Errands, Beer, and Dried Fish

I recently rode with Sergii, who like many Ukrainians, has several different gigs at the same time in order to make ends meet.  Along the way, he helped me with my Russian, showed me a beer factory’s shop that I didn’t know about, and invited me to a picnic with his family. Sometimes your driver can teach you new things, show you new things, or even become a new friend.

Bryan: How long have you been driving for Uber?

Sergii: Just a few weeks. It’s not great. The pay is low and the roads chew up your car because they aren’t good. I just turn Uber on when I am out running errands and need to go in a certain direction. So you are going to Epicenter (note: like a Ukrainian IKEA) which is great because I need to pick up some things there too. I’m trying to remodel our kitchen.

Bryan: That worked out well then. Did you learn English while you were in school?

Sergii: No, I picked it up on my own. Reading, movies, studying when I had time. My kids are learning in school though and they speak it much better than I do. How is your Russian?

Bryan: Not so great but I try.

Sergii: OK, then for the next fifteen minutes we speak only Russian

(fifteen minutes of hilariously bad Russian ensues)

Sergii: All you need to do to improve is practice every day. Many of us speak Ukrainian and Russian but people will always understand you when you speak Russian. Plus, they will understand you in Russia, Belarus, Georgia, and other countries. I’m Ukrainian of course but I was born in Siberia.

Bryan: So you are immune to the cold then?

Sergii: I like it. My friends and I go to the sauna in the middle of the winter, jump into the snow, back into the sauna again.

Bryan: This winter I jumped into the river for epiphany.

Sergii: (shaking hands) Good! Good! Congratulations. Like a real Slav. OK, so here we are at Epicenter. I’ll pick up some things as well and then we go back into the city together, ok?

(thirty minutes of shopping ensues)

Bryan: Got everything you need?

Sergii: Yes, a lot of it I can do myself but there are some things I need a technician to do for me. Let me ask you something though – do you like beer?

Bryan: Of course, I love beer. Why?

Sergii: There is a big beer factory near here in a neighborhood called Obolon. We locals like to go and buy our beer in their shop because it is fresh and inexpensive. Want to see it?

Bryan: Sure, let’s take a look.

(five minutes pass)

Sergii: OK, here is the factory – and look there is a lady selling dried fish. I love to eat dried fish when I am drinking beer. Do you like dried fish as a beer snack too?

Bryan: Well……

Sergii: Buy just one. I think you will like it. Let’s go

(ten minutes of beer and fish shopping ensues)

Sergii: Ok we have beer and fish and are all set. Do you mind if I pick up my wife on the way back into town? Sometimes she rides with me and we keep each other company while I am driving.

Bryan: Sure, no problem.

(ten minutes pass)

Sergii: OK, there is my wife over there.

(Introductions in Russian)

Sergii: Sometime if you like, my family and I will take you to the outskirts of the city and we can have a picnic. It would also be really good for my children to have an opportunity to practice speaking English with someone who is a native speaker.

Bryan: That would be great. There is also an Old Car Festival this weekend if you want to check it out. Old cars from eastern Europe and Russia – lots of Ladas.

Sergii: You like Ladas? My first car was a Lada.  My father gave it to me.  One of my businesses is managing other drivers who take people on day trips – but no clients would be interested if they were driving Ladas!

Bryan: I like them because, with maintenance, they last a really long time.  They outlive empires.

Sergii:  Sure, but that doesn’t mean they are comfortable.  OK, let’s meet up at the festival his weekend.

Bryan: Great, see you then!