A Quote out of Context

“Truth is stranger than fiction.” – Mark Twain

Late one Sunday afternoon at a bar in a small Midwest college town sits a man by himself.  Sandy blond curls cover his head,  and he sports a denim jacket left over from the ’80s.

Suddenly a young brunette slides onto the barstool next to him and asks,  “What’s that you’re drinking?”

“I’m sorry.  I’m a foreigner. I do not understand.”

Pointing to the two glasses sitting in front of him – one tall and full of a dark liquid, the other short and filled with a clear substance – she says slower this time: “I asked what are you drinking.”

“A soda and vodka,” he replies.

“You don’t have to say you’re a foreigner. Just ask the person to repeat themselves, ” she advises.

“Okay, ” he says.

“Where are you from?” She asks.

“Russia,” he says.

"Я говорю русский немного."

“I speak a little Russian,” she tells him.

The two introduce themselves and learn their names are the same – Valerie. Only his is the masculine.


And hers the feminine.


He’s a journalist on tour in the U.S., visiting universities with well-known journalism programs.

Having studied Russian in high school, the Army and now college,  she jumps at the chance to practice the language. He’s a patient tutor, gently correcting her when she makes a mistake.

They soon learn they have more in common than their name.  He also served in his country’s military, as a conscript though.

The next few days they meet to practice English and Russian and to learn about each other’s countries.

“You can smell freedom here,” he says.

“What do you mean?” she asks.

“This country – the freedom you have here. It’s so real I can smell it.”

She doesn’t really understand.

Later she asks: “Were you a member of the Communist party?”

“No,” he explains,  “my officer often told me I should join so I would be promoted. But you had to take tests, so I  never joined.”

The day before he leaves, she takes the patches off one of her old camouflage tops and gives it to him.

“My friends will never believe a woman soldier gave this to me. They’ll say I bought it at a military store,” he says.

“The truth is stranger than fiction,” she tells him.

He doesn’t understand, so she says,  “at least you know the truth.”

This is one of my true stranger than fiction stories. What’s yours?


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