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to be an expat

How can I even begin to explain the experiences of an expat?  The great assumption is that East and West are terribly different. One is vilified, the other painted as a land of patriots and heroes. One is crude and filthy the other has streets paved with gold. Look up and you will see miracles of architecture. Beyond the windows there are supposed to be good people, open smiles and warm hearts. How can I tell you that none of this is true? How can I untie my shoes, and somehow put them on your feet three thousand miles away? You would never believe what secrets they have to tell.

Every time I go back to the states I become more embarrassed to be an American. I overhear conversations in the street, the whines of privileged and moneyed voices. Coddled, dumbed-down and mislead they are drunk on a calculated fairly tale. And then back in Moscow, the same ignorance - the same questions from curious taxi drivers about how good it must be in America, where everything is possible and life mu…

mercy

We go to a little store by us, that has no real name just the one everyone calls it - the "long store". It is a Soviet one, with little counters where you can buy different categories of food, paying individually at each one. We stand at the meat one, so I can buy a piece of pork shoulder. An old lady picks coins from her purse in slow, methodical movements as she pays for a tiny chunk of beef. The woman behind the counter juts her chin at me. I slide towards the pork trays, pointing at the piece I want.

"How big?" She asks me.
I point again at the one I want.
She is shoving her arm into a box behind the counter, pulling out another piece. It is a lump of meat in a cloudy plastic bag, sagging with pink blood.
"Fresh!" She announces to me in a big voice, waving it in the air. "And juicy!"
I shake my head no.
"Too big?" She asks, and goes back to the box.
I point once again at the piece I want.
"This one, just this one." I tell her.
"Oh, Gospodi." She blurts out, staring at me. ("Oh, god" or "Oh God have mercy.")

I stand there. E is looking up at me, shrugging her shoulders.

The woman eventually wraps up the pice I have been asking for the whole time, slapping it hard on the scale. I pay, and she throws my change at me, almost to the floor.

Outside, E's empty lunchbox thumps against her leg.

We walk in silence, even in the elevator.




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