Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Policeman on a train

Generally speaking, Russian policeman (or militiamen, or whatever) are supposed to be scary. The first time I came to Russia, for work, the head of the office in Moscow told me that if I saw the police I should walk very quickly in the opposite direction. He even thought it necessary to give me his phone number in case I got into trouble. Clearly, Moscow was a dangerous place.

Except of course, the policemen I spoke to on that visit, after ignoring his advice (unintentionally - I just forgot), were very helpful, laughed at my feeble attempts at Russian and generally didn't try to steal all my money (or in fact any of my money). Still, if you read the guidebooks, they still tell you never to show a policeman your real passport (in case they take it off you), and to pretend to call your embassy if they start asking too many questions.

So when I got on the train to St Petersburg a week ago, and found myself in a compartment with two militia people, I wasn't very amused. The younger one (in his mid-20s) launched into a long speech about something or other, of which I understood absolutely nothing, and told him so. He smiled and said, "it's alright, you don't have to do anything", and then, since it was by now obvious that I was a foreigner, we started on the normal topics of conversation. After a while he inevitably asked me what I was doing in the country. Unfortunately my face unconsciously twists in some peculiar way whenever anyone asks me about real life, and he thought he had offended me. He held up his hands and said, "no, no, I'm not asking officially, I was just interested", and since I hadn't meant to evade the question in the first place, I of course explained. We talked some more about home and abroad, life etc etc, and I actually felt kind of sorry for him. He wasn't from anywhere near Moscow, and he got sent round the country to wherever, so he must have been miles away from everyone he knew. He told me that he had learnt English years ago in school, but he had never been able to practice it because no foreigners came to his home town. And then he plucked at his uniform and said, "and now foreigners won't approach me because of this". To which the only response is yes, that would do it. We carried on talking and eventually his boss said they had to go and do some work, and they both left the compartment.

After half an hour or so, the younger one came back and opened up his laptop. I was reading a book, but periodically I could hear American voices emanating from his computer, saying things like, "enemy forces sighted" and "fire". So when his boss reappeared and they both went out to do some more work, obviously I looked at his computer to see what the hell he was doing. And guess what it was? Some US video game where you go round shooting baddies - Call of Duty 2 or something.

It's somehow comforting to think that so many 20-something year old guys around the world are the same. No matter what their job, they really want to be playing video games and shooting bad guys.


  1. That's rare story - the policeman talks about life and etc with foreigner, especially in transport.

  2. a heart-touching story!