Archive for June, 2008


“Russian Seasons” at JFK — the Russian Interns Are Coming!

I blogged several times about the complexity of Russian Women — Western men relationships. I wrote about the mail-order Russian bride websites; I made fun of the scammers who rip off Western men looking for such a bride; and I wrote how these societal trends make some Russian women, including myself, uncomfortable when they are abroad. To get an outsider’s perspective (which, surprisingly, turned into an insider’s perspective), I asked my dear friend Arnie Zambrano to write a guest post for me. I know he is interested in finding an Eastern European soulmate. Over a course of a recent MSN conversation, his “Russian Intern Season” at JFK (which is where I actually met him) came up. So here’s what he has to say:

(please note — I may not agree with the author’s opinion (especially about the Ukrainians :)) ), I asked Arnie to write it as his personal opinion on an interesting phenomenon).

Arnie With Two Eastern European Interns

Every year around June, I anticipate the hoards of pretty Eastern European girls who will come through the gates of JFK. To see them makes me truly happy that I work for an international airline and get to spend time at an international terminal. Even though I’ve been working in JFK for 3 years, every year, I still look forward to the Russian Intern Season as much as a child anticipates Christmas.

So what is the Russian Intern Season?

It’s the time when Russians and other Eastern Europeans send many 18-24 year old girls to the United States to work here for 3-9 months. Thanks to an agreement with the United States and Eastern Europe, CCUSA (Camp Counselors USA) hand-picks (or so the rumor has it) only the best looking women out there (some men participate, too, but I am not interested) to work in the US. They work as camp counselors — or work other similar jobs. For over 90% of them, it’s their first time in the states (and even abroad), so these young ladies are looking for a friend to get them oriented. That’s where I come in.

I’m the pioneer of my personal Russian Intern Season (RIS) at JFK. The young post-Soviet ladies flock to the specially organized JFK’s CCUSA’s desk. For the first 3-5 days, they are free to do whatever they please, so here’s your (and mine) chance to charm a pretty Eastern European!

I started the RIS when I got sick and tired of American women (I’m American, but find our women too arrogant high maintenance — compared to the Eastern European ladies). It’s simply standing at the carousels (after I do my job for an airline, of course) and having to pick the most amazingly looking girl in the intern group. At times it’s so hard, since there are so many great ones to choose from. Most of them are Russian, but there are also Ukrainians, Moldovians, Armenians, Georgians, Kazakhstan, Belarusians etc. And I am the first American man they can talk to. You can’t get more “fresh off the boat” than that.

Why do I like these Eastern European ladies so much? Unlike American women, they don’t ask to take them to expensive restaurant or to take them shopping! Perfect date material.

It is remarkable how you can identify a nationality of an Eastern European female by the way she talks to you. And no, I don’t mean an accent. Here’s my personal classification:

–Ukrainians: Wear Blue T-shirts. When you start a conversation with them, they look at you in a confused manner. [Note from Anna — as a half-Ukrainian myself, I find it hard to believe, but oh well].

–Russians: Wear red T-shirts. When start a conversation with them, most of them give you that nice warm smile; they generally have so many interesting things to say. Overall they are very glad that you are talking to them no matter the situation.

–This year, however, the new hot thing are the Kazakhstanis (T-shirt color: orange). They are brought over here by boatful, and I love spending time with them. It definitely makes after work hours and my days off much more entertaining.

Any Ukrainian reading this post is probably thinking “Why does this author hate Ukrainians?” I know there are some nice ones out there. I personally have been lucky to meet a select few. But it seems that they’re keeping all the nice and sweet ones in Ukraine. (Guess the Ukrainian guys want to keep their nice women for themselves — good for them). Unfortunately, so far, I haven’t had any luck in meeting a nice Ukrainian intern. So I stay away from the blue-clad crowd.

Most of the girls don’t stay in NYC for too long; some of them are here for only one or two days. Then they go off to their respective workplaces, which could be as close as Ocean City, NJ (3 hour drive from New York) to San Diego, CA (6 hour plane ride). But for an adventurer like me that’s what makes it more entertaining. I met a couple of Kazakh girls and spent a couple of days with them before they went off to Los Angeles, CA. I was planning on going to LA in a 3 weeks time anyway. Now I have someone with whom to hang out over there (in case you’re wondering how I can afford to travel, working for an airline gets one cheap or even free flights).

I will most likely end up marrying a sweet Russian girl, but she has to be a Russian-Russian, not a Russian-American. I can’t stand Russian-American women. They are aware of how Eastern Europeanly beautiful they are, plus they’re extra snobby, since they were born in the US. My Russian-American co-worker is a perfect example. She manipulates all the guys in doing favors for her, makes them spend money on gifts, and, simply put, walks all over them. (She even admitted that she made my friend, who is blindly in love with her buy, her a Prada handbag… and they were not even dating!!) On the other hand her Russian mom also lives in the US. Being born in Russia, she’s such a great person. I am not attracted to her (not my age category, really), but if I had a choice between a Russian-American daughter and her Russian mom, I’d go for the latter. I am worried that if I marry a Russian, which is want I really want to do, my children will be the product of the same thing I hate!

Sometimes, I look at the Russian Brides websites, and I can’t help but laugh at all these ridiculous fees that they add on just to talk to her and see a picture. You even have to pay anywhere from $1000-$5000 to have her sent to the USA. If I were someone looking for a Russian Bride, I wouldn’t need to go further than JFK. Just stand outside the international terminal during the Russian Intern Season — and have your pick. Most of them are extra friendly, but good luck with the blue-wearing Ukrainians. (On a side note, if you’re on the internet all day looking for Russian Brides, get a life!)

By the way, if you for some reason are not attracted to the Eastern-European looks, there is also my Brazilian Intern Season. Lots of (hot) Brazilians come from Disney World to go shopping in New York. Sadly, only few speak English, but with my knowledge of Spanish, English, French and Italian, I can pick up a great percentage of what they’re saying. To anyone else, you’re out of luck.

I’m off taking a Russian girl to Coney Island, thank you CCUSA 😀


Experiencing Russia at Its Fullest: Perfume that Smells Like Vodka (And Looks Like Vodka)

Do you love vodka so much that that perpetual smell from drinking just never goes away? Well, now you can intensify it by buying a perfume that is shaped like vodka, smells like vodka, and tastes like vodka.

I was passing by a regular cheap make-up/fake perfume stores recently and saw this:

Knock-Off Perfumes at Russian Store

The usual array of knock-off “Trussardi” and “Kenzo” perfumes. But wait, what is there on the right? Looks like vodka bottles to me. Let’s take a closer look:

“Moskovskaya” (a common vodka brand here) — “Paris France”; the label looks very much like a regular bottle of “Moskovskaya.” (if i see one at a store, I will post a photograph here for comparison purposes). I wonder how the owners of the Moskovskaya trademark would react to it? I also wonder how the makers of fine French parfumerie feel about it? The perfume not only looks like a bottle of vodka, but it also smells like vodka (and, as the shop assistant assured me, it tastes like vodka! Maybe it is vodka??? ) And not only “Moskovskaya” is a fine specimen of French perfume industry, it’s also “Exclusive”! Not satisfied with its exclusivity? Representing another choice du jour: “Pshenichnaya Paris.” Fine print at the bottom says “Made in France.”


Both fine beverages…perfumes will cost you 160 rubles — $6.8. Not bad for a fine perfume, huh?


Russian Female Enterpreneurs — and Another Blog For Which I Will Be Writing

Happy to announce I will from now on be writing for a very nice blog about Russian: SiberianLight. Those of you russophiles out there, check it out. My article is about a very unusual way women in Russian start their own businesses and can be found here.

How Russian women are running their own online businesses that make fashion affordable – and make a profit.

An Ad for a Second Hand Shop -- Welcome All, a Sale is Going on!


Latvian Ex-President Encounters a Heated Debate at Pierson: A Very Belated Post

This post is way overdue, but better late than never.

At  Pierson College’s Master’s Tea, Latvia’s ex-President Vaira Vike-Freiberga participated in a talk with the crowd constisting mostly of Yale grad students and professors. A couple of Russian undergrad students, including myself, were present.

In Russia, Dr. Vike-Freiberga is usually portrayed as a stern, anti-Russian leader who made miserable the lives of many Russians living in Latvia. I went to that meeting hoping that maybe Russian media actually exaggerated their portrayal.

Dr. Vike-Freiberga is a very charismatic, well-spoken lady who seems to be able to make the audience happy. In the beginning, she talked a lot about Latvian history and of it being annexed and occupied by the USSR. Most Russian media disagree with that, but I believe she absolutely right describing the Soviets as ruthless invaders. The USSR (NOT Russia) did invade Latvia. But a side note: isn’t’ this how most of the world history is made anyway?

Dr. Vike-Freiberga’s hostility towards USSR/Russia is sadly based on her country’s history in general and her family’s history in particular. At the same time, Russians suffered just as much (and, as one of the guest who was siding with the Latvians admitted in a private discussion after a talk, Russians had suffered much more). Her family was escaped to Germany to avoid the Nazis; my grandfathers, both in Russia and Ukraine, were killed in the concentration camps.

During her two terms at the office, Latvia joined the EU and NATO – which is a big achievement for a post-Soviet country. Well that’s all warm and fuzzy and the audience was feeling happy for a small nation re-gaining its national sovereignty and pride.

Things got heated when the issue of the Russians in Latvia was raised. 20% of the Latvian population are Russian. Many never learned a word of Latvian, because they simply never had to. Everybody (including ethnic Latvians) spoke Russian in the USSR, of which Latvia used to be part. Schools and universities were taught in Russian; office and government work was done in Russian. Latvian was one of the official national languages of the USSR — along with Russian. Any Russian speaker has as many rights to speak Russian in Latvia as he did to speak Latvian. Most preferred Russian though, since it was a lingua franca of all fifteen republics of the USSR. In many mixed Russian-Latvian marriages, Russian was a language of choice for spouses and children.

These days when Latvia is a sovereign state, there is a clear attempt on the government’s part to oust Russians and Russian speakers out of the country. This campaign was largely initiated by Dr. Vike-Freiberga, who (coincidentally, of course) possesses an interest in linguistics and Latvian folklore.

Now, in order to obtain a job, the Russians have to pass what Dr. Vike-Freiberga referred to at that meeting as ” a minimal language proficiency exam.” She also claimed that “if someone lives in a country, they should speak a language of that country.” That “minimal” exam requires fluency in a language. And most developed countries have either no state language (e.g., the U.S, where people manage to live without speaking a word of English and where speaking Spanish is often an essential skill for employment in some parts of the country), or state programs that allow immigrants to learn the language (Germany, Israel, you name it).

Interestingly enough, after my questions to Dr. Vike-Freiberga, several Yalies approached me to discuss the issue. Russia was often portrayed as “the evil one” in this case, but many Yalies changed their understanding of the matter after that meeting.  Yay for breaking stereotypes!


How My Super-Yale-Like Corporate Internship Turned Into Being a TV Correspondent and a TV Anchor

I have a Hong Kong visa in my traveling passport. I set my debit card so it could be used in Hong Kong. I had a uber-prestigious corporate paid internship in Hong Kong. And then one person at Yale decided I couldn’t go. I will vent extensively later, when I have all the complete information.

And so I needed something to do in Russia over the summer. I showed up at a local TV station and told them they want me to be their intern. The magic of Yale University helped. Now I write news for the local radios, write texts for the evening news, and make completely my own features shown on the evening news at the local (but large) TV station. Oh, and I am an anchor – just occasionally. So much for wanting a corporate internship.

PS: I am also writing for a local newspaper. Apparently, not all of us Yalies go on the cool internship in exotic locales (who would have thought, right?)


Russian Yalie Encounters Disheartening Welcome at Russian Immigration

I have been in Russia for a while, busy re-uniting with the family and long-lost friends. I was supposed to have an internship in Hong Kong this summer, but things got immensely messed up (more venting on my part will come in a much more detailed post later), so for the next month I am a correspondent of a local newspaper, a TV anchor and a host of my own TV show (a little one, but still, a real one). Things are keeping me busy, so I don’t really have time to blog, but here is an interesting observation about Russia.

If a holder of an American passport or a Green Card flies into the US, they go through customs much faster than all those unlucky visa holders. The queues are always shorter, there seem to be more immigration officers on hand, and the smiles they dispense at the citizens are always nicer (NB: my personal observation, not a documented fact). If you enter Hong Kong with a permanent resident card, you just swipe the said card through a terminal — an voila, welcome home. This trend in general is true for the rest of the world — except for Russia.

Entering the Russian Federation is much easier for the foreigners than for the citizens of the Russian Federation. I was flying into Pulkovo-2 (international abbreviation LED) — an airport in St. Petersburg, which is dominated by the Russians returning from their European vacations. There are only two immigration booths for the Russians, while there were four or five for the foreigners.

The extremely unfriendly, sulking immigration officer (by the way, the ones working with the foreigner did smile at them; I tried taking a picture to prove, but was yelled at by the local security agents) went through an extensive number of visas in my passport and muttered something like, “why the f*** do you travel so much” (quoted verbatim, translation mine). She asked me how I “dared studying at the foreign university.” (because Moscow State is so much better than Yale, of course!) Then she asked me why my traveling passport looks worn-out. (because I travel a lot? An obvious answer). Then she finally — and very reluctantly — let me into my own country. I didn’t know if I should show extreme gratitude I was reluctantly allowed into my motherland — that’s what their demeanor suggested.

Welcome home, I guess.

PS: Apparently, Russia is actually one country with Belarus — or at least a union with it, according to the sign above the immigration booth at Pulkovo-2.