As it turns out, malls in Moscow are BIG -- big enough to provoke the use of upper case lettering. I say malls, when, in fact, I've only been to one so far since I arrived in Moscow, but it was BIG. It was so big, in fact, that at least one of the shops had its own cafeteria.
Aside from being big, there was nothing especially surprising about the complex; there were shops, there were travelators, there was a food court, there was a Starbucks. One thing that did induce surprise in this small town foreigner (most people outside of New Zealand don't have a definition of city that extends down to the size of Nelson), was the sight of a man with what may be the least fulfilling job conceivable: his job was to stand at a desk outside one of the larger shops in the mall, put people's bag's inside clear plastic bags, and then seal the plastic bags shut. Only once all of a given customer's bags were individually sealed was said customer permitted to enter the shop with them. This sight got me thinking: I wonder how successful this guy is with women. Granted, I can't claim to have had any admirable success with the fairer sex -- I can't even seem to make the line "I'm a foreigner!" work, in spite of reassurances that it is a gold-plated draw-card -- but at least I would never find myself on the wrong end of the following conversation. I suppose that the bag-bagger has never had this conversation either, but I like to imagine that there exist people who are worse at talking to women than I am:
"So, what do you do?" Asks the woman.
"Me? I put bags inside plastic bags."
She looks at him for a moment, considering what it is she has just heard. "Oh yes," she says. "I went to a big contemporary art museum in Florida last year. I found it really interesting to try and work out what the motivations behind the artists' work were." Here he opens his mouth, intending to respond, but finds himself rapidly cut off. "No, don't tell me what yours is . . . um, bags inside bags . . . right! I think I've figured it out. You're trying to represent the idea that no world view -- which you chose to represent with the internal bag -- can manifest separately from the broader cultural context -- represented by the outer bag -- within which it exists. Am I close?"
"Well, no. People give me their bags, like a purse, or a shopping bag, or sometimes a backpack, and I put their bag inside a big plastic bag, then seal the plastic bag with a special machine that I have, and give it back to them."
She looks at him again, thinking.
"Oh! Performance art! That's cool, I love performance art!" He blinks slowly, this time not even trying to interrupt. "So, what you're trying to say with this piece is that, no matter how different or individual we think we are -- whether we consider ourselves to be a Prada purse, or an Ikea shopping bag, or a hemp ruck-sack, or whatever -- as soon as we allow ourselves to conform to consumer culture, -- which you represent with identical plastic bags, -- and as soon as we seal ourselves within that consumer culture, we close ourselves off from further expansion: no matter how open we consider our minds -- our bags -- to be."
"No. . . No, that's not it."
She looks at him yet again, trying to decode the motivation behind his work. "No, I'm sorry," she says. "I can't figure it out. What's your motivation?"
"Well, mostly because the owners of the shop pay me. I think their main reason has something to do with shoplifting, or, I guess, not shoplifting. Honestly, for minimum wage, it's difficult to make me give a crap."
"Wait. . ." She looks confused. "You're not an artist?"
"And you don't comment on cultural recursivity, or the social homogeneity of consumerism?"
"Well, not deliberately."
"Oh. . . " Here, the girl makes one of those cliché excuses that people make when decide that they don't want to continue talking to this guy, any more, and scurries off to find someone who is worthy of here attention.
And thus he spectacularly fails to impress the lady in question. Man, I'm glad I'm nothing like that guy.
No, my party conversations usually go:
"What did you study at university?" They ask.
"Oh, really. How many languages do you speak?"
". . . Fuck off."