17 June 2009


“Jó reggelt” is what I say if I wander into the Starbucks here. I can greet shop assistants with “Добрый день.” I can even walk into a bar, say “dzień dobry” and order piwo. I was planning on learning Spanish when we came to Key West (there was also something about kayaking to Havana); it turns out that I can practice Romanian and Russian just as easily. I hear as much Russian spoken around the island as I do Spanish. What’s up with all the Slavic Conchs?

They all came here to work. It started in the ‘90s; someone secured a labor contract to bring workers to the big hotels and restaurants, and it continues today. Mostly, they are here legally, working as cooks, dishwashers, waiters, bartenders, chambermaids, bellmen, receptionists, and shop assistants. Some have been here so long, they’ve gone native: Zbyszek Gallery on Fleming is owned by a Polish artist and his American wife.

There are even two Eastern European markets one right next each other on White. I can find Georgian wines, Russian and Czech beer, good cheese, real sausages, and the usual selection of caned and pickled goods that every Eastern European market stocks. We can have sarmale this Christmas without having to pickle our own cabbage! I just have to convince them to stock some Romanian wines, and we're set.
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