About halfway through the 13-hour flight to St. Petersburg, Russia, Chris Overstreet began meeting other travelers whose itineraries were identical to his.
Mr. Overstreet and 39 of the other passengers on Finnair flight AY 167 were all clients of A Foreign Affair, an online introduction and tour company. They were headed to Russia to meet hundreds of women. Mr. Overstreet won the trip through a radio station contest in November. As caller No. 9 he won a CD and free admission to a nightclub party. During the party his name was drawn as the winner of the trip to Russia.
"I was not looking for women," he said. "In fact, as it got closer, I was really thinking about not going."
But after his stint in St. Petersburg, Mr. Overstreet couldn't wait to go back. He's returning July 4.
"I expected to go over there with nerds and people who were crazy," he said. "I was surprised."
During his two-week visit in April, Mr. Overstreet attended three organized socials where 400 Russian women were waiting to meet the 40 American men.
"We did a lot of dancing. I think I lost some weight," he said. "And they eat a lot of raw fish and caviar. They eat caviar on their pancakes."
The socials also gave Mr. Overstreet a chance to learn more about Russian culture. For example, women there do not pour their own alcohol or shake hands with men.
"The hardest thing was trying to use a dictionary to communicate," he said. "I got off by myself one time, and I was in a real mess."
Mr. Overstreet said Russian women were passive and didn't hesitate to remind him of his role as a man.
"It's their culture not to lead a man, either," Mr. Overstreet said. So when touring the city, even though he didn't know where he was going, he had to lead.
"We may have walked 10 to 12 miles a day."
The socials were held at Hollywood Nites nightclub. Mr. Overstreet interacted with 30 to 40 women a night.
A blonde named Elena Suprun made a strong impression at one of the socials.
"I went up to her," he said. "And I probably only went up to about three girls the whole time. They all came up to me."
The two made plans to get together the next day. "I didn't even recognize her. She had gone and dyed her hair red like mine," Mr. Overstreet said.
The two toured the city, looking at the architecture, monuments and museums. Mr. Overstreet brought more than nine rolls of film on his trip and used it all.
"I'd recommend this place for a family vacation, just for the sights," he said.
Mr. Overstreet said that because he didn't go with the goal of finding a wife he had more fun than the other men. It had the potential to be a meat market, but Mr. Overstreet said his experience was more like The Dating Game.
"You'd find out real quick if you had a good girl or not," he said.
"For the most part it was a first class deal. But it's like here, you can make it what you want. It depended on whoever you chose to hang out with."
Mr. Overstreet said that 20 of the 40 men in his tour group started the paperwork for a fiancee visa during their trip. A fiancee visa, which can take up to six months to acquire, is the quickest way for the women to visit America. The visa requires that the couple involved marry within three months to extend the woman's stay.
Mr. Overstreet will apply for such a visa in order to bring Ms. Suprun back to Georgia this summer. But only for a visit. He's not ready to propose marriage - yet.
"Sure there's a possibility, but I'm not thinking along those lines," he said. "I'm 30 years old and not married yet. I just don't move that fast."
Lawson Graham, 57, of Augusta found his Russian bride using the online dating service Worldwide Singles. His wife, Tatyana, 43, formerly of Ukraine, is a concert violinist with a master's degree in language and literature.
"After one year of in-depth letters and fact-finding, we met in Warsaw, Poland, and fell in love," Mr. Graham said. "I finally found an unconditional love, and a grown man cried on the airplane back to America behind his sunglasses."
He immediately began the required paperwork with the Immigration and Naturalization Service. She arrived in America in May 2000, and they were married on July 6.
Mr. Graham said he gave his wife a round-trip plane ticket to keep her from feeling trapped in America. She corresponds with friends back home via computer. Mr. Graham is learning Russian.
"I now speak 88 Russian words with a Southern accent," he said. "When we call home to Russia, my wife has me say all 88 words to her mother."
"Language is the most difficult cultural difference," Mr. Graham said. "The transition has been slow, but with the help of books and local Russians in Augusta, we are very happy."
Ms. Suprun enjoys music, dancing, reading old novels, going to the ballet and playing the viola.
She said her first impression of Mr. Overstreet was that he was simple and nice.
"Later, when I was able to know him better, I understood that he is kind and cheerful. He has a special mind, and I knew it," she said.
Ms. Suprun said she likes Americans' goodwill and openness. She also enjoys sharing her culture with foreigners.
"It is not difficult to get along. It is even interesting to tell someone what you know and to teach him to understand my culture, especially if this someone wants to listen to you, not just look at you."
35, business owner
Ms. Lavrinova owns a shoe store in St. Petersburg and has a daughter, Alisa. She met Mr. Overstreet during a social at a nightclub.
"I liked him at first sight because he was very charming and lively," she said. "I felt very comfortable with him."
Ms. Lavrinova said she was not looking specifically for an American man.
"My goal was to find a person for my life," she said. "It's not matter (of) country."
Reach Lisa M. Lohr at (706) 823-3332 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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