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Feature Story September 4, 2003
 
Serfin' USA: Duped Russkies
By Jake Rudnitsky Browse author Email
 
Page 4 of 6
 
Several members of the group were conspiring to walk out of their jobs when I visited in early August, but of course they weren't serious. No employee in the history of fast food has ever been stupid enough to think that he was anything except completely expendable, and these Russians were no exception. It's not like they had anywhere to go and, besides, there were those pesky loans to repay.

Clearly they just wanted a chance to vent. "The work is horrible, but what are you going to do?" said Dasha, who never considered walking out. "The thing I really don't get is what's with this 'have it your way.' What difference does it make whether it comes without the lettuce?" Her point was that the conditions didn't really matter, because the only reason they were there was to make money. Certainly their lives didn't look like the brochures they had seen, no doubt filled with smiling kids posing in front of Mount Rushmore and the like. But it's understandable that some of the kids were kind of shocked by that; most of them come from towns that McDonald's hasn't made it to and they probably only realized Big Macs don't look so juicy in real life after getting trained in at the Whopper station.

The issue they were organizing around was that Yulia had complained to her manager of davlenie, a mysterious non-illness that only Russian women are affected by. The manager didn't do anything and Yulia ultimately walked home and called a hospital. The hospital, either terrified of litigation or thinking she had a stroke and couldn't speak properly, actually picked her up in an ambulance and gave her some tests. While she generally agreed with Max that not much was different here, she did concede, "The medical care here really is professional. Back home the doctors keep you waiting and are so rude, but here it's pleasant to go to the hospital." Having an ambulance come to her door (for free!) must have really impressed her; I wouldn't be surprised if she visited a few more times before her visa expires.

A couple of them, dismayed by how little they had earned, were entertaining notions of staying as illegals past their visa. Vadim, in particular, wanted to stay until he made as much as he had initially planned. He talked of vague business ideas and how money begets money, but he hadn't given any thought to the actual mechanics of staying in the US. "What's he going to do, live in the woods?" Seryozha asked. "He'll leave like the rest of us."

Many of them seemed homesick. The girls were more open about discussing it, but it was clear that they all missed the motherland, no matter how similar the US seemed to be. Not being able to drink on the streets was a popular subject to harp on, as was the drinking age. Of course, what these conversations were really about was not being able to pick up a 30 cent beer and hang out with people of their own choosing. And, if they were going to go home with anything in their pockets, they couldn't afford those outrageous American prices.

With the exception of the Asian Max, whose X-Box would be totally useless back in Altai, they only spent money on things they could get here cheaply and take home with them. Basically they'd just written off their time here as a means to accumulate a tiny pool of capital, and I doubt they would have altered their behavior even if they were poised to make thousands rather than hundreds.

Most conversations about Americans revolved around banal observations -- why there were so many flags or what they did to the grass to make it so lush. Beyond that, they didn't show much interest in Americans, whom they found to be extremely dull. The one exception, voiced by all the guys, was curiosity about all the black chicks they work with. I've noticed that about Russians here -- they tend to be drawn to blacks as a kind of antidote to white America's beigeist culture. Something about them reminds them of back home. Even X-Box Max, who was often hard to disengage from the screen, was curious, "Do they really like to fuck as much as they pretend?" Apparently a few fat black co-workers thought the idea of a Chinese Russian was pretty hot, but he wasn't quite sure how to handle it as he could barely understand a word the sisters said.


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