her exuberance makes sense. It's not a tidy narrative of Russians taking a liking to Western
culture, as American media have reported. It's about desperately wanting a quick, casual
bite and some coffee instead of an hours-long sit-down meal that, in the case of my tutor,
would make her late for the ballet. The first McDonald's in the Soviet Union opened in
central Moscow in 1990. The grand opening came after American teams were sent in to
train newly hired Russian cashiers to smile when taking orders (sadly, not kidding). And
here's a statistic: That McDonald's, off Pushkin Square, remains today the busiest in the
I am not late for any ballet, but I am damn hungry, and I could not be happier as I
walk up to the counter and order eggs, pancakes, and coffee. Sitting here, in a booth at the
McDonald's in Yaroslavl, I won't argue that I'm learning anything deep about local culture.
The place is empty. The booths, tables, and menu above the registers look like those in any
McDonald's from Boston to Bakersfield. The eggs taste like eggs. And I'm the only cus-
tomer—no real chance for sociological research. But I don't regret this. Not for a second.
I trek back across the street to the train station, and find Sergei fighting off a nap. He
and I decide to take turns snoozing, the person awake being responsible for keeping watch
of our belongings. Finally, 7:00 a.m. comes and we board a local train to Rybinsk, arriv-
ing just as the sun is coming up. We take a five-minute taxi ride to the Hotel Rybinsk, a
pink cement-block structure that hasn't seen a fresh coat of paint in the post-Soviet era.
In Russia there are hotels—especially Western chains like Radisson and Marriott—that are
beginning to shed the old Soviet “charm.” The Hotel Rybinsk is only shedding old paint.
Sergei and I walk into the building. The floor is bland, gray concrete. To the right there
is a tiny elevator, and in front of that, a desk, where a man in uniform is seated, watching
an old television with a rabbit-ear antenna. He pays no attention to us. Sergei and I turn to
the left and enter a slightly more welcoming space, a room with threadbare red carpeting,
a plant perched on an old coffee table, and a woman seated at a desk where a small sign
says Registratsiya , or “Registration.” Just in case Sergei and I have some other purpose for
being here, the woman looks at us sternly and says, “Registratsiya?”
“Da,” Sergei and I say in unison.
“Dokumenty, pasporta,” she says.
Sergei hands over his passport, and she glances at it quickly and hands it back. My U.S.
passport is a different story, requiring a far more serious level of registratsiya. She takes
my passport, walks briskly to a photocopy machine, copies far more pages than she should
really have to (is she interested in my Belarus visa and Estonian entry stamps?), returns to
the desk, searches page after page for my current Russian visa, shakes her head when I of-
fer to help her find it, looks for it for a while longer, finds it, runs back to the photocopier
to copy that page, returns, asks for my immigration card, grunts when I politely point out
that it's inside the passport, back to photocopier, back to desk. Now she asks me to fill out