Last week I was ‘enjoying’ a six hour layover in Moscow’s Domodedovo Airport waiting for a plane to take me to Frankfurt and ultimately back home to San Francisco. Now, what’s always interesting to me is the uniquely different people you see and the varied cultures and styles of dress that converge at such a node of traveling pleasure. So, here are a few of my personal observations with a little bit of commentary.
First, I was struck with the footwear of the average Russian young woman. Was it a fixation with the comfort of Sketchers Shape-Up’s or maybe the latest Tom’s? No. What these young ladies love to wear are 5 inch above the knee pointed boots. Seriously, if you were not wearing them, you were apparently a fashion-less recluse, because they were all over the place. On a number of occasions I saw young ladies running at a hasty speed in these, and in one particular instance, the lady was rushing through busy traffic with a baby in hand. It was one of those “Cheetos Cheetah” head shaking moments when your are really questioning what you are seeing. Now, I understand fashion. I have a pair of Cole Haan’s in my closet, some Polo ties and shirts and even a pair of Jordache jeans (just kidding!), but is the snow so high that knee high’s are necessary? Are you going to be riding a horse in the course of your day? Do pointed high heels really give you that sure footed grip in the snow and ice? Well, I am comforted, because as a guy, I don’t need to wear them to be cool.
Second, as I sat at an airport gate, a location where we found some empty chairs in the mass of people, I noticed how unique all the people were that were also at that gate. They had Turkish features but their babushka’s (Grandmothers) were dressed in typical Russian fashion. Then they announced the boarding for Dushanbe which caused me to scratch my head even more. Where in the world is Dushanbe? I had no clue. Was it a city in Russia? We had just been to Ufa, Bashkortostan, for two weeks of ministry and I hadn’t heard of that either seven years ago, so where was Dushanbe? So, quickly I fired my computer up and Googled it, and found out that it is the capital city of Tajikistan. Wow! So, where is Tajikistan? Apparently Stan had a lot of brothers, Tartar, Uzbek, Afgan, Kazak, Krygys and the well know Turkmin as well as his little brother Tajiki. It got me thinking. There is still a lot of this world that God created that I know nothing about and even in these places God has a remnant of a church pursuing Him for His glory. Now, out of curiosity, I want to visit Dushanbe! Who knows.
Next, I found that some behaviors were somewhat culturally unusual. Word to the wise. If you are an American male visiting the countries of the former Soviet Union and you have an urge to exercise your more gentlemanly side by, for example, opening up a door for a lady who might be coming behind or in front of you, don’t expect any smiles, encouragements or spaciba’s. If you are a young American lady and you are expecting for a Russian man to open the door at the mall, the airport, or to give up his seat on the bus don’t wait too long and don’t say I didn’t warn you when your face is planted on the glass door. Keep your expectations low and be hoping for a surprise. I know that there are some Christian young men who are working at their chivalry.
Then, I was taken back at one lady, a mother with three children. She was waiting with her children and husband at the gate, sitting curled up on the chair with her right thumb firmly planted in her mouth sucking away. It struck me as odd. I don’t think it is a reflection of any particular culture, but it was for me a quick reminder that we can all be adults and children at the same time. Now, I wonder if her children will follow her example when they grow up.
Finally, on another note, every time I have flown into Russia I have been forced to fly on Aeroflot which is always a challenge to anyone’s nerves. For example, on every Aeroflot plane that I have been on all the seats are different colors and even different sizes. My friend Don Magee from Lakes Baptist in Walled Lake, Michigan, tells of his experience on one Aeroflot flight. The plane was about 1/3 full but they put all the passengers in the front of the economy section. So, since Don was tired, after the plane got to cruising altitude he did what many typical American commuters would do and go back and find a row to stretch out on and take a long nap. He was hastily chased down by a very distraught stewardess saying “nyet, nyet”! She was complaining to him and ordering him back to his seat. When he finally found someone that spoke English the reason she gave for him needing to stay in his seat wast this, “if the plane goes down we need to be able to identify the passengers.” Really conforting isn’t it. On another occasion the plane had no overhead compartments. Well, they did, but much like you would see on a Grayhound bus. So, when we were taking off all the carryon lugguage was tossing and turning, straps and purses were falling out as well as coats and warm fuzzy hats. It was really amuzing and a great test of faith that God was in control.
Well, this time I flew Siberian Airlines aka S7, and wow, what a difference. They were extremely professional, well mannered, attentive to the customer, well groomed with smart uniforms. The planes were new, roomy and very comfortable. I will be flying S7 again if I have the option. I was very impressed.
This is one of the reasons I love to travel and don’t mind a layover in an airport, especially if it is international.