Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Russian Cab Driver at LAX and the 'Bistro' Story

          While living in Los Angeles I got accustomed to taking shuttles home from the airport. When exiting LAX one must simply cross one lane of traffic before arriving at a concrete median and indicating a final destination to a coordinator. Eventually a van with a sign in front saying, in my case, West LA would approach and I'd hop in the van.
          On one occasion I'd arrived home and, when the West LA van pulled up, I noticed that the driver was the same driver who I'd met on my previous trip. He was from Russia and so I immediately spoke to him in Russian and explained to him that we'd met before. He, of course, did not remember me but we continued to converse.
The control tower and Theme Building at Los Angeles International Airport, as viewed from Terminal 4. Source: Wikimedia Commons

          Two other passengers boarded the van with me. One man was older than me and he'd just returned from a trip abroad. Another man was about my same age who explained that he was in the movie business and he seemed to be relatively well traveled. I translated for the driver and the four of us had a lively conversation about travel and Los Angeles, etc. until at one point the driver suddenly switched to English. He pointed to a sign that said, BISTRO and said in English, "Do you know why they call cafes 'bistros'?"
          I then explained in English that the Russian army had fought all the way to Paris during the Napoleonic Wars. Russian officers would sit in French cafes and they'd taunt the Parisian waiters by saying, "Bistro Bistro Bistro". "Bistro", I continued, was the Russian word for "quickly" and, as a result, cafes where patrons expect quick service have come to be known as 'bistros'.
          The driver then said in English, "No. That's not the reason, the reason is…" and he continued to tell the exact same story I had just told. I could sense that the other passengers felt the same way I did about the story - we were all excited with him and grateful that he'd elected to share some of his culture with us. I also learned that it's best to let people tell their own stories.

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