Tuesday, December 07, 2004

A Toe in the Cultural Ocean

Today after work, I stopped by "Sasha's Gourmet Russian Market and Cafe." It's practically spitting distance from my house, and has been there for nearly 2 years, but I've never gone in. I'm not sure why I went in tonight. I think I was hoping to hear a thick Russian accent and strike up a conversation about my upcoming trip. But instead, I was greeted by a very west Austin sounding teen who asked me if I needed any help. I told her I was just looking. And man, was I ever.
It's a bizarre little place. A few cafe tables up front--maybe four at the most. An interesting menu of appetizers, entrees, desserts and drinks. And then there are the shelves filled with Russian products. I had no idea what I was looking at half the time. The Cyrillic alphabet is so bizarre because you look at it, and your mind tells you, "I should know what this says." There's something weirdly familiar about it, but it's so foreign and strange looking that it messes with you. There were sweets, canned meats, and lots and lots of pickled things. They even had a sparsely stocked Russian language film rental section. It was fascinating. I wanted to buy something, but had no idea what anything was. I just stood there staring at everything like I had just fallen to Earth. I was the only customer. The teenage girl must've thought I was a freak.
There was a man working there as well. Sort of stout, olive skin, dark hair. He kept talking to the teen about the Christmas decorations he wanted to put up to decorate the store's modest entry. She seemed like she could care less.
Finally, two other customers came in, separately. They were both women, and both looked to be in their late 40s. They were sort of looking around, not unlike myself. But then one of the women struck up a conversation with the dark haired man...in Russian. And there they stood, having a full-on chat fest in this very unfamiliar sounding tongue. I stood and listened for a moment, stunned by the oddness of this totally foreign environment located not 1000 yards from my front door. I roused myself after a minute and went home. I'm sure I'll be back.

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