A reminder I was a hotel Sales and Marketing Director in my previous life…
I sat staring at what was trying to pass itself off as a Filet Mignon, but was it? It was the right size and shape, but it appeared darker and somehow different as it cuddled next to four roasted new potatoes and half a dozen baby carrots. Considering I was in a Russian restaurant in the middle of Helsinki, I had to question it.
I was on an international sales mission organized by Massport which is, among other things, the marketing arm of Logan International Airport. We were targeting the Nordic Region of Europe with a one-night stopover in Helsinki. Boris Yeltsin was on his way out, and Vlad was on his way in having recently been appointed Prime Minister.
I cut a piece of the meat off and sniffed it. I could detect a waft of gamy as I suddenly felt a pair of eyes burning their stare into me. I looked to the end of the long table and the rather stoic woman sitting shoulders straight, back arched taking in the thirty or so of us as she watched me. “What is this?”, I bluntly asked.
She raised her head to look down a long straight nose, the way mothers sometimes do just before they scold a child. “Just eat it. It’s good.”, she insisted-her words wrapped in a thick Russian accent.
I reluctantly put it in my mouth. It certainly chewed like beef, more tender than I had expected. But that gaminess was distinctly there. She was right, it was good.
Everyone went around the table talking about their properties or regions. When it got to me, I began talking about my hotel and its’ location-a Holiday Inn just North of Boston-then moved into a brief breakdown of how my contracting worked and what it entailed. Halfway through, the woman’s stoic face nearly cracked as she chuckled.
“What’s so funny?”, I politely asked.
“You Americans, always so preoccupied with contracts. You worry about contracts too much. In Russia we don’t worry so much about contracts. We just do, and we do it our way. Tell me. Do you think Holiday Inn would be interested in building hotels in Moscow?”
My blunt nativity got the better of me as I innocently questioned, “Why?” An emotionless gaze, nearly as cold as her ice blue eyes, briefly flashed back at me before the Russian Government agent began her spiel. Whomever convinced her to hold the dinner had either lied or misconstrued the objective of our mission as it became apparent, she was not so much interested in bringing people to America as she was in getting American businesses to invest in Moscow. She talked about the robust nature of the Russian economy, and how strong the Ruble was.
By the end of the night, I concurred two things. First, the Russian Government didn’t like contracts and preferred to do things their way. Second, they lied while clearly underestimating the intelligence of American businesspeople. Their economy nor the Ruble was doing all that well, even back then, and everyone knew it.
As the night wound down with some of that mystery meat still on my plate, I pushed back again, pointing. “Incidentally, you never told me what this was.”
There was that icy stare again, as she sternly replied, “Black bear.” I knew it wasn’t beef.
On the flip side of this reflective coin, I had a five-year business relationship with a Ukrainian man who held an annual international toy show in the ballroom of my hotel. Every time he came in to put down his deposit and sign his “contract” he brought me a toy car. He even brought me a vintage Harrod’s delivery truck once, simply because he knew how much I loved London.
As the years went on, I had a line of toy cars on one of the bookcase shelves in my office. They now reside on a bookcase shelf in my den. He was a hardworking, gentle, and considerate man from Odessa. Sometimes we talked for nearly an hour, and it was always clear that he worried about his country at the hands of Putin. It was like a dark shadow always looming over them. Sadly, after his last show he quite literally disappeared.
Decades later my opinion of the Russian Government and the Ukrainian people has not changed. In fact, recent events have only galvanized my perception of the situation as Russia goes about killing innocent civilians and breaking cease fire agreements for no other reason than to quench Putin’s insatiable thirst for domination.
The rest of the free world needs to do whatever it can to help Ukraine and ultimately move to stop Putin. Because if we don’t, I fear it will not only not end well for Ukraine, but it may also not end well for the rest of us either physically, economically, or morally.
Thanks for stopping by.