You would think that being in Moscow, it would be comforting that there are well-established American fast food chains to get a little taste of home. Quite the contrary! Maybe it's a coincidence, but the few times I've been to McDonalds or KFC, strange and terrible things have happened.
Exhibit A: McDonalds. About two weeks ago. A small group of us students decided to go to there for the free wi-fi and cheap coffee (as a side note, cheap brewed coffee is something that I really miss here; there is a chain here called "Kofe Xaus" that is like the Starbucks of Russia, but it's too expensive to be a casual daily thing). Admittedly, we did pick a pretty late time to go, maybe 10 or 11. As the 5 or 6 of us tried to get in the door, there were a couple of burly men inside trying to get out. I guess it was taking a long time for all of us to file in, because one of the men got so impatient that he grabbed my friend Igor by the neck and dragged him aside so he could pass. Kiinndd of scary. When we told that story to one of the ILP teachers, she said it was probably our fault for being in his way.
Exhibit B: KFC. Last Saturday afternoon. Some of us set out to get lunch near the Belorusskaya metro station because we knew there were some places in that area we wanted to check out. They have this thing here called "bizness lanch" (business lunch) that is considerably cheaper than the regular prices, usually ranging from 150-220 rubles (about 6-10 American dollars). It includes an appetizer (usually salad, something mayonnaise-based with assorted vegetables), the first course (some kind of soup), and the second course (something with meat, also includes a side dish like mashed potatoes, rice, macaroni, etc). Basically the only thing bizness lanch doesn't include is the third course (dessert), which is usually fine for me because I end up waddling out of the restaurant after all that food.
ANYWAY, that's just a little cultural note I wanted to squeeze in. Not being real businessmen, it didn't occur to any of us that they wouldn't offer business lunch on the weekend. So we ended up at KFC, which is across the street from the fancier place we had in mind. After waiting in line for what seemed like an eternity (these fast food places are always extremely crowded), I got my food last and went to join the rest of my group at the end seat on the table. I open my box of chicken and immediately a hand creeps from behind my shoulder and snatches up a chicken wing. At first I thought, "weird that someone from my group would take a piece of chicken without asking, but whatever... wait... no one from my group is wearing a beige trenchcoat..." At that point I looked up and there was this creepy homeless woman who held up the piece of chicken in the air with a smug smile and looked at me as if to say, "thanks for the chicken!" and then went out the door. It was such a shocking moment (for all of us, but mostly for me) that I didn't know whether to laugh or cry. Then, as if that weren't enough, she came back into KFC, laid the half-eaten chicken wing on the table next to us, and showed us a sign that said "Heep for food." Before I came here, people told me that there was a lot of random rudeness that brings out irrational behavior in you. In that moment, I finally knew what they were talking about. I actually shouted insults at a stranger, in Russian. Well, maybe not insults, but I was definitely yelling. After she showed us the sign I said, "WHAT? I ALREADY DID THAT! NEXT TIME ASK. WHAT ARE YOU DOING? GET AWAY FROM ME." etc.
There's just a lot of absurdity that goes on here. I don't know if there's any way to keep cool 100% of the time here. It's a mad house! The best thing about these situations is that they make for great stories. Finger lickin' great.