A week or so ago, Marta and I were waiting for a trolleybus near the Universitet metro station. It was raining, but Marta didn't care, and so we didn't join the small crowd taking shelter underneath the covered bus stop. A middle-aged woman with a disabled teenage girl leaning heavily on her tried to squeeze in and accidentally pushed another woman already standing there. They had a brief but rather nasty argument. The girl had cerebral palsy and wasn't capable of walking on her own; her mother had a heavy bag in her other hand. It hurt badly to hear that other woman bark at them.
When the trolleybus finally arrived, the woman basically had to lift the girl to get her inside, and not a single person offered help. But they got to sit at least, even though the trolleybus was packed.
Marta was offered a seat, too, across the aisle from the disabled girl and her mother, and I stood next to her like a wall, keeping other passengers from accidentally falling on her. After a while I started chatting with a delicate-looking grandmother of a very sweet 9-year-old computer whiz kid sitting next to us. He was running late for his first advanced-level class at some computer school and was terribly nervous about it, so I tried to calm him down a bit, telling him that all he had to do was apologize and everyone would understand. That seemed to have cheered him up. He told me he used to be as fair-haired as Marta when he was her age, and then he shared some bizarre memories he thought he had from the time he was 3 years old: sitting in some empty room, playing with some wires, thinking thoughts that were too complex for a little kid, but could have just as well been his - because he definitely seemed like an odd kid, in a totally lovely way.
I was standing back-to-back with two guys in their mid-20s, and even though I could hear them talking, I wasn't paying any attention. Until I heard the mother of the disabled girl address them very loudly: "Please stop using that word!" They had been cursing, obviously.
I still can't get over the exchange that followed.
The guys - who looked very average, not starving, not super cool, most likely on their way home from some boring office where they probably worked as sysadmins or something, though actually I've no idea and don't really care - so yeah, the guys told the woman that it was none of her business what kind of language they used among themselves. She told them they were not at home, and that there were kids around. One of the guys then told her that right, they were not at home, but on a public trolleybus - and in public they were free to say whatever they felt like. And then he specified, in a very loud, theatrical way: "I can say blyad, suka, nahui all I want - and I don't give a shit about what you think."
You know, Russian curses are way stronger than their English equivalents, so there's no use to translate what the guy said to the poor woman. But it was totally unacceptable, and shocking, and it seemed to have left everyone who heard it speechless, whereas the guys continued their interrupted conversation as if nothing had happened. They moved a few meters away when some space cleared as some passengers got off the trolleybus at the next stop, and that was it.
If Marta and that cute boy hadn't been there, I might have said something to the assholes. Or maybe not. Because it only seemed possible to respond in curses to them, and that would have made things worse, regardless of whether there were any kids around or not. So I just stood in silence for a minute or so, and so did everyone else around me, including the grandmother and her brilliant grandson, and then she and I resumed our own interrupted conversation.
I continued with a story of my early childhood memory - of a 1976 or 1977 earthquake in Kyiv, which I somehow remember very vividly, even though I was either 2 or 3 years old then (our lamp was swinging like crazy that night, and even now, especially in Istanbul, I keep looking up at the ceiling to check for an earthquake). The woman told me that she loved Kyiv, had many friends there, but wasn't feeling too safe to visit them, because, you know, the situation in Ukraine is so crazy, so chaotic, etc. - all the basic stuff that I'm already used to hearing here. I told her not to worry - and not to believe everything that the Russian TV was telling her. She smiled and gave me a knowing glance, I guess - which was nice. But I also find it wild that she could bring up the mess in Ukraine after the ugly conversation we had just overheard. Like, it's paradise here, but utter hell over there. Right.
Anyway, I keep thinking about those two sissies. When they are home, their mommies probably kick their asses for innocent words like zhopa ('ass'). But when their mommies aren't around, they can curse all they want. And then, I guess, their mommies come home from work, exhausted and, quite possibly, humiliated, hurt and shocked, because someone else's sissy boys have been cursing at them on those public buses, a platform of free speech in our part of the world, as it turns out.
I don't really mind cursing - I do curse, too. But I prefer a selective approach to cursing.
What upsets me about all this is something else.
A few days after the trolleybus incident, I ran into this post (RUS) by LJ user semiurg, in which he was defending his own and everyone else's right to tell people to fuck off:
One of the principal human rights is pravo na nahui [the right to tell someone to fuck off]. [...] Nothing is more humiliating than not having a chance to tell someone to fuck off when you really feel like it. If some total jerk is standing in front of you, saying all kinds of offensive bullshit, and you can't even tell him to fuck off - because of political correctness, or subordination, or just out of fear - this is worse than getting hit in the balls [...]. [...]
The post goes on and on and on like this, and it spent some time on the Top 30 list at Yandex Blogs portal, and has generated four pages of comments. One woman wrote that she was currently re-reading One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and thought that the message of the novel was the same as the message of pravo na nahui post.
Me, I thought that the trolleybus incident was a good illustration of how this pravo na nahui gets implemented here and why this part of the world often feels like an asylum and a minefield at the same time.
And I also thought about my dear friends in Iowa City: a gay couple, the sweetest people in the world, they've spent over 20 years together and have raised two wonderful kids. What a great way to tell everyone to fuck off, no? Without actually saying it, by simply living their lives the way they wish to. How practical and how subtle. And how human.