“NYET, NYET, NYET!!!”, the guy keeps shouting to me as I stand there in nothing but a towel. That’s when I learned that he didn’t speak English. Oh no, this is a huge misunderstanding!
You know, sometimes things can get confusing when you are in a far-away place with different people, languages and cultures. Sometimes, these differences can create situations that are down-right awkward. I’m not sure why or how, but over time, I have perfected the talent of extracting the most unusual and awkward of these situations. This story is no different. Before I go on, you should know some of the key elements. These include; a hotel gym, a language barrier, a Russian, an inaccessible gym locker, partial nudity and a steam sauna. With these ingredients, I’m not sure that I even need to go on and tell the story…you know it’s going to be bad news.
It’s around 6pm in Abu Dhabi and I am back at my hotel after a long, hard day of schmoozing. It is a nice hotel with a really great gym and I decide to go for a little workout. The gym has all the amenities including a locker room, personal lockers, showers, dry-sauna and my personal favorite, a steam-sauna. The workout is just my excuse to indulge myself in the steam-sauna afterwards. I just love the steam!
I sign-in with the spa manager and he gives me the grand tour, including a lesson on how to program my locker with my own personal code. The workout goes well and I make it back to the locker. I strip down to just a towel, put my stuff in the locker and head over to the steam-sauna.
Now before I go on, there is something that you may or may not know. Sauna etiquette has different interpretations depending on culture, geography and sexual orientation. Some saunas require at least a towel and some require swimwear. Some people choose to talk, others choose to make it a place of silence. Saunas can also be inherently a little awkward and especially in the Middle East where modesty rules. Anyway, I should continue.
So there I am, in the steam-sauna when a few minutes later, another guy comes in. Now this guy is a very stern, no-fun-with-me guy with full-on bathing suite, shirt and slippers. We sit together in the deafening quiet and I decide to make a little chit-chat. I say a few pleasantries and get no response. Not even a grunt or acknowledgment from this guy. Now one thing that I find out later is that this guy is a non-English speaker Russian. Again, no fun here!!
After awhile, the guy leaves the sauna. A few minutes after that, I reach my limit and leave too. After I’ve cooked in the sauna, I love an ice-cold rinse and there was only one shower available. So in just my towel, I head over to the shower but stop from going in when I see that the guy from the sauna looks like he is about to use the shower. He is just milling around outside the shower door so, being a respectful and polite guy, I motion to the shower and ask if he wants to go ahead and get in the shower. The guy’s eyes get really big…like he is confused about what I just said. So I offer a little more encouragement. I gesture for him to go into the shower as I say, “Please go in. You were here before me. I insist, please.”.
Well, the guys flips out…pointing to his his wedding ring and yelling “NYET, NYET, NYET, NYET!!!”. For my peeps back home, this means “NO, NO, NO, NO”.
Oh shit, now I get it. It comes flooding back why he was fully dressed in the sauna…why he never responded to my chit-chat and why he was so standoffish. Its because he’s a non-english speaking Russian!!
Now, here I am in only a towel, smiling and pointing to the shower to a Russian guy who can’t understand a word I am saying. I quickly try to explain myself as I walk closer to him but of course, he can’t understand me and he just keeps backing up and pointing to his ring. Oh my God, what did I get myself into!! There is no possible way to explain this to him!!
It goes downhill from here but this is really the punchline. The remainder of the story includes being locked out of my fancy locker, having to go into the hotel gym in my towel to find the attendant, waiting (seemed like 9-hours) for hotel security to come down (to unlock me) and all with the awkward energy that was so powerful in that little gym locker-room. Well, at least it made a funny story. Aye Yai Yai!!!