Sunday, September 22, 2013

Hunting for Spaniards in Russia

A recent exam by the State Department categorized my Russian abilities as "Intermediate Minus," so I figured it would be easier to befriend Spanish-speaking Russkis than to rely on my error-riddled Russian.  With a Russian-speaking American in tow, the hunt for hispanohablantes brought us to a tapas bar in the heart of Moscow, which was hosting an end of summer party for Spaniards.  As expected, the gathering drew an eclectic mix of Spaniards and Russians, but people were still pretty confused by the two Americans in their midst.  I'm really not sure my emphatic "nyet" convinced the suspicious Catalan that we were not spies. 

After three months away from Spain, I was excited to order up some Spanish food, even if I had to navigate a Cyrillic menu to do it.  However, when I didn't recognize the waiter's accent, I found myself ordering in a mix of Spanish, Russian, and English, changing languages mid-sentence until we were both thoroughly confused.  But when I saw him drinking red wine on the job, I knew he had to be a Spaniard.

Me: Where in Spain are you from?
Dude: I'm from La Habana!
Me: You're Cuban?!  But you're drinking at work!
Dude: I'm the owner.  I can do whatever I want.

And just to prove it, he poured us free shots of orujo, a liqueur from my favorite corner of Spain, and the backbone to many a night out and pig slaughter in Galicia. 

Tortilla, gambas al ajillo, and manchego cheese

The nostalgia was amplified even further when the next bartender to help us claimed to be GalicianWhen I excitedly starting telling him about the year I spent in Santiago de Compostela, he had to clarify that his parents are Galician, but he was born and raised in Havana as well.  That was probably for the best because the next thing I did was try to speak Galician at him.  Had my old roommates Javi and Iago been around, they could have clarified that I was actually speaking mangled Italian.  However, I did manage to impart some Spanish cultural knowledge when I asked if they served kalimotxos.

Bartender: What the hell is a kalimotxo?
Me: It's a Basque drink!
Bartender: Okay, what's in it?  I can make anything.
Me: So it's actually just red wine and Coke. 
Bartender: All right.  [Grabbing two wine classes]
Me: Nope, not that classy, just regular glasses. It's what high school kids drink in parks.

The bartender whipped up two excellent Cuban kalimotxos and Molly and I settled in for some people watching.  We were really curious about one of the other bartenders, who bore a striking resemblance to a genie with his gold earring and ample belly. 

Me: Is his name all Ns or all Is? I can't tell.  [His nametag read: НИНИ]
Molly: It's Nini.  Oh my god, NINI THE GENIE!

We waved Nini over and asked him for his life story, which also began in Cuba.  He asked me where I was from, and I decided to make him guess to see where he placed my accent.  When he guessed "Colombia or Argentina," I nearly bear-hugged him in excitement.  When I told him I was American, he demanded to see my passport as proof.  As my passport is currently in the hands of Russian bureaucrats, I had to show him my California driver's license, which he accepted dubiously.

Нини the Genie (gold earring not pictured)

I have already promised Nini we are coming back in a few weeks to celebrate my birthday.  But I am crashing a Mexican meet-up on Wednesday, so I guess I shouldn't rule out the possibility that I'll have a new Spanish-speaking contingent by then.


  1. Hilarious! I wish I could get someone to guess I was from Spain or any other Spanish-speaking country! Seriously!

    1. He probably just knew it would guarantee him a tip :) Based on my time in Spain, I think it's pretty safe to say I don't sound like a native speaker!