I Think Your American is Broken

We’re now halfway through the holiday season here in Moldova and I’m
tired. On Monday, our host family had their second New Years party
of the first New Year they celebrate (and it was my third as the
Mayor’s office in which I work had a New Years party). So on Tuesday
when my host father was insisting that I go with him to a sauna with
a few of his work friends I was pretty sure I didn’t want to go. I
told my host mother, Larisa, this and explained that I had no
interest in drinking anything other than water, tea and maybe some
juice until I get back to the US, she assured me that this was just a
sauna and not a party. Astonishingly she then told me about the last
time that she went to the sauna, got really drunk and was dancing
outside of the pool when she slipped on the tile and hit her head.
She said that it really hurt and rubbed the back of her head.
Knowing that my host father would be disappointed in not being able
to show off his American to his friends I decided that I would go,
but I pledged that I would not drink anything knowing that my head
would hurt like Larisa’s the last time she went to the sauna.

When we left the house, running a bit late, it had been snowing for a
couple of hours and my host father’s beat up 1986 Mercedes-Benz rear-
wheel-drive station wagon was struggling (I can’t wait until Pimp My
Ride moves to Moldova – our car needs some serious pimpin’). Driving
through the village is usually hampered by the fact that the roads
aren’t paved and have huge gullies where tire tracks and run-off rain
cut deep, but Colea (my host father) was determined to get to the
sauna on time and I got to experience something similar to a rally
car experience. Once out of the village and on the open road Colea
drove at breakneck speeds on a snow covered road, slamming on the
breaks and cutting the wheel where bomb-crater sized potholes were
deposited on the road. My hands were tightly clenched, holding on to
the seat and I alternated between looking out of the side window,
looking at my lap only occasionally looking up when I felt the car
sliding so I could see what we were going to hit. I generally
refrained from looking out the windshield to confirm that we were in
fact moving as fast as it felt like we were. Fortunately, the car
and Colea’s driving skills held up and we made it to the sauna.

In the sauna, I was relieved to see that it was just Colea, myself,
two other gentleman and the wo sons of one of the gentlemen of which
one speaks decent English. I spent some time in the sauna and one
time jumped in the pool to cool down, but the water was of a dense
green color and I decided that I’d just take a seat on a chair and
watch some Russian TV and wait until Colea was ready to go. And then
5 other guys showed up, all armed with vodka. And then another 6
showed up, though they not only carried vodka, but also had cognac,
wine and beer. That was distressing. The situation became more
distressing when these guys, not exactly the Adonis’s of Moldova,
stripped to their tighty-whites, changed into speedos or just decided
to wear nothing at all. My favorite was a guy with an enormous
belly, tighty-whities that long ago the elastic waistband surrendered
and a mouthful of gold teeth. My least favorite was a guy that fit
the description of the guy above, except HE gave up on the tighty-
whities.

It was kind of entertaining watching these guys use the pool and
sauna as it was clear that this was a luxury of the highest order.
Colea particularly like the swimming pool. He and a few of the other
guys performed dives and backflips that increased in complexity and
decreased in grace as the night wore on. This was a wading pool,
just barely chest level at the deepest point and only about 20’ long
and 8’ wide. For whatever reason, they insisted on diving in from
the side where they had no room instead of the ends where while it
wasn’t deep, there was no danger of hitting the wall on the other
side. It was almost as if I were watching some sort of contest where
the first one to paralyze himself won and they all really, really
wanted to win. Fortunately no one won.

And the the food arrived. After sitting at the table and eating a
little bit the shot glasses started getting passed out and I decided
that I’d made him happy enough by coming here, I’m not drinking and
started the long and tedious task of refusing drinks. They were
confused and a little angry.
“Why isn’t he drinking?”
“He understands me? Really? Why aren’t you drinking?”
“Ok, no vodka. How about some cognac? Wine? Beer? But Americans
drink beer!”

I agreed that I would have a small glass of beer for the first toast
and that I wouldn’t drink after that. For the next 7 hours, I
refused what must have been 30 rounds of shots. This consisted of
verbally refusing (I just don’t want it; I’m taking medication; I
don’t feel well; I have to work tomorrow…), physically refusing
(moving the glass away after they give it to me anyway; putting my
hand over my glass so that can’t pour anything into it) or just
leaving the room for a little while when I see another round brewing.

I was stuck between being frustrated by the fact that I was there
much, much, much longer than I wanted to be, frustrated that they
wouldn’t accept that I wouldn’t drink, and frustrated that I was
disappointing them so much because I was not only not drinking, but
wasn’t using the sauna either. I was also starting to get a little
worried that while I was refusing shots of Vodka, Colea wasn’t and he
was my ride home.

Finally, at 12:30, Colea decided that it was time to go home. It is
Moldovan tradition to drink something at the door on the way out, a
“one for the road” kind of thing. Again they were disappointed and
by this point confused and bewildered by their first experience with
an American who essentially refused them at each and every turn.
Unfortunately Colea did accept a parting shot.

We got in the car and he started off down the road at a reasonable
speed…until he found the headlights and then we took off, sliding
all over the road. After a minute, I decided that I would break the
universal and strictly enforced rule of all PC volunteers and go
ahead and drive a car. If they find out and want to send me home, so
be it. I asked him to stop and told him that I’d like to drive. He
was shocked and excited, not because he was drunk and didn’t want to
drive, but because he’s been trying to get me to drive since I’ve
been here. I pulled back on the road and started the drive home,
constantly explaining to him, that no I didn’t want to go any faster
and occasionally stomping on the gas pedal and making the car slide
around a bit to demonstrate that it was icy. About a half an hour
later we made it home and I finally agreed to have a drink with him -
a cup of tea before bed.

I Think Your American is Broken

caricw

Butler, United States

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Artist's Description

An America volunteer takes a trip to a Moldovan sauna with a group of drunk Russians.

Artwork Comments

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