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POSTCARD / ST. PETERSBURG : Perspective Comes in Form of a Wet Napkin for American

After six hours in the sun while watching the triathlon competition, Susan, an American who is here working for the Goodwill Games, was hot and tired. She was hardly looking forward to the hour or more that she was about to spend on a bus to get back into the city. But her companion for the day, a young woman from St. Petersburg who is serving as a Goodwill Games volunteer, seemed to be enjoying the excursion into the Russian countryside.

“Susan,” Lena asked at one point, “have you ever been to Finland?”

Susan nodded.

“Are things there much different than they are here?”

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Later, in recounting the conversation, Susan said she responded that things are somewhat different in Finland. She chose not to tell Lena the whole truth.

“It would have broken her heart,” Susan said.

On the surface, it appears as if the conditions here are not as different from the West as they were only a few years ago. Certainly, there is a remarkable increase in the availability of consumer goods, which now include everything from chocolate chip cookies to lap-top computers.

Unfortunately, they are not necessarily available to the average St. Petersburg resident. Prices prohibit virtually everyone except wealthy Russians or tourists from buying them.

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And there are still some items we take for granted that are totally foreign here.

As she prepared to return to the city, Susan opened her purse and grabbed one of those wet napkins that restaurants in the United States routinely provide patrons and wiped her face.

She also gave one to Lena, who opened the package carefully, unfolded the napkin and pressed it against her face.

“I’ve never smelled anything so clean,” she told Susan.

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Susan shrugged.

“Susan,” Lena said, “why can’t we have wonderful things like this in my country?”

Susan shrugged again.

As she wadded up her wet napkin and looked for a waste basket, Lena asked if it would be all right if she kept hers.

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Of course, Susan said.

Smiling, Lena neatly folded the wet napkin and placed it in her purse.


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