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.
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Have you had encounters of the creepy sort in foreign countries, or even in your own backyard? Do spill your tale!