Today I went to the post office to mail something for Aunt Kelly. There is a post office two blocks from our apartment and it is open 10.00-20.00. (Have I mentioned that the Russian sense of time works really well for me? Office hours are like 10-6 and shops are open until 9 pm at least.)

So I go in, and there are a lot of people in there, but they’re all at the windows where you cash government checks and stuff (I saw another line outside a government building today — must be some kind of official payday).

I go to the window that sells stamps, and I stand there waiting for the woman behind the window to look at me or say something (which is a habit I must break — being politely reserved gets you nowhere in Russia as we are about to see).

Just as she says “I’m listening” without looking at me, a woman barges in, sticking her arm in front of me and budging me out of the way, asking to buy an envelope. So they conduct this transaction, and I look at the woman incredulously, because unlike many times when I’m observing my gratuitous American sense of distance and someone cuts in front of me in line (as had happened in the Metro just a few minutes before), in this case I was DIRECTLY IN FRONT OF THE WINDOW. So I’m staring at the woman, and eventually she looks at me. Does she apologize, or even give me the Russian smugly-superior look?

No. She asks me to help her hold her plastic bag open so she can shove the envelope inside.

At that instant it became clear to me that there was no point at taking umbrage at the situation because no one within a square kilometer of the place would have interpreted it as rude — only me with my American sensibilities.