Coffee Talk
August 11, 2008

The little coffee nook in our hotel in Charleston brewed serious coffee, an essential ingredient for any sort of brain power or personality before noon.  So there I was, like a junkie for a fix.   


“The strongest brew you have, please.  Large.”


I’d come to expect lilting Scarlet O’Hara drawls in Charleston, but the pretty blonde woman at the window had some sort of accent I couldn’t place.   She delivered my fix, and I turned my attention to the little table of accoutrements, to the little ritual of exacting the ratio of coffee to creamer to sweetener.  


And out of the blue I heard this: 


“Y’all’s country did a terrible thing.”


I turned around to watch a doughy little man with bad backwoods grammar (where is Rhett when you need him?) confront the nice woman dispensing coffee. 


So she is Russian.  How he knew that, I have no idea.


The headlines, for those unplugged from conflicts that do not directly involve us:

The Russian military invaded neighboring Georgia (what used to be its Soviet Georgia), a now-independent, West-friendly country, which had tried to assert its own dominance in neighboring South Essetia, which is a holdout Russian enclave.   Clear?


And that’s before coffee…..


Anyway, as in most cases of geo-political conflict, there are no well-defined good guys or bad guys.  But the Russian military is unleashing considerable force, its long-term intentions aren’t clear, and as in most conflicts, innocent civilians are paying the price.


Speaking of innocent civilians, here is this nice, coffee-brewing, croissant-dispensing Charleston, South Carolina hotel employee who happens to be a Russian national, thrust into the position of defending her country to some coffee-ordering, hotel-staying southern American blowhard.


Instead of serving up a blank stare and a smile, the coffee lady offers another side of the story.


“Not my country,” she offered meekly.  “Georgia started,” she said.




“Nuh-uh, your country did terrible thing,” the man repeated.


Ordinarily, I might come to her defense, this young woman who has apparently tried to better her life half way around the world working in a hotel. 


But I hadn’t had my coffee yet.


So the best I could do was raise my cup over the guy’s head and say “Spoceba, nostrovya”.   “Thank you, cheers”, two of five Russian words I happen to remember from a week in Ukraine in 1996. 


Then I went back to my room to read the New York Times account of what Russia did.


The Mother Country may or may not be to blame.  But coffee lady clearly was not.