I was keeping one of those jumping plastic spiders on my desk for two reasons: (1) to have a discreet Halloween decoration just for me that could easy be hidden from senior management and Kolya; and (2) to scare Natasha when she neglects to acknowledge the rules of Western personal space and instead rudely sit on my lap, which she often does.
I am perpetually struggling with my Russian coworkers' lack of understanding of personal space. I have tried numerous approaches, such as immediately getting up and going to the center of the room as soon as the smothering begins. I have even printed out memos about personal space, highlighting the especially meaningful parts, and left them spread out in clear view on my desk. This has not worked with Natasha. Apparently, she really wants to make sure everyone gets the Full Natasha Experience.
Last Halloween, I got into work earlier than everyone else, again. I was surfing around on the Internet after having reviewed and deleted my morning spam and messages. I had my tea. I was all cozy and content. Needless to say, I wasn't expecting any kind of Halloween extravaganza, especially since it was a weekday and because Russians just don't seem to have really caught on to Halloween like they have Valentine's Day.
Suddenly, I heard Natasha come into the reception area and start giggling and scheming in loud whispers with blonde Yulia. I nearly choked on my tea when they both burst into the room, wearing carefully chosen ensembles of orange and black and masquerade masks with colorful feathers and glitter.
"We congratulate you with the Helloween, Nency!!!!"
I was stunned. They were looking at me expectantly, for what I will never know. "Uh, Happy Halloween to you, too...?"
Natasha pranced over behind my desk right next to me and leaned in real close. "Nency, you must explain us all about Helloween!" I pumped the plastic spider and it jumped at her, which produced half of the desired result: she squealed, and jumped back away from me.
Just then Kolya came in wearing a Santa hat. "Congratulations with the Helloween, everyone! Give me a trick! Ho, ho, ho!" He held up a large bag and gave it to me. "For you on the Helloween!" Inside was a large green gourd. "A tykva for your Helloween carvings!"
"Kolya, Nency is going to tell to us all about the Helloween in America!"
"Well..." I muttered with the gourd in my hand.
"Wait! Wait! Let's first get the tea and candy ready!" All three of them bumrushed the door for the reception, nearly trampling blonde Yulia. The reception was where they kept their secret stash of underwhelming Russian candies. Lucky me, today was also the day blonde Yulia had brought in her special mango banana tea for everyone.
While Kolya and blonde Yulia took care of the candy and tea arrangements, Natasha strode jauntily to my desk. "We brought you a costume, too!" she announced proudly, presenting in both outstretched hands what appeared to be a Hamburgler mask. "Put it on! We are all celebrate!" My heart sank, and I felt a whimper ripple throughout my body. There was nothing I could do. As I put the mask on, I could almost feel it sucking out what was left of my dignity.
Kolya, beaming in his Santa hat, carried a tray of candies into the office and placed them on the empty desk. Yulia brought in her mango banana tea, and Natasha brought in a set of teacups and saucers. It was party time, woo hoo.
We sat in a circle around the empty desk - Yulia and Natasha in masquerade masks, Kolya in a Santa hat, and me in a plastic Hamburgler mask. "Tell us about the Helloween, Nency!"
"Well," I started, "there's not much to it. On Halloween, kids dress up in costumes and walk from house to house. It's called 'trick or treating.'"