One sunny afternoon I was down in the Harbourfront waiting on a bar to open up. Although the sun was pumping out rays, the temperature was easily hovering around -25 degrees Celsius, so I sought cover in an antiques shop to warm up and waste some time.
In the back, on what I assume was an antique chesterfield, an older couple lounged in the late afternoon sunlight. The old gal jumped to her feet, and spoke at once. As soon as I heard her, I knew that she was showing me some trademark eastern European hospitality. "Welcome! Welcome!" and the likes.
I unwittingly made the mistake of opening up the conversation with one of the tried-and-true workhorses of shallow conversation: "Sure is a cold one out there today, eh?"
Everyone uses that line. It's a staple. Sometimes when I meet people I open with the pat answer to the 'cold enough?' question without ever having been asked--that's how often I hear it.
B- "It certainly is!"
A- "Isn't it, though?"
As I found out, with Siberians the weather is never, ever, as cold as it once was back in the Motherland.
B- "Sure is a cold one out there today, eh?"
S- (from over on the chesterfield)"Bah. You don't know cold."
B- "Well. . .I grew up in the snow belt. Nothing ever seems colder than those mornings I spent waiting for the bus. Ha ha ha! It might have had somethin. . ."
S- "Bah. In Siberia, it is always dark. It is always cold. Canada--winters are warm."
Sure, sure, sure. And in Siberia you had to pull your brothers and sisters to a Gulag by dogsled, barefoot, while the KGB listened in on a bug via Sputnik. The Russians are a grim people sometimes.
S- "Look at this."
The old fella gestured limply at a large painting on the wall.
It was a dramatic grey-toned work depicting a boat smashed on a rocky reef, in the shadow of some menacing fjord. In the foreground, a Russian sailor was in his final death throes.
S- "That's Siberia. That's how cold it is."
S- "You couldn't handle it. You are too weak; Canada is warm."
Can't argue that. I wasn't about to drive Dilton, my Smart, into the Harbour and see if I could match S's portrait of true Siberian suffering at the hands of Russia's Old Man Winter. I much prefer our pussy Canadian version of Old Man Winter.
Lesson learned: don't argue the cold with a Russian--they'll always trump you. Siberia. Leningrad. Stalingrad. Those dudes have seen some pretty seriously shitty winters.
. . . doesn't really mean they should get to whine about it for decades. I mean, I've done my fair share of shoveling, and you don't see me hammering myself on a cross.
um. Do the KGB still use Gulags?