Saturday, March 25, 2006

I'm sorry, I don't speak Russian, but I do speak, NO!

I'm sorry, I don't speak Russian (Izvinite, ia ne govoriu po-russki) but, I do speak “NO!” In 2004, I was privileged enough to travel to Russia to train Russian Hiring Managers at Intel, on a new PeopleSoft upgrade (8.8) to e-Recruit. Study a culture and their ways, in order to know how to do business before you go. Cultural faux pas make great stories after the fact, but, cultural know how builds excellent working relationships now.

What did I know about Russia? I read and enjoyed books by Fyodor Dostoevsky (the Idiot, & Crime and Punishment), and AleksandrI Solzhenitsyn (The Gulag Archipelago). “The state system itself suffered from its own lack of trust and from its rigidity. These interrogators were selected personnel, but they weren’t trusted either” (Solzhenitsyn). How true? I now know, the flight was horrifically long and the airports were as I envisioned them during the cold war. The interrogators at the entry checkpoints were the same people Solzhenitsyn wrote about above. I guess they have a job for life.

Fortunately, Intel Corporation had a license with GlobeSmart, and with Charis Corp, to assist international companies and travelers with intercultural training. Charis offers a fantastic eight-hour classroom training called “Working with Russia,” and other country specific trainings. The instructors are usually immigrants to the U.S. from the country being trained. As an additional resource, Intel also has Globesmart, a tool offering a fantastic 24 hour online support, 7 days per week, accessible from any computer with internet training capability support. GlobeSmart allows companies to capture and share global experience within a company profile. I printed all the material on Russia, to read, as I crossed the ocean. Thankfully, someone at Intel took the time to write-up some Russian Scams they experienced. These noted experiences prepared me for the challenges ahead.

Have you heard of the “Russian Turkey Drop?” Well, I must look like a turkey. I am in Moscow, in Red Square, I am totally soaking in the cultural experience-I am alone. Although, I am very observant as I am a people watcher. I notice these two guys following me. They had picked me out of the crowd like a turkey in a turkey hunt. I was carrying an expensive Sony camera, wearing a brown suede jacket and black Ray Ban glasses. I changed the direction I was walking by turning to the right, they followed. It was going to get interesting. One of the Russians went wide and the other stayed right behind me. As one of the individuals passed around me, he drops a zip lock bag with a bundle of U.S. dollars in it. The bag appeared to have ten thousand dollars, rolled-up and wrapped with a rubber band. Ethically, my first instinct was to reach for the bag, as I yelled at the gentleman, “Hey! You dropped your money.” I immediately pulled my arm back without touching the bag. I had just read about this scam. The guy behind me picks up the bag of money and shoves it down the front of his pants. With a strong Russian accent he says, “This is a lot of money, shhhhh, I will split it with you.” My immediate response was to throw out my hands and exclaim, “NO!” (I highly recommend screaming NO). I continued to walk. After a few moments the other Russian came back looking for his money. “Have you seen any money? I lost a large deposit of money on the way to the bank,” he said, with his Russian accent, placing his hand firmly on my chest to stop me. I pointed directly at the guy behind me and said in a loud voice, “He has it!”

The other Russian pulls out his wallet and opens it to show that he doesn’t have any money, so I do the same (this is a mistake). As I naturally mirror the guy’s partner in crime, I opened my wallet. To their great disappointment, I only had 30 Rouble (Rbl). $1.00 = 27.8540 Rbl. I had one company credit card and a whole lot of receipts. Leave your valuables in the hotel safe.

This mirroring action of pulling out my wallet is how they gage how much money you have. As they must have been thinking I was looking fairly poor, what could they steal? I had no money. My camera strap was tightly wrapped around my left hand and my right hand clenched – ready for anything. I was ready to rumble. The two Russians were defeated. Their illusions of grandeur and free vodka were squashed like a bug. However, if the scammers had seen, lets say, approximately three hundred dollars in my wallet, they would count their recovered money and claim they were short three hundred dollars. Most tourists will give their money to the scam artist, to avoid trouble and get out of hot water. The conflict is over. The scammers split the cash and look for their next victim.

Don’t just say “Niet,” scream “Niet,” (Don’t just say “No,” scream “No.”).

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