Australia is an amazing country.
And the most amazing things of all here are the nature-strips.
As soon as I came here from Russia, I began looking for job. By the way, IТd been a builder, not a bad one at that. ItТs true, my youth waved me with its hand a long ago, but I would still wear my working boots out quicker then my slippers. It's true, I am at variance with English, but you build a house not with your tongue.
I grabbed my schoolboy son, who'd got a holds of English while still in Russia, and we headed off to a building company. There we were greeted as through we were the answer to their prayers.
And when I announced that I could raise a house all by myself from the first stone right to the last nail, their faces shone with smiles.
They squeezed my hand and told me Сcall youТ.
УItТs under control,Ф I thought to myself, and answered them with dignity, УThank youФ.
Just in case, we were round to a few other businesses. Everywhere we got the same reception.
УA good builderТs got it made anywhere,Ф I told my son.
I waited for a week, then another one... but not a peep.
We went back. They smiled as if nothing had happened. Again they said their Сcall youТ. And I replied my Сthank youТ.
In short, things started spinning like a squeaky wheel: call you - thank you - call you - thank you...
I wanted to have a heart to heart with them the Russian way but I couldnТt bring myself to - they really were smiling too nicely.
I would have kept waiting for their calls until someoneТs Easter, if not for Tim, my compatriot. Actually itТs Timophey, but here he became a Tim.
IТd have to say heТs a solid bloke. One bright guy! He came here only nine months earlier than me, but he has started talking in their language and got as much local knowledge as IТd be happy with after a lifetime here.
He offered me to deliver pamphlets together, saying, УEveryone starts this way.Ф
This little work, I have to say, was for walking pensioners. The sun was shining, the birds were singing, the flowers were flowering and we were shoving pamphlets in letter boxes.
Something was written on some of them. The only one I could make out, was Сthank youТ. It turned out, that Australians thanked me for my service. They thanked me beforehand!
УWhat a culture!Ф I thought. How should I answer? I began to shove two ads in each letter box with Сthank you.Т
The next day Tim said that the clients had complained that weТd heaped them up with rubbish. Here you are! I really tried my best.
One day, after work, Tim and I were wandering along and saw a refrigerator on the native strip. All clean and white, it stood alone on the green grass with the look of a bride, whoТd just been abandoned by her groom. It looked lost. There wasnТt soul around, and the houses were a good distance away. Strange!
УWho the hell would have left this poor bugger here?Т I asked.
УThey mustТve thrown it out,Ф joked Tim. He would enjoy joking.
I laughed with understanding.
УI'm not jokingТ, he said, Уsomething is wrong with it and the ownerТs put it out on the nature strip. Perhaps, heТs bought a new oneФ.
УAnd whatТs about this one?Ф
УWhatТs what? If you want it, take it. You still havenТt got a fridge.Ф
УAre you fooling around again?Ф
УIТm repeating for the last wave of emigration, Tim said seriously, Уthere is such a custom in Australia, if something breaks, they thrown straight out onto the nature-strip and whoever wants it takes it. Australians reckon that buying new one works out cheaper then fixing the old one. Do you understand?Ф.
УHow the hell do I take it away?Ф I worried, still not believing my luck.
УNo problem,Ф Tim showed off his English. УYou guard the fridge and IТll run home and my trolley.
I stood and waited. This was a brand new fridge.
I hoped the owner wouldnТt change his mind and come back for it. But no one came. УThank youФ, I told my unknown benefactor.
Just then Tim arrived with the trolley. We loaded up the fridge and headed off. The trolley floated along like a little boat across the water.
УA top-notch trolley,Ф I complimented him. УWhatТd it cost?Ф
УFree,Ф he answered in English.
УFor free,Ф Tim said in Russian and smiled. УI found it on the nature-strip, it just needed one wheel fixed up.Ф
УYou find things easy,Ф I said.
At home, Tim gave the fridge a look over and said, УCongratulations, Sir! You fridge is in good order. Only the gas has run out. But I know where to buy it. Go grab forty bucks.Ф
УSo a good fridge, and only for forty roubles,Ф I rejoiced.
УNot roubles, dollars,Ф corrected Tim. УForget about roubles, will you?Ф
I scraped thirty dollars, and Tim lent me ten bucks.
We bought a gas cylinder and returned.
Suddenly I spied four large boxes of furniture on a native strip not far from my house. I rubbed my eyes. The boxes were still there.
УLetТs get the trolley!Ф I yelled.
We dragged the boxes home, unboxed them and...
O, sky strengths! A stylish suite of imitation black marble furniture. What luck! To get in one day both a fridge and new future.
УThereТll be even moreФ I sang a popular Russian song.
УNow look whoТs finding things easy,Ф said Tim.
It took us a good three hours to assemble and arrange he furniture. Our old furniture was in the way. Tim kicked an old cough, which we got from the Salvation Army, and commanded, УLetТs chuck it on the native stripФ.
УAre you, Tim, mad?Ф I said, furious.
УIt really spoil the whole interiorФ, said Tim and he helped me understand what he meant by this word СinteriorТ.
In short, his СinteriorТ convinced me. We dragged all the ramshackle furniture out onto the nature-strip. Let whoever wanted it have it.
Soon after, my wife turned up. She looked around wildly for a couple of minutes, then hit us with УWhatТs this? WhereТd you get it? How much did you fork out?Ф
УFree,Ф I answered, Уfrom the native stripФ.
УFrom the nature-strip,Ф I repeated. УThey left them, and we took themФ.
УWhat, did you pinch them?Ф whispered my wife and clasped her hands in dismay.
Tim and I exchanged condescending grins. Then Tim began enlightening her about Australian customs, while I just echoed СyesТ.
For a long time my wife couldnТt get how this new things came to be lying about on the native strips. But my friend was logical and patient.
Tim tried to make her understand prosperity of Australia, but she was continuing her own, saying: УI understand, that Australia is a rich country, but not so rich to throw expansive furniture aboutФ.
But Tim clear sorted all things out, and finally my wife put a relevant question:
УYou didnТt see, by any chance, a washing machine on the native strip? IТm already really stuffed from running back and forth to the laundromat.Ф
УYouТll get, my dear, a washing machine, a whistle evenФ, I promised her.
Our interior design, of course, wasnТt to her liking, and she made us move the furniture. To argue with her would be just wasting time. We spent another solid hour under her watchful supervision. She felt so at home in her role as commander, all she needed was that whistle.
Suddenly she noticed our old furniture was gone. Tim was about to explain what an СinteriorТ was, but she waved off and ran out to the native strip. She came back with a happy smile on her face and two old stools in her hands.
УOur furniture is still thereФ, she informed us, Уand these stools will come in handy for unexpected guests.Ф
УReally, do you plan to sit quests on those stumps?Ф I muttered.
I wanted to chuck out those lumps of wood, but gave up. Let it pass! At least, they wouldnТt spoil our interior.
At last the time came to, as Russians say, СwashТ (drink) our acquisitions. My wife laid a new tablecloth on the new table and put out some nibbles. From the new fridge I got a bottle of УStolichnayaТ vodka, which we brought over with us for special occasion.
УLet this day be the worst day of our lives!Ф Tim really entered into the spirit of things and made an emotional toast to AustraliaТs prosperity.
We joined him with the greatest pleasure, looking on at our СinteriorТ. My wife even shed a few tears.
Then she remembered sheТd promised to visit a friend and ran off out the door. Of course, she couldnТt wait to boast.
Some time after third or forth toast to the health and generosity of Australians, the doorbell rang. I opened the door wide. An Australian stood, mumbling something in their language and trying to peep inside the flat. Apparently, heТd heard about our acquisitions and come to congratulate us.
УYou are welcome to join us,Ф with a grand gesture I invited him in. УYouТll be our first Australian guest!Ф
He entered and went straight to the furniture. He felt it, gasped and swung his arms around. In short, he expressed his delight, sharing our joy.
УThank you!Ф I said in English bowing with thanks.
He kept on admiring the furniture.
УThank you,Т I repeated and made another bow.
The Australian suddenly waved his forefinger under my nose and yelled,
УNo thank youФ.
I was really taken aback.
УIt seems heТs the one whose the furniture it was. HeТs hinting that just a Сthank youТ wonТt be enough to get rid of him,Ф guessed Tim and gave me a wink. УPour him a late-comerТs drink, in our style.Ф
УWhy not?Ф I said with joy and I poured him one up to the brim, as it should be.
I offered our guest a seat and held out the glass. He declined to sit, but took the glass. He drained it in one go and even didnТt make a wry face. He didnТt even touch the appetisers!
УWoah! Russian style! A top bloke!Ф exclaimed Tim.
I was too full of respect. You could see he was one of us.
He again went on in English, pointing to the furniture.
УRepeat it!Ф Tim raised his hand and snapped his fingers.
УYou can see he likes our vodka. He knows whatТs good for him,Ф I said with approval, being happy that IТd satisfied him, and poured for all of us.
But however much we persuaded him, he still flatly refused. He began jabbing his forefinger at the table and then at his chest and then he pointed to the door. We stared at him puzzled. Finally Tim twigged.
УHeТs calling us over to his place, he also wants to СbathТ the furnitureФ.
I wasnТt in the mood to go anywhere. I wouldТve liked to sit on my own and admire the interior. But I couldnТt insult the Australian. He really did it with all his heart.
УThank youФ, I and Tim said and we stood up.
We walked to the door and waited politely for our quest.
But he started to wave his arms around more then before.
Tim guessed that this custom was different in Australia, that owners left after their guests. We decided to check it. We went outside and waited.
But our guest didnТt look like leaving. He ran from the table to the sideboard and back, slapping them, then grabbed a chair and started yelling.
УWhatТs wrong with him? Did he get blind after one glass or what?Ф I laughed.
But Tim suddenly changed countenance. I saw he wasnТt in a joking mood.
УSomethingТs wrong here,Т he said, thoughtfully looking at our enraged guest. УLookТs like weТve got ourselves in a bit of strife. LetТs call Totosha.Ф
Totosha was TimТs distant relative, he had already been living here for five years.
I phoned Totosha and told him about our new furniture and about our strange guest, who wouldnТt sit at the table, didnТt want to leave our flat, and we had no idea what to do with him.
Totosha interrupted with questions of his own: УWhat furniture? Who made it? Oak? Pine? WhereТve you got it? How much?Ф
УFree, from the nature-stripФ, I answered. УStop hassling and help us work things out with this drunk guy.Ф
But Totosha wouldnТt calm down.
УWhy didnТt you invite me? I wouldТve bring some booze and СbathedТ your furniture too, let me live like this.Ф
УWeТll СbathТ it, no back-talk. Do me a favour, and find out first what he wants?Ф I pleaded.
УOkay. Give your Australian to me,Ф Totosha finally took pity on me.
I handed the phone to our guest. He chatted a bit then gave it back. I heard TotoshaТs laughter.
УWhatТs so funny?Ф I asked.
Totosha kept laughing merrily.
УWhy are you giving a neighing laugh?!Ф I lost my temper.
УSorry, sorry...Ф Totosha squeezed out in apology through the laughter.
I already wanted to hang the phone, but Totosha calmed a bit down and said: УSorry old man, I have to disappoint you. ItТs his furniture, he bought it this morning. He's asking you to give it back to him.Ф.
УIt's his furniture and you must return it. Immediatly! You understand, old man?Ф Totosha said slowly.
УWait, wait,Ф I didn't gave up, УSo why did he leave it on the nature-strip? I hope, youТve heard about the Australian custom.Ф
УWhatТs the custom?Ф
УHere it is! What come to the nature-stripe, itТd gone.Ф
УHere you are! Totosha surprised. He even stopped laughing.
УYouТve kill me with your knowledge of Australian customs, old man. Where did you pick it up? There is the TimТs school, I guess. He must be one whoТve taken a hand for your social education, is he?Ф
УWhatТs the difference, who it is?Ф I replied getting irritable.
УThere is the big difference...Ф said Totosha with meaning. УAnd now listen here. This Australian didnТt leave the furniture. He bought it home delivery. The furniture here would be delivered and arranged at the customerТs will. Apparently, some discrepancy happened, and they left the furniture outside. They didnТt trow it out, they left it, do you understand? And there you are. Do you get the smell of it, old man? Just say Сthank youТ to him for not setting the police on you.Ф
УWe told him Сthank youТ many times, should we do it again?Ф I said in a dissapointed voice. УPity about the furniture, is all. ItТs imitation black marble, you see.Ф
УDonТt be upset. Our day will come,Ф Totosha consoled me and burst out laughing once more. УAnd donТt forget to say СsorryТ to your Australian, you wouldnТt make mistake with Australian customs in this case.Ф
УGo get stuffedФ, I muttered.
We carried the furniture over to the AustralianТs place until late into the night. We could barely stand up.
As well, along came my wife. SheТd come back and now stood on the nature-strip, watching over our old furniture so that people who Сfound things easyТ like us, didnТt take it.
She squealed, УI told you... I asked you... You got me with your damned СinteriorТ.Ф
She made us drag the old furniture back home.
We would have done it anyway without her urging on. You canТt squawk around like a poor cuckoo in an empty flat.
By the way, the Australian really turned out to be a good bloke. He helped to carry the furniture and in the end treated us to some of his brandy. Of course, brandy is not Russian vodka, but itТs not too bad. We became friends with the guy.
For a long time afterward I expected someone to turn up for the fridge. But no one came.
Ever since thin, whenever I see something on the nature-strip I give it a wide berth. There is no fools here.