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Several years ago, I lived for nearly a year in St Petersburg, Russia, which included a winter to remember. One morning, standing in snow that came more than half-way to the top of my boots, I was waiting for a friend to pick me up. Suddenly, I realized that someone was tugging on my coat sleeve. I looked down and there was a tiny Russian Babushka trying to get my attention. A Babushka in Russian means Grandma and is also used as a pet name for an older lady. She was chattering away in Russian and pointing across the street.
"Nyet Russkie," I said with a smile. She gave me a blank look and then started again, to talk to me in Russian and continued pointing across the street.
"Nyet Russkie," I repeated, this time shaking my head "no" and repeating "Nyet Russkie, Nyet Russkie."
Finally after several more minutes of this behavior, she looked at me with the most exasperated expression I have ever seen on anyone. Then giving me a very withering look, she threw up her hands in frustration and flounced on down the street. Feeling very helpless and stupid, I watched as she went up to another lady who was shoveling snow off the sidewalk, and continued her talking and pointing across the street. To my surprise, the lady put her shovel down and took the arm of the Babushka and together they crossed the street. Then I reaally felt stupid. The old lady only wanted help across the street but I didn't speak enough Russian to know what she was saying.
It must have been several months later because now the snow was gone and it was warm, I was out and about on one of my daily ventures in St Petersburg. I was standing on a busy corner that didn't have a traffic light, waiting patiently for traffic to lighten up before I made a dash across the street. Suddenly, I was startled to feel an arm slip between my body and each of my arms. I looked quickly and saaw a lady on either side of me smiling and nodding across the street.
"OK," I thought remembering the Babushka of the winter, "These ladies must want to go across the street. The three of us stood there on the curb and waited several minutes and as soon as traffic let up, the three of us as a unit, marched across the street. On the other side, the two women waved and shouted good-bye as they happily turned down the street to the left and went on their way. I smiled and waved back and went in my direction feeling very pleased I had understood this time.
Frankly, I have never been sure who help who across the street but this experience has always given me a warm feeling.