Cultural Revolutions

Confirm An Appointment

In Moscow, several months ago, I telephoned an American friend to confirm an office appointment. Since I was going by taxi, I asked him how much I ought to pay for the ride. Moscow cabdrivers outside tourist hotels are no better or worse than those in other metropolises, but it always pays to know from a local what a ride ought to cost. My American friend said the trip from my hotel to his office was "a one-pack ride."

What was that supposed to mean? Answer: one pack of Marlboros. Although I was a nonsmoker, I had loaded up for just such emergencies with two cartons of Marlboros at the Kennedy Airport duty-free shop. If you are a foreigner, Soviet cabdrivers tell you in advance: we don't accept rubles, only hard currency and Marlboros or Kents. (Taxi-meters don't mean very much if the driver picks you up at a hotel entrance or sizes you up as a foreigner.) A few days later I went to see my American friend at his home. Before departing, he advised me that the trip to his apartment, a bit further out than his office, was "a two-pack ride."

In fact during the rush hour in Moscow or Leningrad, when cabs are otherwise unavailable, you are advised to stand at the edge of the roadway and wave a pack of Marlboros. Not only will cabs appear out of nowhere but private cars will stop and the driver will ask where you're going. Even cabdrivers with passengers already inside will stop to ask your destination.

These...

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