My First Wednesday in St. Petersburg, Russia

Dealing with a long-running dry spell I had gotten on Tinder my second day in St. Petersburg. Now, I have a checkered past with this particular dating app. However, I took another shot. Boy was it a doozey.

The first surprise was getting 3 matches in the first 24 hours after being quite discerning about who I swiped right on. But, here I was with a trio of attractive women who had yet to un-match me. Over the course of two days, I got one to agree to meet for drinks and hookah.

She lived nearby, and we agreed to meet at a bar in the middle. I went there, she never showed. Left standing by my lonesome, a pair of attractive young ladies, came out of the bar I was waiting to go into. It was fated.

The blonde does a double take as they walk past me to the shop up the block. “What are you doing here? Waiting for someone?”

“Yeah, waiting for a friend. What are you ladies up to?”

They were going to get some gum, but asked, “Would you like to get a drink with us at the bar while you wait for your friend.”

I had given Ekaterina the traditional 15 minute grace period I give any date before declaring myself stood up. That being said, I also just think it’s nice to be invited places by two women. Having traveled I knew the kind of night I was in for and was excited to see it through.

The basement bar was dim with plush furniture, bumping music, and TVs obviously dedicated to karaoke. We sat at a table with my back to the bar. The ladies order Long Islands, and I a GnT. I think their names were Aleksandra (Blondie) and Reina (Pinkie). The bartender brings over 2 mics to for the ladies. They sang a song that I didn’t understand with an accompanying video that made less sense. Later in the evening, Aleksandra convinced me to sing Bon Jovi’s It’s My Life with her, I stupidly gave in.

Pink haired Reina came out of her shell as the night wore on, asking, “Why come Russia? What’s your favorite color? Do you like cats or dogs? How long you here? What was your favorite course in school?” and many more riveting questions. Around the second drink, Blondie was distracted by something on her phone, looking up occasionally to answer one of Pinkie’s questions. Let’s call the quality of conversation that of basic and intermediate level students taking a conversational course taught by a teacher who’d rather get drunk than focus on legitimate topics.

At 22 and 19 respectively, Blondie and Pinkie weren’t interested in sleeping with me. At best, I thought they were hoping for interesting conversation and a new friend. Two drinks in Blondie suggested we get a hookah. I concur since that was my original plan for the evening. A third drink and few rounds of puff, puff, pass and we’re over it all, ready to go our separate ways. Then the real fun began.

The waitress/ bartender came over with a credit card machine asking if I was ready to pay. Though she was right next to me the screen was deliberately turned away. I had known what was up from the moment I sat down with the ladies and they ordered the most expensive drinks on the menu; “Tea scam” shined in my mind. Going through a Tea Scam can teach you a lot about a country and the way they operate with regards to foreigners. The Chinese, Thai, and Czech versions all revealed something interesting about the society I was in.

“Can I see the bill?”

“You pay now,” said with a level a sternness that made my dick jump up and pay attention.

“Can I see the bill first?” as I stared into her eyes trying to imply, ‘I know what you’re doing’.

She returned with the bill, 13,300 Rubles – at September 12th, 2018 exchange rates that equaled just shy of $200.00. I was expecting around $100.00 worth of scam, but instead, they decided to exceed my expectations. “How do you pay? Card or Cash?”

“Huh, well I think there’s a mistake. But, I’ll be paying for myself with cash,” knowing I had only 1,600rub on me, no wallet, no cards, just my license, and a growing desire to sprint out of the front door.

Pinkie and the Blonde sat quietly talking amongst themselves as if there wasn’t a bill the size of a child laborer’s yearly wage on the table.

With an underlying tone of, ‘you’ll get your ass kicked’, “You pay now. Cash or Card.”

Ignoring the voice of my future wet dreams, “Ladies, it seems we have a problem here.”

“What’s problem? You pay bill we want to go home now,” Blondie says with an air of I know you have the money just fork it over dumb American. Which honestly, it felt kind of nice to know she thought I was just swimming in money.

“I want to go home too. But, here’s the issue. She says we owe 13,300rub. Does that seem right to you?” I asked drawing the attention to the prices on the bill itself versus the menu below it on the table. “On the menu, the price is 550 for a Long Island, on the bill it says each is 1,200. That doesn’t make sense. 300 for a song seems a bit much, and 3,000 ($45) for hookah, it doesn’t even appear on the menu.”

Feigning surprise, “I not sure. I ask,” Blondie rolls into brief convo in Russian with the waitress who could be a dominatrix in her free time.

I can only imagine the exchange was:

Blondie: “Shit he has noticed the prices don’t match up, what should I tell him?”

Waitress: “Um fuck if I know. The Long Islands were doubles”

B: “I don’t think he’ll buy that.”

W: “Does it look like I give a flying fuck?”

B: “Fine, I’ll tell him.” Returning to English, “The drinks were tall so they cost more, and the shisha was a special one. That why it cost that much.”

I laughed, “That doesn’t make any sense. This is obviously a scam. I’m going to call the cops and they can help sort this out,” I stood up to head for the door to get service. As I did a bouncer: we’ll call him Ivan, appeared out of nowhere and bolted for the door closing it and standing in front of it to block my escape. The other times I had run into this scam the magic words were, “I’m calling the cops.” However, this time they had no effect on the situation. I called Julia the one friend who’s number I had: a 20-year-old translator who’s dating my friend/ roommate, and fill her in on the key points. She talked to Ivan.

I: “Russian, Russian”…. “Knee-yet,” deep breath in, “Russian, Rus…” Sigh. Frustration visibly growing in his shoulders, “Knee-yet! Russian, Russian, Russsssiiian,” Seeming like he was losing the argument or at least needing numbers to back up his point he called over another man from the recesses of the room to man the door as he headed behind the bar to read off the list of charges in gruff Russian. I stood by the door as bouncer two: we’ll call him Anatole, nervously sized me up. Being half my size he knew there would be little he could do to stop me if I decided to leave. His nerves gave me confidence. They weren’t looking to fight me, just scam me.

Ivan and my phone returned, Julia: “See if they will come down on the price. There really isn’t much I can do. They say the price is the price.”

Me: “Soooo, this isn’t one of those I threaten to call the cops and the let me go situations?”

J: “Sorry, no, I don’t think so. I know Dom (BF/ Roommate’s friend) was caught in one of these before. Let me see if I can find out how he got out of it.”

I thank her for her efforts and return to the bar, “Hi, yeah, so this bill is way more than I have on me.”

Waitress: “You pay now.”

“I only have 1,600 on me,” I hand her my cash and show that all I have is my license.

Disappointed she counts the cash, “You need more, this not enough”

“Well, that’s all I have.”

Holding up the money, “This not enough.”

Snatching my money and ID back, “What should I do?”

“Talk to girls, you must pay.”

The girls had changed tables and were talking as if nothing was going on. “So, here’s the deal ladies. I only have 1,600 and the bill is 13,000 what are we going to do?”

Blondie: “You pay.”

“Why should I pay for you two?”

“Stop playing, you pay!” I had struck a nerve.

Pinkie: “No, no, calm down. Russian, Russian, Russian.”

B: “We sit and have a good time with us and you pay.”

“No, no, no, no, no,” this was not a good enough time to pay for, “I never said I would pay for you.”

B: “You come with us, you pay,” her frustration was palpable and my number of fucks to give about how she felt had gone from 0.025 to 0.000 real quick.

“Hahahaha, yeaaah no. You never asked me to pay for you. If you had, I would’ve said no.”

She did not like that, “You are man, you pay. You have good time with us, now you pay.”

Laughing directly in her face, “Nope! I’m not paying for you.”

Feeling insulted flames spark in her eyes, “You are man, we are girls. Man pay! You pay now! I no PAY!!” Blondie was bordering on full tantrum.

Pinkie interjects, “Calm, Russian, Russian, Russian”

Regaining some composure, “If you no want pay for us you have tell us when we sit down.”

Smiling, “Ooooohhhh, Noo, no, no, no. If you wanted me to pay for you, You should’ve said that when we sat down.” She really didn’t appreciate me pointing at her for the second, “You”.

B: “You pay. We stay and drink because you invite us to drink.”

“Haha, nope! You invited me to drink. By that logic, you pay.”

Fighting her internal rage, “If you no come we have one drink and go home. We drink with you, you pay!”

This continues until they lie and say they only have 50rub between them.

Finger of silence to the nonsense that was being spewed in my direction from the girls as Julia calls, “Hey, what’s the word?”

J: “So Dom just paid what he could and left.”

Me: “How much of it was that?”

J: “Well, he paid all of it and they let him go.”

Me: “Well that’s not gonna happen since I only have a small fraction of the bill. Soooooooo, yeah. We’ll see how this goes.”

Julia offers to transfer the full amount and since I didn’t want to drop 200.00 dollars on a 12.50 night, I assured her I’d find another way. I go to the bartender, “They don’t have any money and I’m not paying for them. Do you have a pen?” After minor confusion over what a pen was, I circle all charges that apply to me. One Long Island, two GnT’s, 1/3 of the hookah = 2,800rub. My math clearly displayed on the receipt, “This is what I owe,” showing my cash, “This is what I have.”

Waitress: “You pay whole shisha!”

“Nope, I won’t. I will, however, give you,” phone buzzes, “hold on.” I head back over to the door where Anatole waits trying to hide the fact that he’s thinking about me bum rushing him to get out the door, on a loop. My call gets dropped. I lean on the archway between the bar, him, and the bathrooms. Seeing I’m not on the phone he gestures for me to go back to the bar with the most adorable tough guy face he could muster. To which I just stare back with one eyebrow arched like The Rock in his hay day until he looks away defeated.

Julia and I speak briefly and, “See how little you can pay, I can transfer them money if you need me to,” was the main take away.

I went back to the bar and started to talk to the waitress about paying my share. From the other end of the bar, Ivan puffs up his chest, “Russian!, Russian!!!,” stepping toward me, “Russian!!,”

“I don’t know what you’re saying,” calmly, “Are you going to fight me if I don’t pay?” hands up don’t shoot (well there was no gun, but you get it), “I understand you’re frustrated, but I just don’t have the money.”

Ivan: “Russian! You have money, Russian!!”

Deciding to ignore the aggressive bull of a man, I return my attention to the waitress, “Is he going to fight me if I don’t pay?”

Waitress: “No he won’t fighting you.”

Having had enough of my shenanigans, Ivan B-lines for our end of the bar, with pen and paper. He writes out the same charges I had with the addition of one karaoke song, totaling 3,100 ($47 and change – still more than the night was worth). He angrily muttered Russian while writing and finished with, “You pay, it what you owe. You pay. You go.”

After confirming with the waitress I called Julia, she transferred the money and I was free to go. On my way out Blondie and Pinkie were sitting at the table closest to the door and as I passed I said, “Better luck next time,” and skipped out the door, up the stairs, and all the way home.

-Yes, I’m still on Tinder

Published by Danton Lamar

I grew up in a country that thinks it is better than it is and left because I wanted to know if the rest of the world was as crazy. These are the writings of a man trying to stay sane I'll post a story or poem every Wednesday

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