I have met a few people at this gym. One morning at 7 am, in an empty gym, I spotted a guy arriving as I pounded the tread mill. He had shorts on with white hairy legs and looked as English as an English man could look, a kind of Mr Bean in Moscow. From my running machine, I asked him "are you English?" He looked at me surprised and said he was, after that we would exchange friendly conversation whenever we met. He told me he married a Russian woman and works as an accountant at one of the big ones in Moscow. There are many foreign guys here married to Russian women. I can think of far easier places to fall in love than in Moscow.
I often chat to a large man in his early 50's. He is Russian but speaks very good English. The other day he asked me if I was a football fan, not wanting to disappoint him, I lied and said I was. He told me he is a Manchester United fan. He talked to me about different matches and I would smile and nod pretending to know what he was talking about. What was more interesting was that he later told me he has a wife in America and that he goes out two times a month to see her. He has a daughter at Washing State university and a son with a drug problem. He told me he owns thirty houses there and lets them out for rent. I got the feeling he is wealthy but he is not arrogant. I know this man is the type of Russian guy who would step over my dying, bullet filled body in a bar shoot out but despite this, I like him, he is a character and I need characters to escape the monotony of the expat community and from every day life.
It's hard to make genuine friends these days and even harder when you meet them in a big city and in a gym. Characters feed the soul. The eccentric old woman who keeps nine cats, the man who has been married four times, the man who was once a mercenary in Bolivia, the women who adopted eight children and who lives in Dublin, the man who washes his car in the rain, (me) the guy who built a wind turbine on his roof, I could go on but I have always been drawn to characters and met many of these. They make our world a little less boring. Living abroad you get to meet the very dull and the very interesting.
There is a pretty girl who works at the reception at the gym. She speaks good English with a slight Russian accent and uses a lot of Americanisms. One day, I told her that her English was good, I asked her if she had studied abroad, she told me with pride that had studied in America in the land of the free. The next time we met, she spoke to me with an American accent, she sounded like a college kid from an 80's American teen movie. I thought maybe it was a different girl but it was the same girl. I found this very strange but I have noticed that many native Russians speak with American accents, they practice it as one would practice the violin to music perfection. It almost seems to be a 'must have' as one would want to buy the latest Apple, fridge freezer or iPhone. An American accent is sought after and seen as cool. I have never understood why and I never will but then again I am British so please forgive my disability. I find a Russian accent on a women very sexy and on a man cool but maybe I have watched too many old James Bond movies? Listening to over done and Californian American accents is like raw knuckles on a cheese grater to my nerves.
Sadly, this gym that I go to, is closing and changing to a new gym and a new brand. Madonna is coming to town and to St. Petersburg. She is opening two luxury gyms here in Russia called 'Hard Candy' Her face is pasted on large posters on every wall in the fitness club, she poses in a boxing ring bent down showing her tits. Tits made of gold that will either make her richer in Russia or be a total financial disaster. I will not see Mr Bean anymore or fat man but that's come and go meetings in a sea of new faces, that pass silently like ships in the night. Pity I will miss them.
The gym membership will be 160,000 rubles a year, a bit more than I paid! When I joined, the gym was 55,000 rubles (approx 1,375 British pounds) for fifteen months membership. The gym is not luxury but does the job. Its now becoming a luxury gym for yet more vile Russian stereotypes to go to. I will look for another gym. In Moscow, it seems to me you either have a choice of shit or luxury, finding a middle way in quality is not always so easy in this city of a million stereotypes and vast inequalities between mega rich and very poor.
Note: Sorry if you are from California. You know the type, Vally girls or college kids who sound like actors from a teen musical.
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