When we have a girlfriend, fiancee, friend or a relative coming to the United States for the first time, each of us thinks of what to do or what to show to impress the visitor. How do we arrive at what that might be? Is it based on personal interests, perhaps from conversations with that person or just what others show tourists? Is it culture, or action, or physical characteristic or…? What is it about your home, your state whether it is East Coast, Midwest or West Coast that you believe will capture the attention of a Russian woman?
I was very happy to have my mother recently fly to America for the fist time. Since she is already widely traveled in foreign land, I knew it would be a challenge to surprise her, but I still tried. I showed her the beauty of Minnesota lakes and nature; the buzzing life of Minneapolis skyways; Guthrie Theater with its majestic “Endless Bridge” overlooking Mississippi river; stately St. Paul Capitol… I thought to show her all of the things that a first time visitor to the Twin Cities might want to say they have seen.
Oddly, it was not any of these experiences that made as large an impression as the simple act of driving back home through neighborhood streets. We saw big, colorful signs that immediately caught my mother’s attention with their variety and they produced new terms for her: yard sale and garage sale. A few minutes later we came upon another, where the entire family, big and small, was out in the garage with hanging clothing on racks, displaying baby toys, some furniture items, etc. We were compelled to stop and go look – there was no way my mom could pass on the opportunity to explore what they had for sale, to find great deals and to communicate with the very friendly owners. She happily listened to the stories of how each thing was acquired, why it was so dear to the owner and the reasons they had to sell it. She then shared her experiences in post soviet era Russia where they would become excited about second hand clothing brought there from “across the border”, all with different styles and fashions, and about Soviet and later Russian commission stores. Not willing to throw good things away and with a prospect of getting some value back, mom and dad would always take their used items there. The similarities ended here, however, as they would never see the buyer, share the special story of the thing and give them a discount just because they wanted it to go to “good hands”. In what seemed like an instant, nearly an hour had passed and we good-bye.
The first question I heard from mom the very next morning was not about Mall of America or the renowned Sculpture Garden, but about going to another garage sale. Whether a Russian or an American, we all love finding deals and meeting interesting new people. Where many will look for the dazzling lights of a fancy marquee or the prestigious neighborhood to drive past, we discovered that, of all things, garage sales are all about that and being an integral part of an American culture that allow people, regardless of circumstance, to connect on a personal level. My mother’s experience proved to me that these neighborhood sales truly are something to see and experience.