Beware of taxi drivers who sing: The taxi I used Saturday night was driven by gregarious Russian man, perhaps in his early 60s, who regaled me with his fine baritone voice. He also claimed to have been a champion weightlifter and gestured to me to feel his biceps. Having successfully entertained me, he apparently felt perfectly justified in charging me way more than the standard fare. But I was entertained and we did share a few belly laughs.
Be prepared for misunderstandings: Using another taxi later that evening, I engaged in a labored conversation in Russian with the driver. At one point, after I conceded what was obvious—that I only know a very little Russian—he asked how long I had lived here. I told him six months, but mistakenly used the word that means years, not months. He turned and looked at me as if to say, “You’ve been here for six years and that’s all the Russian you know?”
Vegetarians are forewarned: A vegetarian dish here is one in which there is no visible meat, which does not preclude a meat broth or the use of animal fat. For an otherwise poor nation, the local diet suffers from no lack of animal protein, which is even incorporated into many of the salads. I have eaten more meat in the last month and a half than I did in the preceding two or three years combined (and am developing a fondness for Turkish kabobs made with spiced mutton).
Revealing answers: After a discussion about how children are socialized, I asked a female student who appeared knowledgeable about childrearing whether she was a mother. Her incredulous response: “I’m not married!”