On Babushkas and ‘Invalidnost”. At the Movies.

So on Saturday, despite the -25 C temperatures, I decided to brave the cold to see Marina Goldovskaya’s documentary film The Bitter Taste of Freedom about Anna Politikovskaya, a Russian journalist who was slain in 2006.  The film was being shown in a new art house theatre on the edge of the city, and getting there proved to be quite a trek. No no, no marshrutkas. Just the ever reliable Moscow metro and some, er, a lot of walking in the FREEZING cold.  But never mind. I made it.  And when I got there, approximately ten minutes before show time, the theatre was mostly deserted. Turns out most Moscovites consider anyone who treks anywhere at 10.00 am on a Saturday morning in sub-zero temperatures to be a little, well, nuts.

That, however, was not the opinion of the seventy-some year old babushka at the ticket desk. She was only too happy to see someone turning for the film despite the time and the weather. A note about Soviet babushki who work in the post-Soviet service industry: They have retained many of their Soviet service industry habits, which means they tend to disregard the idea of customer service entirely.  That is, the customer is not always right; the babushka is always right, sometimes to the point of down right refusing to sell you what you are asking for, usually because she either A.) Doesn’t have change in her till or B.) You are foolishly asking for a product of inferior quality, and therefore she will not let you waste your money.  They can also be blunt and pushy, which to foreigners may seem rude, though within the context of Russian/Soviet culture it isn’t necessarily.  But I digress.  The babushka at the movie ticket desk was actually extremely pleasant. And when I asked for my ticket she said, “Do you have your discount document?” I eyed her blankly, thinking that maybe the movie theatre had some kind of frequent viewer program, a card for which I did not have. But I am however affiliated with Mammoth University here in Moscow, and since students and faculty are generally entitled to very steep discounts, especially if they can present paperwork demonstrating that they are students or faculty at Russian universities, I said, “Well I work at Mammoth University. I’ve got my id card.”  She looked a little surprised, and replied, “Oh. I see. Well no that’s, um, not what I meant. We offer our university discounts on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings. I thought that you might have another sort of discount document…”  Ticket in hand, I headed up the stairs (No lift. No lift. This is Russia folks. The dearth of lifts is ASTOUNDING.) to the theatre, puzzling over in my head what on earth she could have meant by “another sort of discount document.” And then it hit me. With my crutch, I am now visibly disabled, and thus officially, in Russian terms, and ‘invalid.’  And invalids (aka people with disabilities) in Russia are entitled to free entry to most State museums and steeper than steep discounts on public transport and other enterprises such as movie theatres, as long as they can present their State approved card, which testifies to their disability status, or ‘invalidnost” as it is called.  I am not sure why this is.  I know it is a carry over from socialism, but I am not sure what particular theory it is based upon.  Perhaps because the State recognizes that the aforementioned public places are (usually) almost impossible for disabled people to access, that if they do make it inside by some miracle, they deserve some kind of reward?  I am not sure.  In any case, since I am not a Russian citizen, I am out eligible for any such discounts, even if I could produce some document (Note: Documents are VERY important here.) testifying to my spina bifida and EDS.  I am also not sure how, however, I would feel, hypothetically, about accepting these discounts. (Though given that my job pays peanuts, and that Moscow is the fourth most expensive city in the world after Tokyo, London, and New York, I’m tempted to say I would probably take them.) But there you have it. I thought it was worth sharing, a Russian/Soviet attempt at accommodation…

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