Magazine article The New Yorker

NOT LOST IN TRANSLATION DIPLOMATIC IMMUNITY Series: 3/5

Magazine article The New Yorker

NOT LOST IN TRANSLATION DIPLOMATIC IMMUNITY Series: 3/5

Article excerpt

The effects of globalization notwithstanding, cheek-kissing protocol remains something of a mystery, resolved with regional pique depending on whom you meet and where you go: the Americans do it once, the Europeans twice, and the Brazilians as many times as you'll let them.

The other day at the Pierre Hotel, Mikhail Gorbachev, the man who ended the Cold War, was in an elevator administering an impromptu lesson in how newly cosmopolitan Russia deals with the question. All but one of the seven men in the elevator were Russian: Pavel Palazhchenko, his translator and adviser; a bodyguard; and several aides. Even the elevator operator was a Soviet emigre, and he told Gorbachev that he remembered him from a previous visit to the Pierre.

"How's life?" Gorbachev asked, in Russian.

"Nothing changes." He shrugged.

A cell phone trilled, and everyone reached for his pocket. Gorbachev looked quizzically at his tiny Motorola. It was silent.

"See, if they made one with 'Suliko,' then I'd know it was mine," he said, referring to the Georgian folk song. ("I saw a rose in the forest / From which dew ran like tears / In my sorrow, I cried, Suliko!")

The only woman in the elevator was also a non-Russian: Miranda, a graduate student at Harvard, who helps plan Gorbachev's appearances in the States. …

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