Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Ukraine is "more better"

When I was a teenager, my fantasies were largely unvaried. Some days I imagined the girls from the annual USC Cheerleaders calendar, others I called upon the image of an archetypal Swede -- a blonde-haired, blue-eyed beauty who was quick to lose her top and knew all the words to "Dancing Queen." I wasn't alone in this regard -- California and Sweden, it was the Mecca to which many men turned their lust. And why not? The Beach Boys sang about California Girls (before David Lee Roth did the same to greater visual effect), and innumerable Hollywood movies brought in a bouncy blonde with a sing-song accent whenever the plot grew too dull. There was nothing more coveted.

But today at 12:35 p.m. local time I learned there had been a revolution and that men the globe over now followed a New World Order. I discovered this in Sundsvall, Sweden, a three-hour train ride up the coast from Stockholm, after being dropped here with a two-hour lay-over en route to my mother’s Norway. At the buffet restaurant inside the train station, opera music played from the speakers, and my fellow stranded passengers sat chattering in Swedish and Norwegian at their tables. The food in the metal tubs was decidedly Scandinavian: sliced roast beef, creamed salmon so soft it fell apart at the touch of your fork, and bite-sized boiled potatoes served whole and skinless. But the restaurant’s staff was not – Middle Eastern, I thought.

The guy who approached me from behind the register was in his late-twenties. He wore blue jeans and a tight black t-shirt that didn’t fully cover the tribal tattoos on both of his arms. His hair was short and black and showed signs of styling products and a good deal of personal care. He was quick with a smile, quick with a bounce of his chin. When he said something in Swedish, I asked in English for the buffet. He rang me up without hesitation, English coming freely and easily to him, and gave me the change from my hundred Kroner bill.

“Where are you from?” he asked.

“California,” I told him, though underneath this I heard something else – an echo familiar to anyone who has lived in a country trying to learn its language: Ya iz Californiyi. “But these days I’m actually living in Ukraine,” I added.

His smile grew bigger here. He bounced his chin and lifted one hand, rubbing the fingers together as if demanding money or worrying over some prayer beads. “It’s more better,” he said. “The women.”

I nodded and grinned and said something in the affirmative – always the agreeable idiot – and then took my tray and went off for my food. But as I sat down to my meal, I couldn’t help but consider this more deeply. I was a Californian, he was living in Sweden, and Ukraine was “more better?”

When he came back out with a stack of porcelain plates for the buffet, I walked up and asked how he’d heard about Ukrainian women.

“My brother,” he said, “two, three times he's brought one over. Always he thinks he’ll marry,” he said, “but always he finds another one more beautiful than before.”

They stayed a few weeks and then were gone, their visas soon to be expired anyway, and then the brother went off again to the marriage agencies of Kiev. After a little more prodding, my new friend told me he’d done the same, though only once. He loved Ukraine.

“But Swedish women,” I told him. “Some men would say they’re the most beautiful in the world.”

His face took on a new look; he recoiled as if insulted. “Swedish women are hell,” he said, “like in Afghanistan. They have money”—he slapped his hand against a back pocket—“and so they’re all”—and now he lifted his nose to the wood beams criss-crossing the ceiling.

“Maybe on the weekends,” he said, “when they have some vodka, maybe then,” he said, but then he was shaking his head as if even this weren’t redemption enough. “Where are you in Ukraine?” he asked.

I told him and explained what little I knew of the city, saying it was very large, more than a million and a half people, and just as beautiful as Kiev -- in every respect -- though certainly poorer.

“So the girls are easier,” he said, again with that smile.

I shrugged a shoulder, dropped my head to one side. Deep Throat said, "Follow the money," but he could have just as easily said, "Follow the women?" So much was economics. This guy had taken his passport, which bore Holland’s name, to Sweden on a four-year work visa, and now he was only saving up his Kroner and planning his next geographical exchange. Who was safe from all of this? Perhaps only the Swedish woman and Californian man.

“And if I”—he pantomimed typing on a keyboard.

“Plenty of sites pop up,” I said.

He asked that I write it down – Kharkov – and so I did in both English and Russian, before at last giving him my card and telling him to call should he ever find himself in town.

1 Comment:

be said...

people should also look for personality and not just entirely go for looks only!