Menu Close

Ilya annoys a stranger, chapter 376

I believe that I have established elsewhere in this blog that I hold very close relationship between verbs affront and confront. As in, when something affronts me, I am usually not very shy in confronting the perpetrator of the deed. Here is the latest example. (Those who don’t believe it is ever appropriate to speak your mind to a stranger can feel free not to read on.)

You know how when you go to a museum or a gallery, there are always rules on what you are not supposed to do. No food. No pets. No loud talking. No videotaping. No photography. Etc.

I am all for breaking the rules once in a while, but when I enter someone else’s premises I feel an obligation to respect whatever restrictions are imposed on me. I lower my voice inside religious shrines. I get my kids to finish their ice-cream before stepping inside. I keep my video- and photo-equipment off unless it is clearly permitted to take pictures or record.

And I get positively appalled when other people disrespectfully flout the rules.

The other day, we went to Salvador Dali and his wife’s castle in nearby Pubol. Inside the castle, photography is permitted, but only without flash. I find the reasons of preservation that stand behind such restriction perfectly valid. Enough of the world’s cultural heritage gets lost to time and neglect as it is; ensuring that a painting keeps its vibrant colors and lives longer is certainly worth more than having a perfect flash-filled jpeg somewhere in your archives.

Anyway, our trip to the castle coincides with a visit by a large Russian-speaking group. Besides the usual “we are the most important people here” attitude that the group and its guide exude (not specific to Russians, by the way; Japanese are often the worst, in my experience, but any nationality of tourists seems to gravitate towards obnoxious and insufferable when traveling in groups), this particular group is full of snapshot enthusiasts.

One woman snaps a picture of the tiles painted by Dali. The built-in flash goes off. The young attendant in the room approaches her with an emphatic “No flash” gesture. She explains to him in broken English – not Spanish – that her camera does not have a flash function at all. He does not speak English, so he repeats his “No flash”, while she continues to plead her innocence.

I don’t have to interfere, but I don’t want the woman to keep shooting either. I politely tell her in Russian, “You know, your flash really went off just now”. She nods at me semi-distractedly and puts her camera away. The kid attendant realizes that I came to his assistance and gives me a big smiling Gracias.

Enters her husband. He was in the adjoining room, but got the whiff of something going on. He pops in by the attendant and very assertively – in a slightly better English than his wife’s – starts explaining that the camera in question is simply not equipped with a flash. The young kid points to his eyes, while saying in Spanish, “But I saw it go off with my own eyes”. Wilting under the forceful assault, he points to me, the eyewitness.

The husband looks at me inquisitively, and I am compelled to say that the flash really did go off.

He forgets the boy and rounds up on me. The rest of the conversation is carried out in Russian.

“Why are you interfering?”

I can’t think of a better response than the truthful:
“Because you are making up an excuse for something that I don’t want you to carry on”.

He moves it up a notch:
“Are you accusing me of lying?”

“Or possibly you do not know how your camera works…”, I shrug my shoulders in a way that I hope indicates that I do not find further conversation worthwhile.

The guy realizes that himself. But he already worked himself up to not be able to refrain from an insult. He picks a mild one:
“That’s so Russian of you – to interfere when you’re not involved”.

I never believed that to be the identifying Russian trait, so I muster another response.
“I think it’s a lot more Russian to do something untoward and then attack others because of that”.

That is the last straw.
“You’re calling me a Russian? Just look at me!”

With that, he turns away and walks into the other room, calling me a “cad” and a “bastard”. I let that slide, trying to figure out the significance of his final indignation. Later on, together with my friends, we settle on the implication that wearing shorts and having marginally Jewish facial features should have clearly identified him as a Jewish-Russian-American. I never wear shorts outside of the context of a beach, so I guess I deserved being disdainfully called a “Russian”.

The kid attendant gave me another ear-to-ear smile and thumbs up. I weakly shrugged my shoulders.

Embarrassing, I know.

Posted in Apropos


  1. Vince

    I’ll second Janiece. You weren’t nasty, you weren’t obnoxious, the flash went off, you explained. As for “That’s so Russian of you – to interfere when you’re not involved” – what a ridiculous response.

  2. Ilya

    Kostyan, “cad” is as near translation of Russian “хам” as I can find.

    Janiece, Vince, thanks for the support. My embarrassment is mostly about how the behavior of my erstwhile compatriots reflects on me. While disregard for rules is not a domain of one single nationality, only a Russian – regardless of whether he lives in Russia or is an emigré – would start a ruckus trying to prove that the fault lies with someone else.

    Or, maybe, I am just more attuned to such digressions because I can’t help but pay extra attention when I hear Russian being spoken…

  3. jason

    For what my opinion is worth, I don’t think you did anything wrong. On the contrary, you did something good: you helped out the poor museum attendant who has a difficult job to do. I’ve been known to do that sort of thing myself.

    It’s unfortunate that it led to a confrontation with the woman’s husband, but that’s what happens when people are caught doing something against the rules. They get defensive and act like even bigger jerks.

Comments are closed.