They are huge, dressed in black leather, and one of the two is shouting at me in Russian as they’re striding toward me in the quiet street. I don’t understand Russian and I’m instantly aquiver. Russian sounds so not nice when spoken in that tone.
Should I run?
Photo © Aleksandr Frolov
Responsible expats try not to offend or annoy the people in their host country, and I, Miss Footloose, like to think I’m one of them. But this Moldovan guy all in black leather does not appear amused by me, going by his voice and body language. What is wrong? What did I do? I’m a peaceful Dutch person in a peaceful street in Chisinau, the capital of Moldova.
I have a camera in my hand, and a moment ago it was pointed at one of two big motorcycles parked in the shade under a tree. Clearly these two are the owners, and clearly they find me suspicious.
Why am I taking a photo of a black motorbike? What is so interesting about that?
Well, have a look at the photo. Darling, isn’t it? Those pretty bows on that studly bike! I thought the contrast charming, so I took a snapshot. I know why these bikes are so decorated: They’re part of a bridal party. Just around the corner I’d passed a stretch limousine the size of a train that was similarly festooned with ribbons and bows.
The two dudes in black have reached me and the biggest one keeps talking to me in unfriendly Russian. I offer him my most helpless look and tell him I don’t understand and then I add my most innocent smile and point at the bike.
“Frumos,” I say, miraculously finding a word in my brain. Frumos means pretty or nice in Romanian, the official language of Moldova. I raise my eyebrows asking for confirmation and bravely keep on smiling. All I can think of to do now is to act innocent of evil doing, which I am. “Frumos!” I repeat and show them the picture on my camera.
They look. They ponder. They smile.
Halleluja. I walk off.
Two days later, on another peaceful street, I’m getting in a taxi to go home from running errands. As I slide into the back seat I tell the driver my address. The driver turns around and smiles at me, his blue eyes all shiny and friendly. He says something to me in Romanian but I have no clue what he means. I tell him my address again, just in case that’s what he’s asking. It’s all that is ever necessary in a taxi. He keeps on smiling and talking and holding out his hand. I have no idea what he wants, and why he is all sugary nice and I’m beginning to feel a bit creepy.
Now, I am not totally lacking in female charms, but let me assure you that I am not a femme fatale who arouses instant lust in taxi drivers and their ilk, and certainly not in young ones.
This little scene is not how this is supposed to go. Moldovan taxi drivers generally are not the sugary sort, more like the morose sort. They just take the address for information and start driving me there. I pay on arrival, as is the custom.
This one, all honey and smiles, is still holding out his hand and talking to me, asking me something, and then, suddenly, he grabs my hand and . . . kisses it.
I yank my hand back, taken by surprise, and frown at him in distaste. “Oh, come on now!” I say in English, the words just rolling off my tongue. For a moment I’m tempted to bail out of the car, but he’s turned away and drives off.
I am creeped out. I decide I’ll jump out of the taxi at a traffic light if it looks like he’s not going where he should be going. Various unsavory scenarios float through my mind. What can I tell you, I have a fertile imagination. But without further ado Romeo drives me straight home.
Where I lock the doors and pour myself a stiff drink. Okay, that I made up.
Yes, I know, in more formal situations, in this part of the world men will sometimes kiss a woman’s hand when being introduced. Under those circumstances I would be charmed by that old-worldly gallantry. But in a taxi? Not so much.
NOTE: Just in case you’re wondering, the average Moldovan citizen is nice, friendly and helpful, and in no way weird or scary. Which goes the same for people in Uganda, East Africa where I had my scariest encounter ever, involving a drunk policeman and a Ugandan jail.
* * *
Have you had encounters of the creepy sort in foreign countries, or even in your own backyard? Do spill your tale!
Well, I’ve had some weird encounters and experiences downunder here in Australia, but I can’t top yours!! But isn’t it strange that so many traveller’s bizarre experiences revolve around taxi drivers?!?!
Taxi drivers have a job in which they can be who they are personally, I think, so you find all sorts, the good, the bad and the ugly.
My over-weight female friend vacations in Italy because she likes Italian men pinching her in public. Odd.
To each his own 😉 She’d be beautiful in places like Mauritania and Ghana.
The creepiest was when a guy on the train commented on my nice bosom! Not boobs, breasts or even tits, just bosom! I was so glad the train pulled into the station and I could get off. Weirdo!
The motorcycle with bows does look interesting.
I think your life must be exciting, never knowing what to expect. Glad nothing happened in the taxi. Do you carry a cell phone to call your husband in case something weird happens?
(I tried to edit that post, but they wouldn’t let me do it! I got a message telling me to ‘slow down’. First time anybody’s ever accused me of being fast.)
I got hugged and kissed by a Kurdish man in North Cyprus when he asked me if I was British (which 99% of the people around us were) and I said that no, I was American. He was thrilled that I was from the country that had helped his people. Which made a nice change from being despised for being from the country that bombed theirs, but was still unsettling. In Japan, a strange man crept into my room and woke me up in the wee hours, but I screamed so loud and long, he ran off. Lucky for me,… Read more »
I’m with Guyana Gyal! I thought, if it wasn’t one of the guys you met in the street, that they’d told the story and word had spread throughout town about your love of motorcylces, and the taxi driver was excited to meet the woman behind the story!
Mea culpa: I messed up as a writer and led you astray in thinking the two encounters were related. It would have made for a better story yet had it been so.
Why do men feel the need to kiss the hand of a lady?! Love your tale about the motorbike though. Glad you’re still in one piece to continue telling your tales. 🙂
Hand kissing is an old fashioned custom but rather charming, I think, under the proper circumstances. I understand that my taxi driver is considered odd and his behavior not at all the norm here in Moldova.
Great stories, both. My encounter was with a Mexican truck driver who invited me to what I thought was his home. Turned out it was a hotel and he wanted foreign relations of a different kind.
I take it you managed to escape… Apparently there is a story going around that Western women come to Mexico and Morocca and other exotic spots to enjoy foreign relations for fun and entertainment. I’ve never yet met one of those women 😉
I thought the tale was going to end this way…the taxi-driver was one of the chaps with the pretty macho-bike with the girly pink ribbon 🙂
Yeah . . . I should have made clear we were talking about two separate incidents. Sorry to disappoint you 😉
Lol you charmed a moldavian taxidriver 😉 A bit creepy yes. You don’t know what they are up too and russian man in leather jackets ould creep me out even more. You’ve got an adventourus life indeed
You may not believe this, but most of my days are quite ordinary and devoid of heart stopping adventure 😉
Ha! Can relate to creepy taxi drivers! I’m no femme fatale, but I was always mystified as to why the taxi driver thought I would want to go with a man who did not live with the benefits of running water or good dental hygiene. Ew! And taxis weren’t always well marked, and once I got into a car that WASN’T a taxi! He did take me home (or close to it…) but he kept insisting on a kiss, once it became apparent it definitely wouldn’t be anything else. Don’t worry–he didn’t get his kiss, but I was thoroughly creeped… Read more »
Taxis really can be a bit scary because you’re trapped, so to speak. Glad you avoided the kissing thing. Yikes! You did make me laugh though.
As a matter of fact, I just wrote a post on an encounter I had that I thought could potentially be my undoing, but turned out to be a favorite memory. I don’t think I would have been charmed by the hand-kiss in the taxi either. Thank goodness you got where you needed to go! And by the way, did you see a few a weeks back where I tagged you to participate in the 7 Links project? I wrote my post on 7 links and tagged you at the end of it. Just wanted to make sure you knew… Read more »