From Russia to America: The First Seven Days
I have told many clients that the single biggest myth about Russian women is that they are primarily motivated to meet foreign men in order to achieve wealth, citizenship in some other country or material gain. The countless women I have met (and the very special one I am engaged to) seem to come from a time and place that we have left behind in America - a place where people make great sacrifices for love, for the sake of family. The decision to leave home and fly half way around the world to live with someone they have definitely fallen in love with, but are still beginning to know, in order to realize the dream of happily ever after is the biggest decision of any foreign lady's life. I was reminded of this recently when I took my 5th trip to St. Petersburg, Russia - to bring my fiancée home to America.
Viktoria and I received our Fiancee Visa from the American Embassy in Moscow in December. She wanted her and her son, Sergey, to spend the holidays with her family, so we planned their relocation for January and, on the 19th, I boarded the Finnair flight in New York to go and claim my new bride and son. I remember thinking, as the plane ascended and headed north, that this time I would not have to leave Viktoria behind on the return trip. The sense of relief and accomplishment was unreal.
The following days in St. Petersburg were filled with celebrations with her family and friends, many delicious dinners, countless toasts to our togetherness and future. Vika and I spent every night drinking wine and talking late into the evening with her mother about our plans. And when the day of departure was finally upon us, her mother, aunt and uncle, and 2 cousins joined us at the airport for a final farewell. We all exchanged hugs and kisses, and vodka toasts for a safe flight and a quick return. Vika, Sergey and I proceeded through customs. At the last moment I looked back and only I and her family could see each other. Their faces huddled together, they blew me kisses with happy tears in their eyes and smiles.
"We are trusting you with everything," they seemed to say. I was humbled beyond words.
I promised Viktoria not to say things to try and comfort her on the flight back. She knew I loved her; she knew everyone would be ok, but her thoughts were of her mother and her family, and the exciting yet completely foreign new world that was waiting to welcome her. So we flew quietly for 9 hours to New York, and I held her hand and kissed her forehead and let her sleep. Once in New York, we cleared U.S. Customs easily and headed for a hotel near the airport to unwind. I thought the most difficult part of the journey was finally over - little did I know!
I completely underestimated the gravity of Vika's decision to leave Russia for America, expecting that America would immediately seduce her with so many great freedoms and luxuries. . . the shopping, the restaurants, the friendly people. . .of course, this was naïve on my part. The first 48 hours would become a tug-of-war where I would continually introduce her to something great about America, or Phoenix, or her new home, and she would simply reject everything, unable to reconcile the internal conflict of happiness and guilt, joy and pain, excitement and trepidation.
There were a few comical moments during this struggle. We went to Target for a few essential items, and I wanted her to pay for the transaction, to build her confidence that she could interact with people.
"Nyet! Nyet!" she said. "What if he says hello?" "Say Hello back." I said.
"What if he says 'How are you?'"she said. I said, "Say 'Fine! How are you?"
She insisted no, I insisted yes, and so she paid the cashier and was fine. "Congratulations, Buddy," I thought to myself, "You just taught her to shop. May you never live to regret that."
Another funny moment came when I sent an email to her family from work saying everything was fine, Vika and Sergey were adjusting well, and I would be sending them back for a visit as soon as possible, probably later in the year. Her family translated the message incorrectly and called her mother to say, "Bud is angry already at Vika and wants to send her back immediately!" I made Vika promise to contact her family and set the record straight right away.
The turning point came on our third night, sitting in the hot tub at 2am, looking at the stars. She cried a little and I asked what was wrong. Her response made everything clear to me. She said "It's just that everything in America is so…big! The houses are big, the cars are big, the food is big, the markets are big….." I thought about this. She was telling me she was a little overwhelmed by it all. Yes, things in America are typically bigger than in Russia. But also, this decision was BIG, the emotions were BIG, the love between us was BIG, the worry about her family was BIG. I knew in that instant the adjustment would take some time. I told her I loved her, and would do anything for her, to not worry, to not think about the wedding or even staying. I asked her to just relax, and try to find things she liked here. And I promised that in the end if she couldn't stay, I would send her back to her family without anger. After all, I knew I could not have made the sacrifices she had already made. This seemed to calm her down, and we hugged each other for the longest time.
next day, I knew I had to do something to help her make the connection back to Russia so we went to the Russian market in Phoenix. She was greeted by the owners, listened to cable Russian television, bought Kefir and buckwheat, bulka and caviar spread. She saw the Russian movies available for rent, and her mood lightened considerably. We bought a few phone cards (333 minutes to St Pete for $5) so she could call her mother for an hour a day if she wanted. Suddenly the world seemed a little smaller to her.
Later that day, we installed a Russian keyboard on our computer, and downloaded Cyrillic fonts from A Foreign Affair's website. Now she could write to her friends and family in Russian. Excellent move, Bud! Knowing her family ate soup on a daily basis, we went to another market to buy ingredients. I showed her where on the Internet she could listen to Radio Baltika out of Moscow - all day if she wanted. We found a playground and skate park for Sergey, and bought him rollerblades. With all this she was suddenly a new girl!
The next couple of days she would cook food she was familiar with, email pictures to her family, and talk with her mother and her friend Olga, now living in West Palm Beach, Florida with her husband of two years. By Friday the 30th, 5 days after hitting the US, I could tell everything would be alright. I asked if she still wanted to get married, jokingly, and she said "Don't worry, I still want, very much!" By the weekend she was suggesting she go shopping again (I knew that was a mistake….) and had become the smiling, happy flirt I had fallen in love with.
The range of emotions during this first week together in America was an unanticipated learning experience for me. One has to simply relax, allow his fiancée to feel all the typical things we feel when we undergo major change in our lives, and not become defensive or angry when she comes out of the shower with a few tears in her eyes. We live in this great country and culture, but our freedoms and luxuries mean little at first to someone who is leaving her family and home in Russia, to create new ones abroad. Be patient, and be flexible, and wait for the love between you to replace the worry and wonder that come with leaving home.
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