryozna, my ochen’ golodny, i ya vsyu zhizn zhdal ehtih bananov!”
She then giggled, started nodding and took a $4 (100 ruble) bill. She let us have our two bananas, and when I asked about the wafers also on the conveyor belt, I was able to get those on the banana bribe, too. Satisfied with defeating the system, Ken and I decided that this woman deserved to be serenaded. We then proceeded to perform for her a popular Russian pop song by a Russian pop duo/boy band about a student’s crush on a teacher – “Faktor 2- Krasavica.”
Moral of the story is bribery in Russia can not only get you out of jail, an ambulance ride to the hospital and proper treatment for salmonella, but also bananas in time of need. It’s true that this society is run on money. However, the people of this culture are also known to be generally good people, some of the most open and kindest people you’ll ever meet, separate from the corruption and bribery that pervades throughout the society. This is why Ken and I would like to believe that our banana lady valued our gesture of entertainment and company over the hundred ruble bill.