Marc-André Gragnani is from Canada and plays for IHC Dinamo Minsk. By 30 years this Canadian had lived in the Czech Republic, Switzerland, the USA and Belarus. He calls Minsk is a city with great restaurants, and mercenary girls, and fans of “Dynamo” — the most beautiful madness that he had to observe. On the eve of his flight to Canada Gragnani shared with his amusing observations about Belarus and Belarusians with the our reporter .
According to the Canadian opinion, Minsk is a European city. But he immediately notes that it’s enough European for the eastern part of Europe
— I like Minsk for its scale and cleanliness. Moscow is too great, Minsk is the perfect place not only for playing hockey, but for life too. If you show some buildings or areas to anyone without warning that it is Minsk, they will think that it is definitely not Belarus. In metropolitan restaurants, where I like to have dinner, waiters speak fluent English. Maybe it is not perfect, but we easily understand each other. But in Prague, I regularly came across a language barrier — their English is worse than in Minsk. You can say that I visit only tourist places in Minsk, and you will be right, haha.
When I had just moved to Belarus Matt Ellison, Lukas Krajicek, Nick Bailen and Kevin Lalande brought me up to date on things: “ You must visit this restaurant”, “You should taste this café’s cuisine”. Guys had lived for some time in Belarus and formed a top list. For 6 months I have already collected five of my favorite places: Mai Thai — I adore for the spicy Thai cookery, in Milano and Café De Paris – they made great coffee, The Black Door — delicious sushi, Tapas Bar — a place with tasty cuisine we like to come to with guys after games.
“For having a comfortable life, a Canadian needs to earn $ 30,000 a year”
The hockey player says that North Americans avoid moving to Europe. And it’s not just about hockey players who prefer to play in NHL. ‘
— Our lifestyle differs from European one. I was not afraid of Europe, because my parents are Italians, and there are a lot of Italian features in my character: honesty, straightforwardness, loyalty in friendship and relations. In my opinion, North Americans are more disciplined and hardworking than Europeans. The economic crisis in Europe did not start from scratch. In some countries of the Old World, people are not too willing to work. Europeans only pretend they want to work, but at the same time they make a lot of amendments — they need a two minutes away from home job, free Saturday, flexible schedule and so on. In Canada, this is impermissible: if you have a complaint, goodbye. Tomorrow more zealous guy will be put instead of this man.
When I talk about lazy Europeans, I do not mean Belarusians and Russians. You are hard workers, nevertheless earning little money. Of course, salaries of Belarusians are much lower than in Canada. But do not forget that the cost of living is different. Here I pay for a taxi 5 belarusian rubles, and in Canada for the same distance — 25 dollars. All Belarusian prices in restaurants can be multiplied by two or three, or even five, and this will be the average cheque for a lunch in Canada. There are small salaries in Belarus, also as low prices. For a comfortable life a non-family Canadian needs to earn approximately 30 thousand dollars a year. It seems that this is a huge amount, right? But after all we have50 percent taxes like in Scandinavia.
Mark André grew up in an average income family by Canadian standards. His mother worked as a teacher for all her life, and his father was a cleaner at school.
— We were not rich, but also did not live in misery. Money were never a dream and a boon for us. Since the childhood parents explained that material things were not the main. I earn enough to make good presents to my mother, but they could make her happy only for a day, not more. From an early age I learned that our relationships and love within the family are much more expensive than anything else.
Whatever town Mark-Andre played, the Dynamo legionary’s parents regularly visit him. They spent almost the whole December in Minsk and had enough time to learn the metropolitan life.
— The team had a long home series, so it was a good time for my relatives to come. Parents composed a saturated program, went to museums, to the opera. I’m not a connoisseur of such kind of art, so I did not join to my mom and dad. But we visited the museum of the Great Patriotic War together — this place really impressed me. Mom and Dad walked around the capital, not being afraid of the language barrier. We laughed, discussing how difficult it is for not speaking English sellers to understand even basic words. For example, if you pronounce ‘raise’ instead of ‘rice’, the person is always falling into a stupor. It seems that if any word is pronounced with a hard Russian accent, the chances of being understood are increasing, ha-ha. Also I’m always amused when people appeal to me in the street or in the taxi and I answer that does not speak Russian, but they continue their Russian monologue. It looks really funny.
“It is more difficult to earn big money in Belarus than to find a rich husband”
There are several Russian phrases in the vocabulary of the Canadian: ‘good morning’, ‘my friend’, ‘thank you.’ In the teams for which Gragnani performed, Russian hockey players often played. Mark André borrowed the words he liked.
— Two years ago, my Russian partner on the ice always greeted me: ‘Good morning, monkey.’ It sounded friendly, I knew the translation, so there was no offense. In ‘Dynamo’ we also like joking. Of course, I do not catch all the jokes, but during the season my Russian has progressed. Although I do not often communicate with someone outside the ice. I’m quite a boring guy: after training I go to a restaurant and then home. That’s why, when I moved to Minsk, I was looking for accommodation surrounded with good restaurants. To be honest, I don’t cook at all. I can fry an egg or eat yogurt in the morning, but all the other dishes I eat at restaurants.
By mere chance, I found out that the Niamiha region would be perfect for me. In one of the first days in Minsk, I went to see a doctor and talked with a woman there. She advised to settle in the area of the Revaliucyjnaja, Kamsamolskaja or Haradski Val streets. Now I live a hundred meters from all my favorite places. I think restaurant food is better than I can cook. Although there is a wide range of goods in Minsk stores. Sometimes I can’t find some usual Canadian products. I heard that the wives of Charles Linglet and Paul Szczechura brought sauces from Canada which are unreal to get in Minsk. But this is a normal situation — we are in Belarus, not in Canada.
Gragnani is one of a few bachelors in Dynamo club. The defender says that in his spare time, when the hockey players are moving to families, he calls up teammates who live in Minsk alone, and they make plans together. After the departure of Nick Bailen and David Ullström, Aaron Palushaj and Fredrik Pettersson remained in the company of Mark André.
— I’m not in a hurry to get married, because this is a very important decision for me. The fact that 50 percent of families after a year, five or ten get divorced frightens me. I do not understand people who marry just because they have already met for a long time and it’s time to move on to the next stage of relations. You know, I’m not ready to spend a few years of life and eventually realize that the mother of my children is not the kind of woman with whom you want to live your whole life. My problem is that I have is a fantastic example of my parents. They are too good, and I do not know if it is possible to build such a strong family nowadays, but I do not agree to have anything less.
Hockey players are often criticized that they choose the wives from beauties and top models. But I believe that all people first of all pay attention to appearance. Without this, interest and the desire to start communication can not awaken. I do not have a list of requirements to which a girl should correspond. Find a pretty girl is not a problem. The problem is to meet someone with whom you want to live life. My parents met when my mother was visiting her relatives in Italy. Dad at that time lived in the Apennines. They quickly realized that they wanted to spend all their lives together. Mom says that she realized this in a second. Imagine how strong their feelings were, if the parents, not having Skype and FaceTime, maintained contact for three years at a distance, sending letters to another continent and occasionally went to visit each other.
Mark-Andre noticed that Belarusian girls often get acquainted having recognized a famous player. According to the hockey player, women in Canada tend to take place in a career or business while many Minsk women choose a different path — the search for a wealthy husband.
— I do not often go out, so my company is quite monotonous. But I see that the visitors of Café De Paris or Bistro de Luxe are girls concerned about money. They dream of expensive cars, jewelry and come at these places searching of rich men. Of course, this does not mean that all Belarusians are like that. I think if I had had dinner at McDonalds, I would have discovered completely different Belarusians. Canadians are different too, but most of them try to make money on their own. Probably, in Belarus it is more difficult to earn big money than to find a rich husband.
“Hockey players’ salaries differ from teachers’ ones in Canada the same way as in Belarus”
Gragnani sympathize to Belarusians who criticize hockey players for high salaries. He is convinced: this is the way of the world sports industry is organized, and the gap between the average salary of a citizen and a hockey player exists not only in Belarus.
— I understand the vexed Belarusians, who are obliged to live on small salaries. But hockey players’ salaries differ from teachers’ ones in Canada the same way as in Belarus. I don’t squander money, try to participate in charity events and deliver joy in small things — to give clubs, pay attention to fans. I’m not very proactive guy and rarely do my own projects, but every year in the summer I take part in charity matches and I respond if someone asks for help.
Mark André admires the fans of Minsk ‘Dynamo’, calls them the best support for his entire career and says that this is not just a duty compliment.
When we score a goal, Minsk-Arena bursts out. Sometimes I get the feeling not of another scored goal, but already winning the match or even the Cup — such emotions in the stands. I always look up at the audience to recharge with their incredible energy. Some think that hockey players do not notice anything during the matches. But we see both jubilant fans and people leaving the arena ahead of time. I do not blame such fans. Perhaps, it is really unbearable for someone to watch the team’s loss, and someone has to catch the bus — everyone has their own reason.
Gragnani finds it difficult to describe the average Belarusian. He says: we are all too different.
— ‘Someone is smiling and always joking like Sasha Kulakov (although I do not understand 80 percent of jokes, because they are in Russian), someone is more closed. Similarly, in Canada — each person is individual, so I do not hurry to put labels on the whole nation. By the way, noticed an interesting habit: you do not hold the door at the entrance to the store, do not turn around to see if there is someone behind. In Canada, I always wait for a person who is two meters away, so that it does not hit the door. And here nobody does it. Although we can now go down to the Arena City Hall and conduct an experiment. Maybe I was not lucky, and I constantly faced with such behavior after losing matches. Although I do not think that people recognized me and intentionally shut the door in front of my nose, haha.
“Who knows, I might marry a Canadian, a Swede or a Belarusian.”
In late April, Gragnani’s contract the Minsk ‘Dynamo’ is over. Celebrating his thirtieth birthday in the company of fans at the end of the season, Mark-André is preparing to fly back to his homeland. It will become known soon whether an occasion to return to Belarus for a long time could be. Photographer: Dayna Alexandrovich, TUT.BY
— I don’t try to guess how life will go. In Belarus, I feel completely safe: I can easily go for a walk around Minsk at any time of the day. In Montreal, there are such areas that even I would better avoid, a healthy two-meter guy. In the coming years, my geolocation will depend on hockey offers, and then — from the family. Who knows, I might marry a Canadian, a Swede or a Belarusian.
Original text was published by TUT.by. Photos by Diana Alexandrovich.