“Even on the dullest days, there is always something strange happening in Russia”, Russia Correspondent Jelle Brandt Corstius writes in his comical book “Russia for the advanced”. Nothing seems more truth as we experience this first-hand as soon as we got off the train in Yekaterinburg.
Late in the evening we arrive in the drizzly Yekaterinburg, Russia’s fourth largest city. Very near to our hostel, a supermarket appears to be hidden in a building, where we quickly buy some supplies before closing at midnight. I always love to visit a supermarket abroad. Rummaging among the unknown products you will find the craziest things. Once I spotted pig ears in formaldehyde on the shelves, no idea who wanted to buy those things.
Supermarkets in Russia sell their beer among other beverages, just like our Dutch supermarkets do. And that is exactly what we want after a train journey of thirty hours; a local beer. Just as we’re making a choice, a guard shoves a row of carts in front of the beer shelves. In unintelligible Russian he mumbles something like “I can see the longing in your eyes, but will put a nice stop to it. No beer for the Dutch.” Or something like that. He’s probably just doing his job. However we do spot a beer-like bottle at the cash register when we want to pay. Suddenly there’s a sneer from the cashier, who, during our uncomprehending stare, is being translated by at least four of its customers; “No more beer, its 23:01 pm. Ah, a time slot for beer sales. That clears things up. (We definitely don’t have that at home..).
Just when we put our other stuff on the counter, a tall, dark-haired man rushes in from a back room. Betrayed by his suit and name tag, it is the supermarket manager. As soon as he opens his mouth, four gold teeth are smiling at us. “Helloooo my friends, where are you from?” Sounds Flamboyant English-Russian. The guy reminds me of a mixture between Graham Norton and Borat, with a touch of circus ringmaster. ‘The Netherlands, we got here by the Trans-Siberia train, “Ydwer replies. That’s the start of endless talking by the circus ringmaster, who throws his obvious charms in to impress Ydwer. In a few minutes we learn that he makes television programs and is actually a journalist, speaks French, Uzbek, English and Turkish, and of course Russian. Followed by a spontaneous Russian language lesson in which he starts dictating useful Russian phrases and looks so expectantly at us that out of pity, we are repeating the sentences. So next to supermarket manager, television producer, journalist, linguist and ringmaster, he can now also add Russian Language Teacher to his resume.
Carefully we try to get away from this eccentric but kind man. While he continues to dictate sentences and throws Ydwer a flirty wink, we sneak towards the exit. “Okay okay bye bye then”, he gets the hint. As we are safely outside and laughingly starting the process of so much unexpected energy, he sticks his head around the corner. “Come again, come again,” he says whilst smiling at us. His gold teeth shine merrily in the fluorescent light.