Sochi’s special charm reserved for foreigners

Workmen continue construction in Sochi.
Workmen continue construction in Sochi.
Credit: Getty Images

Editor’s Note: The following piece is from the perspective of Metro World News reporter Alexey Shunaev. 

“Sochi residents have changed dramatically since the start of the Games,” Ivan, a volunteer for the Sochi Olympic Organizing Committee and inhabitant of the city, tells me. “They’ve become so sweet and polite that it makes me feel sick – not because it’s bad to be polite, but because they’re not sincere.”

Asking him why this is so, he replies, “Because they don’t know if you are foreigner or Russian. Our stupid mentality: We can severely criticize our own country, but can’t stand when other people do so. And at the same time, we can’t let foreigners think that something is bad here. So, we are polite and always smiling.”

But whether you’ll be smiled at or frowned upon depends on where you’re from, as I found out during one of my first mornings here. The cafes by the hotels are packed with foreign journalists, so, naturally, English is the waitstaff’s lingua franca. After the barista prepared my coffee and gave it to me with a smile, I said “thanks” in Russian.

“Ah, you’re Russian,” he exclaimed. “I thought you were from Sweden or Finland.”

Ten minutes later, I asked for a refill. The barista took my cup, but my second helping was tepid and tasted bad.

“I would like a hot one,” I said dryly. He looked at me, sighed and grumpily began to brew a fresh one.

Yesterday, I bumped into Ivan and told him about my coffee experience. He smiled and said, “Sorry, my friend. You’re Russian, so they don’t need to break their necks for you. If you’re not Russian, you arrive here and see that everybody smiles at you, everybody is helpful. Everything is fine.”

He added, “But some will think smiling is not enough: They can smile to make visitors think you’re OK, but at the same time they’ve poisoned the city’s stray dogs to make the streets look good. So, if I must choose between smiling and killing dogs, I prefer to smile.”

And Ivan did indeed smile.


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