The Joy of Bullshitting Abroad
I spent six months in a Russian prison.
I didn’t really, but that’s what I told two Russian guys at a bar on a beach in Bali. After half a dozen rounds of beers, my sight was beginning to blur and I couldn’t find my original drinking buddy anywhere. After a few minutes of searching, I came to the conclusion that I could either make new friends or piss off back to the hostel and call it a night.
Enter the Russians. I heard them before I saw them. In a town consisting of about 50% locals and 50% Australians, the harsh sounds of the Russian language stand out worse than my love handles at a Mr. Universe competition.
Now, before I continue, I have to preface the story by saying that I love bullshitting people. Not friends or people I know well, but strangers at strange bars in strange places. People I will most likely never see again. People who don’t know me and won’t know me well enough to figure out that I am, in fact, dropping a steaming pile of bullshit on them. It’s fun and funny and nobody gets hurt, so why the hell not?
Let’s get back to the Russians. As I headed their direction, I began concocting the lie. It was a fib I had been dying to tell, but I just hadn’t found the right mark. I only had the most basic foundation for the tale, so I was going to have to be quick on my feet to fill in all the details as I went along. I walked up, introduced myself, exchanged general niceties, and then dived right in.
“You know, I spent six months in a Russian prison.”
As the story went, I had only just arrived in to St. Petersburg and, after an afternoon of exploring the icy late November streets of Russia’s second largest city, I happened upon a small watering hole at the base of a dilapidated apartment building near the Baltic coastline. It wasn’t long before the other patrons, a group of three or four big surly-looking fuckers, gathered around a small table near the back of the dimly lit dive, took notice of me, the obvious Amerikos tourist. Voices became hushed and brows furrowed tightly over harsh, bearded faces.
“You boy,” the obvious leader growled as they neared my barstool.“What doing here?”
Before I could respond, the Alpha’s sidekick picked me up by my shirt and put me through the door.
“I’d like to say that what happened next wasn’t a total ass-kicking, seeing as I got a few solid punches in between getting steam rolled by these three bearded Ferrigno looking pricks, but that wouldn’t be the truth,” I told them with conviction.
Soon the police arrived and I was cuffed and thrown in the back of the squad car. It was my word against theirs, and their word was that I started the whole thing. As a result, I spent six months without trial in a Russian penitentiary, enduring countless brutal assaults and a near fatal stabbing until a kind-hearted and well-liked old thief named Yuri took me under his wing and looked out for me. Yuri got me in tight with some of the heavies who kind of ran things in the prison. Soon I gained the nickname “Funny Man” after my new Russian chums realised I had quite the knack for taking the piss out of myself. I was eventually released, due to a “mix up in paperwork” (I doubted I had ever had any, seeing as I was never officially charged nor saw the inside of a courtroom) and got the hell out of the former Soviet Union as fast as I could.
I did my best to keep the far-off look in my eyes of a man who had seen some shit as I finished this elaborate story to my new Ruski drinking buddies over our most recent round of San Miguels, but I could tell they didn’t fully believe me. This was the moment of truth, the reason I had wanted to tell this story for so long. I brought my foot up on to the table between us and revealed the small tattoo just above my right knee: four black dots in the shape of a diamond with a fifth situated neatly in the middle. Their eyes widened with astonishment as they realised what they were gazing upon. To the unaware observer, this sorry excuse for body art just appears to be the number five as it would appear on the face of a set of dice. However, to those who are hip to Russian prison tattoo culture, as these gents surely were, this is the obvious symbol of a man who has spent time in prison. The four dots represent the four corners of the prison walls, the lone dot betwixt these being the prisoner himself.
Now, as I stated earlier, none of what I told them actually happened. I’ve never even been to Russia, let alone done a stint in a Russian clink. What has happened is that a of couple years ago I saw a documentary on Russian prison tattoos, which, due to a chemical flashback, came to mind one fortified wine-and-cheap-beer-soaked night my first year in university when my friends and I decided to tattoo ourselves in their dormitory bedroom. In the moment, as my classmate hunched over my leg jabbing me with a sewing needle wrapped in thread and dipped in India ink, this seemed like the best idea I’d ever had. In hindsight, it still seems like a pretty damn good idea. But that story is infinitely less interesting and exciting than the one I told my two gullible Russian acquaintances.
As it is, I like the lie much more than the truth in this situation, and luckily I didn’t tell it to the wrong Russians with a few prison tatts of their own, or my little lie could become a part truth, and I would really rather not get my shit kicked in by a bunch of big-ass Ivan Dragos. When you find the right target, bullshitting is easy. If this semi-intelligent American schmuck can do it, then you can and should too. Nothing quite boosts your confidence like the amazement in a stranger’s eyes as they whole-heartedly believe that you are way cooler and more interesting than you actually are.
There are rules, however, and they should never be broken. You don’t bullshit to get laid: that just makes you a dickhead. You don’t bullshit anybody who you have any intentions of seeing again: at that point you are forced to maintain that bullshit and live a lie, which can become dreadfully exhausting. Save the bullshit for strangers and cops – your personal gain should be limited to a couple of free beers or avoiding criminal charges. Most importantly, be creative and have fun with it. There’s no point in telling a boring lie, or you might as well just be honest about how dull your life is. Above all else, remember to never repeat a lie. Stay inventive, change it up from stranger to stranger. Bullshit is an art, and the bullshitter an artist, and an artist never paints the same masterpiece twice.
Now get out there and make some new friends, you filthy liars.
Cover by Christian Bardenhorst