January 03, 2007

According to The Americans, The Russians are The New Germans

Be careful what ethnic group you disparage in coffee houses.

A few days ago, I was with a couple of folks I know outside at Peet's Coffee. Somehow, the conversation turned to The Russians. I think it started when one of my table mates, "Giselle," spoke about her five-star hotel marketing business. The other table mate, "Sandra," mentioned a stay at a top hotel in the South of France for the Cannes Film Festival (yes, I sometimes travel in a fast crowd). Sandra said that a bunch of Russians were staying at the hotel, and they behaved so badly that the other guests were "mortified." Apparently, The Russians were incredibly loud, extremely vulgar, abusive toward the hotel staff, and threw their money around like confetti.

This began a diatribe against The Russians to which Giselle added her own anecdotes. I didn't really have anything to add, except something that could be a compliment: a friend of mine who travels to Moscow regularly on business tells me that, on a per capita basis, Moscow has the largest number of Mercedes S-Class automobiles in the world (most of them, apparently, black). I also noted that these stereotypes of The Russians seem to have replaced stereotypes of The Germans from a couple of decades earlier, apparently as a result of which countrymen and women are traveling around the world spending the most money at a given time.

During our conversation, I noticed a trio consisting of a man and two women, all about 60 years old, at the next table. They were dressed well, the mustached man wearing dark sunglasses and a driving cap, and one of the women wearing black slip-on shoes that were made of leather in a crocodile pattern. The most unusual thing about this trio was that, during our conversation, they were silent, and the man kept staring at us. I thought to myself, could they be ... no, they couldn't be.

When we got up to leave, the trio started talking ... in Russian.

I guess they were talking about The Ugly Americans and how rude they are, sitting around disparaging other ethnic groups in their faux European coffee houses.


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