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Monday, June 7, 1999
Houston, Texas
Volume 64, Issue 146

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About the Cougar
 

Forget summer in Acapulco

Margaret Mitchell

I went to Russia because I wanted to experience it through my own eyes and not those of CNN.

I believe I accomplished what I set out to do.

When I came back home, I was greeted with the inevitable question: What was it like?

I think the immortal words of The Beatles sum it up best: "Back in the USSR, you don't know how lucky you are."

As I explored the streets of Moscow and St. Petersburg, all I could think about was how lucky these people were to be living in such places.

There appears to be so much freedom in Russia! It was something that really surprised me, especially after seeing the TV version of what life is supposedly like over there.

No bread lines. Plenty of hot water. Nobody asked me for papers. We were also able to come and go as we pleased at all hours of the day and night.

And drinking? It began the minute I walked out of customs and was handed a bottle of champagne by my friend.

The drinking then continued in the streets of Moscow (open container laws are nonexistent), in Red Square with gin and tonic in a can, and went on into the night with vodka toast after vodka toast.

Another big difference between Americans and everyone else is the hospitality and the closeness that others share.

During our stay in St. Petersburg, the telephone rang constantly because friends were calling just to see how everybody was.

I think the calls finally stopped around 2 a.m. This friendliness is not limited to friends, though; it extends to strangers as well.

It was not uncommon to go into a café and invite a group of total strangers over to be with us. And they would come without a single thought about it.

If you tried this at Chili's, the strangers would probably call the police.

Not only were the people downright friendly to me, they started giving me gifts!

A neighbor of my friend's cousin, with whom we stayed in St. Petersburg, worked at Hallmark in Russia and gave me a stack of greeting cards written in Russian, just because she wanted me to have them.

I met other Americans who shared the same opinions I had formed during my trip -- for instance, Americans could learn a lot about hospitality and friendship from these people.

We also agreed the freedom the Russians experience on a daily basis is something that Americans can only dream about since our government appears to be so insistent on regulating our personal behavior, from smoking and drinking to helmet and seat-belt laws.

Finally, those who dream of coming to America would find it to be the cesspool of humanity that we all agreed it is.

We could afford to think this way, but unfortunately, not everybody can. In our Russian experience, we got to see the good life.

We were able to buy anything and everything we wanted. With an exchange rate of 25 rubles to the dollar, it was nothing to lay out 800 rubles for a train ticket between Moscow and St. Petersburg.

Vodka cost $2 a bottle. We drank champagne and vodka, ate caviar and other nice foods, and went to nice clubs.

We spent money like it was going out of style, but the affluence we were living is not the norm. On any given day, I walked around with 5,000 rubles in my pocket.

Reality set in when we were in the subway walking past old ladies, hands extended, hoping for a ruble or two to supplement their pensions of 300 rubles a month.

We then started talking with another friend who was struggling to buy food after the economy collapsed.

The grass may always appear greener on the other side, but that's only the case when looking through rose-colored glasses.

I thank God that my reality is much better than theirs.


 
Mitchell, a junior political science major,
can be reached at smeggie37@csi.com.
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