Articles about Russian gas giant Gazprom, like this one, from The Economist over month ago, make me very sad deep down inside. You see, unlike your average Westerner (in case you haven’t noticed, I’m not really average in anything), I actually harbor affectionate feelings for Gazprom, albeit for silly, sentimental reasons. You see, the word ‘Gazprom’ was one of the first words I learned to read in the Russian alphabet. (Though one can easily memorize the entire Cyrillic alphabet in a day or two, it takes a lot of time and practice for your brain to get used to stringing the letters together and reading them fluently. Trust me, I speak from personal experience on this.)
So first off, a bit of background about Gazprom, because I love to edify people about Russia, my favorite topic in the universe. Gazprom (which is a portmanteau of the ridiculously long phrase Газовая промышленность [gazovaya promyshlennost], meaning “gas industry”) was formed in the later years of the Soviet Union. It was privatized in the 1990s, but was kind of, sort of, renationalized after Putin came to power in 2000. From what I can tell, it exists in an odd state of limbo. I’m not sure I’d outright categorize it as a state-owned company, but it’s not exactly privately owned, either. Basically, it is a publicly traded company (on multiple stock exchanges – take that, Facebook!), but the Russian government has great influence over it, which in turn increases Russia’s influence in the world (since it is a huge and powerful company that delivers an important resource).
You’re probably wondering how this relates to me. Trust me, it does. This is the second reason why I love Gazprom so much. During my second year at university, I was waiting for a meeting to start for a political student group I used to be a member of. A few fellow members were sitting with me in some comfy chairs in a common area inside a building. Night classes were sometimes held in that building, including that night we were there, and sitting near us was a middle-aged man, known as Random Dude for the purposes of this story, waiting for his class to start.
Somehow, my friends and I mentioned Gazprom. Random Dude apparently was eavesdropping because he insinuated himself into our conversation. “Gazprom?” he asked.
I was so eager to answer that I think I cut him off. “Yes, it’s Russian gas company,” I said.
“How do you know about Gazprom?” Random Dude asked.
“Well, I’ve been to Russia and seen their building in Moscow,” I told him. So far, all this is true: I had indeed seen the Gazprom building and a billboard or two in Moscow the prior summer.
“Oh, you’re from Russia?” Random Dude asked. Before I could deny this claim, he plowed ahead. “Wow, your English is really, really good.”
I saw an opportunity here. For some reason, I always get a kick out of pretending to be someone else for a little bit. (I think this means I’m missing my true calling in life: acting. Oh well, you can’t have everything, right?) “Oh, thank you,” I said. “I’ve really worked hard on my English.”
“So are you a student here?” he asked.
“Yes, and so are my friends,” I said, gesturing to our small group. “After graduating, I want to work at Gazprom.” Random Dude nodded enthusiastically in approval.
I think it was at this point that one of my friends blew my cover, so to speak. He made a remark that made it clear I wasn’t who I said I was. Random Dude went off to his class (probably a bit early, to get away from my strangeness). I glared at my friend for exposing my deception. It had been so fun while it lasted, pretending to be Natasha from Moscow. My friends and I went off to our meeting, and that was that.
But I’ll always remember this little story and have a soft spot in my heart for Gazprom, even if the company does go bankrupt someday. (Which I hope it doesn’t, because where else will my Russian alter ego Natasha work?)