It was in CVS when the hard questions started.
The Kazakh asked for razors, so we went to the shaving aisle together.
As I looked down the aisle, I looked upon dozens of razors. Disposable. Twin blade. Triple blade. Triple blade with aloe lubrication strip. Triple spring mounted blades, aloe strip, microfins and battery powered.
I looked around for a safety razor and couldn’t find one.
He picked up a Venus.
“Uh, that one is for women.” I pointed out.
“There is difference? They are razors!” His accent was thick, but I heard something between disbelief and wonder in his voice.
“Why are there so many?”
I looked back at the dozens of tiny razor sharp deceptions. “I don’t know.”
He picked up a Mach 3 and a Sensor Excel. “What is the difference between these two?”
I knew that one of them was the best a man could get, and the other was something else. I had forgotten which. I felt ridiculous about the fact that I owned a razor that used a battery.
I pointed him toward a set of disposable razors with spring mounted twin blades and then set off towards the frantically waving Russian in the greeting card aisle.
“Is it okay for me to. . . touch?” She asked, pointing at the birthday cards.
I nodded. “Yes, it’s okay.”
She smiled and quickly picked out a birthday card with a big yellow “30” on it. She held it up for me to look at. “Like you, yes?”
They had asked me how old I was when they first asked for my help. I was starting to regret my answer, but I chuckled anyway. “Yes,” I smiled. “Like me.”
She smiled and put the card back. She gushed about how cheap books were in the United States.
We all met back at the cashier, and I had to explain how to get in line. Wasn’t like that back home, they explained. There, it was whoever could get to the cashier first. There were some close calls when the others attempted to check out, but fortunately the Russian said something and sent them the right way.
“Why is it the tax is not part of the price?” She asked. “The price was less than eight dollars.”
“Tax is added at the cashier.” I replied. “Oh, and tax will be different depending on which state you are in.”
She frowned. “That is not right. In Russia, the price is,” She struggled for a moment with the English. “The price of what you are buying.”
I agreed with her. This was the first time in a long while that I had thought about it. “It is very deceptive.”
They needed a bookstore, and we left the CVS and started walking to Borders. We had quiet conversation most of the way, with interesting questions about the various buildings. The Tajik got high fives when she recognized what a “realtor” was.
One of the most humorous was, “Why is the okay to walk man white and not green like for your cars?” I found it the most thought provoking.
Along the way, I pointed out the tucked away language bookstore, where to get discount housewares, and good restaurants.
After several blocks we arrived in Friendship Heights.
“Ah, this is America!” The Russian exclaimed, watching the shoppers go from store to store. The rest of her friends giggled.
“Yes, yes.” I nodded, thinking about the horrible bloated implications of it all. “This is America.”