Friday, May 20, 2005

Face to face verbal communication is the secret of success (Moscow 1976)

Dear Readers,
I believe that "Communication" is an art. "Communication" is everything. "Communication" is the difference between human being and the rest of other living creations.

I was in a technical training program in Moscow in year 1976, pure romantic Brezhnev years. I still believe that Moscow was real Moscow at that time, not like now similar to the rest of the world. People were real believers of their system. I was one of a few westerners in the capital. I was trying to learn Russian, however they were more eager to speak English with me, same as trying to speak other foreign languages. Therefore I had no chance to speak Russian.

I was staying in University Hotel (Gastrinistza Universitetskaya) close to Moscow University. It was cold- very cold winter. Full of snow everywhere. But Russians were all comfortable with snow and cold. They had big stone houses, all district heating, excellent public transportation, and accommodation for everyone, food and secure jobs for everyone. They had no idea of the outside world. They had vodka, they were happy.

By the way, they had also extraordinary art, ballet. Russian ballet.
The next day I arrived to Moscow, I went to Bolshoy theatre to check program and ticket availability. There were a long waiting line, I do not know now how long. It was day and night. A long line. For opera, for ballet performance, for any symphony orchestra performance. I could not understand how people could stay in that line for so long, even sometimes for nothing.

I lost all my expectations to see a real Russian ballet in Bolshoy Opera house. It was impossible for me to buy a ticket. Blackmarket could work but I had no enough practise in Russian.

I checked our hotel facilities. We had a service bureau to help foreigners. Service Bureau had one director Tovarish (Comrade) Nina, and three lady staff, Victoria, Natalia and Galia. Victoria could speak English, Natasha Spanish and Galia German, although they could speak other reciprocal languages fairly in case of emergency.
I had good communication with Victoria. Victoria was helping me to familiarise Moscow. She was married with kids, doing her service job in the hotel service bureau. I asked her if service bureau could help me to buy ticket to Bolshoy, whatever ballet, opera, and concert. It was impossible. Answer was "Nyet!!"
They had a few tickets for every performance allocated for special foreign visitors. The distribution was unconditionally left to the Director Lady Tovarish Nina. Tovarish Nina was unapproachable. She was on top of everything. She had all power for everything including distribution of Bolshoy tickets.

After one month in Moscow, I was completely helpless. I would not go to Bolshoy. I tried everything, connections, embassy, even blackmarket, and no hope. For ballet, you could not bribe Russians. It was more valuable than any other worldly possession. They could stay days and days in a ticket quoe to purchase one ticket for any performance.

I had only communication with Victoria who could speak English. One day I had an idea. I should speak with Lady Director Tovarish Nina direct with her own language. Since she is in the service bureau, she should speak at least one western language. Which one?

French. She could speak French. She had French major in the Moscow University.
I had taken some French courses in my university but forgot almost everything. I had to refresh myself as soon as possible to communicate directly with the service bureau director Tovarish Nina. I checked my other foreign colleagues. We had one engineer coming from an African region with French cultural influence. He had good command of written French but he was speaking French in his own local West African dialect. Anyhow it was a minor problem. I should polish my French understanding as soon as possible. So I asked him to teach me some important French phrases for ice-breaking.

I practiced those phrases for one week in my free time. One early morning, when Tovarish Nina arrived to her office, I entered her office and I saluted her in French.

"Bonjour Madame, mon nom est Haluk d'Ankara en Turquie. Comment allez-vous?"

I addressed her "Madame Nina". Madame Nina was very happy that day. She could speak her foreign language with a foreign visitor. She told me her youth in the University, as guide to French party members, her meeting with famous French pop singer Gilbert B├ęcaud, her current job, her family, her husband, and her kids. She was not Tovarish any more, she was my French Lady Madame Nina and I was in her special foreign guest list in the hotel.

Later in the day, I asked ticket for Bolshoy. I was expecting only one ticket to Bolshoy. She gave me one ticket on each remaining week of that month I had in Moscow. Bolshoy theatre was a temple, not matching anywhere else. You should take a round trip to Moscow, just to see any performance whether it would be a ballet, an opera or any concert performance. Thank you very much Madame Nina.

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