Miscommunication Between Cultures, Part 3

Hopefully Vladimir doesn’t kill me for posting this story.  Sorry, Vladimir!

Noel and I met Vladimir on a penpal service.  He was a Russian guy moving to New Zealand to be with a Kiwi guy he’d met on the same penpal service; they felt they had a lot in common and they’d get along fine.

When we’d met Vladimir and his Kiwi boyfriend after the boyfriend had picked Vladimir up at Christchurch International Airport, Noel and I had a strong feeling that it wasn’t going to last.  Here was the Kiwi boyfriend: checkered flannel shirt, work jeans, down-on-the-farm boots; and Vladimir: leather pants, flamenco dancing shoes, black dress shirt buttoned to the bottom of the pectorals, red bandana tied around his head.  The Russian guy from urban Moscow, the Kiwi guy from rural Otago in New Zealand.

In short: different as chalk and cheese.

I said to Vladimir, in private, that if things didn’t work out, he always had a place to stay with us.  Having moved to another country, I knew what it was like, and I wanted him to know he had options if things didn’t work out.

A few weeks later, he called on the phone, crying, to say it wasn’t working out.

So, Vladimir moved to Christchurch and lived in our spare room.  (This is all a story in itself that I’ll cover another time.)


One day, Noel, Vladimir, and I went to the liquor store to get some booze.  When we walked in, we could tell someone had dropped a bottle or three of something sweet smelling because it hung in the air.

Noel went off on a mission to find whatever he was looking for, and Vladimir whipped out a small book, looked something up, then proudly announced: “It smells like crotch in here!”

I looked at him funny and probably said, “What?!?”  Then: “I think you have the wrong word.”

“No, no.  Crotch.  It smells like crotch in here!”

“I think you should look that word up again in your book.”

Vladimir got more adamant as the five other people in the store were staring at him.  He pointed at the book.  “Crotch.  It smells like crotch in here!”

I snatched the book out of his hands, trying to flip open the book, but half of it was in Russian so I had no idea what I was looking for.  “Find the word again and show me.”

He started to flip through the book, turning a page over, turning another page, and then, running his finger down the lines on the page he’d been on before, he found the word.  He smiled, but the smile faded into a frown.

“What word did you mean?”

“Oh.  Cranberry.  I meant it smells like cranberry in here…”

“That makes more sense.”  I felt all the eyes in the shop veer back away from us.  We resumed shopping.

“What’s a crotch?”  The question came out of the blue.

“Uh, I think we’ll talk about that on the way home…”