I just began working at a fast-food chain restaurant, and each of the days I was there, there were also two or three Ukranian girls at the fry-station, sandwich area and drive-thru station. I worked the cash register. In the middle of the day, there would tend to be a 'rush,' where there's more than two or three people in line at a time, for an extended period of maybe an hour or more (at our establishment, at least)--this prevented us from being able to talk much initially, not that you should be doing too much of that when you're on the clock, anyway. But over the 5 days we were there at the same time, we had the opportunity to trade some words back and forth. I "impressed" them with showing that I knew the words 'spaziba' and 'dobre utre' (I'm spelling them as they sound to me, not according to any actual standard), which mean 'thank you' and 'good morning.' I learned 'dobre veche' (good evening), 'bon scheuye spaziba' (thank you very much) and was reminded of the word I'd forgotten, 'izviñi,' which means both 'excuse me' and 'I'm sorry.' It' a very utilitarian word, thus. 'Parschallista' means both 'please' and 'you're welcome,' making it very easy to get the words right if you're just learning the language! Specifically, this language is Russian. There is a Ukranian language, but Russian is widely spoken in the country and it's the only thing I heard them speak while they were there.
They were there doing a student work-exchange over the summer. I've run into Russian college students doing that before, when I worked at a summer camp. There was a girl named Vicka who was really motivated to try to experience everything (rock wall, swimming pool, biking) while she was there, and I had the most opportunity to talk to her. Some of the other guy staffers suspected us of being interested in each other, romantically. That wasn't the case. In February, there had been some Thai girls doing a similar exchange at the same restaurant. So it seems that this is a widespread thing, where other countries send students here to work and live for a short amount of time, to have the opportunity to practice their English, interact with actual Americans, and of course see the sights. Always surprised that my small town ever gets the interest of people from far away, I nevertheless enjoy being a part of the impression that these people get of the place when they leave.
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The "more American" of the girls (spoke better English, not that the others were unable to communicate or anything) spoke up when they were all standing together and we were talking. She said, midst giggles from the other two, that 'no man can be (or is, I forget which she said) as polite as you.' This was after first asking why I was so polite. To me, I was just behaving normally, not putting on an act in order to speak with customers, although maybe putting in more effort to appear cheerful and friendly than usual, but other than that, 'what you see is what you get.' I tried to think of a reason, and gave her that it's just natural to me to be respectful like that, that it's genuine. "No men are as polite as you," she said. And now I come to the twofold impression I gained from the experience:
1. It struck me that this has happened before. It isn't something that contains itself based on geography. I've met many an American girl that treated me with suspicion for no readily explainable reason. Through the grapevine, it's come forth that people sometimes have the impression that I'm putting on a front, not being genuine, that maybe I'm hiding something. They think I'm too nice. Of all the things to have for a problem, right? People think I'm faking my personality because they can't see why I should seem so happy or pleasant to others, particularly strangers. It hurts a little, but I'm more happy that it's because of being too friendly and nice than because I come across as the opposite. I wouldn't be surprised if a great number of potential friendships or romantic relationships were prevented in the past because my demeanor motivated people to be suspicious of me. It's a loss, to be sure, but on the other hand it's inadvertently screened for people who are more confident in themselves and less judgmental of others to be the sort of people that I eventually get closer to. And lest I be remiss, this all is directly tied to my faith--or rather, my regeneration. You can really tell the difference between a saved and unsaved person by whether they have joy or whether they do not. In general, of course. I simply want to affirm that I have the outward personality that I have because I have the inside satisfaction and joy that comes from knowing the answers to the tough questions of life, and having relief in the knowledge that I know where I'm going, I know what my purpose is, and I have a healthy relationship with my heavenly Father. It isn't any more complicated than that. Which brings me to my next point.
2. Shortly after that, the young girl (they were all about 19--at 23, I feel fairly old) asked me if I was religious. For simplicity's sake, I didn't argue about the meaning of the word, and decided to answer 'yes.' I wanted to make myself understood and not confuse her. She responded, "ah, that explains it." A little while after, she asked me if I went to church and I explained that I hadn't had the opportunity to visit during college and currently didn't have a car (see earlier blog post). She said, 'aha, well you're not *really* religious, then,' and this may have been her teasing me and possibly attempting to bring some jocularity into the conversation to draw it away from the serious topic, which people can find uncomfortable, because the other girls laughed at her and implied she was messing with me. I did respond that 'well, if being religious just means you go, sit, and leave, once a week, then yeah, I'm not really religious.' So there you see that I did make a slight attempt to define the term and not imply that I was just your run-of-the-mill lame churchian, or whatever she might have had in the back of her mind because of her prior experience, when she asked.
It was a short but fascinating exchange, to me. My surprise at the declaration by the girl (and the two others emphatically agreed on that point) that I was inhumanly polite can be explained by the fact that there's very few Christians (capital C) around, and consequently most people live the bulk of their lives without really getting to see the fruit of sanctification in another person. So what's the reason why I was so polite and why they were so confounded by my behavior so as to comment on it -- and to declare that no other man on earth was as polite as me, no less? It comes down to Christ and His grace. His gospel. It always comes back to that. He is at the root of it all.
So that was a little way in which I might have 'witnessed,' recently. Not something extremely remarkable, since I didn't exactly have (take?) the opportunity to share the full Gospel with them, but I'm hoping God will take that memory and use it to bring fruit in their lives when the moment is right in the future.
~ Rak Chazak