The Russians were never ready for the Brics (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) media delegation that came visiting in November.
First there was the gala dinner that took place at the Holiday Inn Suschevsky in Moscow. The South Africans questioned the choice of venue. They could not understand why a dinner, and a gala dinner nogal, could be held at the same hotel where they had stayed since arrival. Surely they could not be expected to don their best dinner clothes only to sit at the Holiday Inn, they complained.
The delegation was to sit down for dinner at 7.30pm. The Russians arrived at 7.20pm, and the Chinese arrived at 7.28pm and picked the table at the corner closest to the exit. At 7.35pm, the Russians believed the rest of the delegation would be a no-show and started to eat.
The Brazilians arrived at 7.50pm, almost surprised to see that three out of the five tables were still empty. They ordered wine. The South Africans arrived at 7.55pm and, by the time the Indians arrived, the waiters were already collecting dishes from the first course.
The Russians began to think they had the time wrong. “Maybe dinner was supposed to start 8pm,” said one.
“No, 7.30, and we sent out a message that we should all meet down here at 7.20,” said the travel agent.
“That is strange,” said one of the Russians as he put what looked like salted jelly with mixed vegetables into his mouth. “You mean they knew the time but arrived here late? Do they not live upstairs?”
Unaware of the conversation taking place, the Brazilians, South Africans and Indians laughed about the strangeness of the food. The three groups – sitting at different tables – dared each other to “eat first”.
Then there was the night of the orchestra. The delegation was invited to see the Tchaikovsky Grand Symphony Orchestra in a performance dedicated to its 85th anniversary. The renowned Valery Platonov was the conductor and they would perform Prokofiev’s Symphony No 5 and Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No 1. It was to start at 7pm.
The Brics delegates were divided into two groups – the Brazilians and the Chinese with two Russian escorts, and the South Africans and the Indians with their Russian escort. The first group arrived on time. The second group forfeited their seats as they arrived 20 minutes after the doors had shut.
The story was told as follows: the Indian delegation and the South Africans agreed on a meeting point decided on by the Russian escort. The South Africans arrived on time, because “we know the theatre – the doors close 10 minutes before it starts and we didn’t want to be late”, one South African would explain. The Indians – after many calls and WhatsApp messages – appeared with shopping bags on their arms. The South Africans were not impressed after having waited for 30 minutes outside in Red Square with the temperature hovering at minus 6°C. The group ran to the concert hall.
On arrival, a man with the Indian delegation said: “What’s the point? The play will be in Russian anyway.”
With that, the Indian delegation disappeared.
At intermission, the South Africans searched for wine. When they realised there would be no food or wine for the three-hour-long concert, they murmured: “Haaibo, kanti iphela nini lento? [Haaibo, when does this thing finish?]”
The Brazilians yawned, stretched their arms and kept falling asleep in their chairs. It proved difficult to read the straight-faced Chinese.
Afterwards, the delegation ran to the restaurant outside the concert hall and, with their first glass of wine in hand, all seemed good again.
The next day, when asked whether they had enjoyed their evening, almost everyone replied: “Yes, the restaurant had amazing food, the vibe was good and the wine was especially great.”
“I mean the concert, did you enjoy the concert?” asked the Russian host.
“Aaah, it was fiiiiiine,” said the group in unison, as they waved the host away.
Thuletho Zwane’s trip was sponsored by the Russia International Project Centre