This week’s guest on Life Outside of Poker is Ben Wilinofsky, and the topic of choice concerns his recent change in marital status, and a visit to Russia.
Former European Poker Tour (EPT) champion, Ben Wilinofsky, has been a guest on this series before, but I had to ask him to come back on after learning through social media, how he had married a Russian woman, and when he first met his in-laws he was standing in his underwear.
Let’s start with the marriage. How did you both meet?
The short answer to this story is that we met online through a mutual Facebook friend. The long answer is, we were playing Magic: the Gathering, online, against each other, and were being goofy in the chat box. She posted a screen shot of our banter on Facebook, and one of the three people in the world who knew who I was, on Magic Online, was also friends with her, and tagged me.
We started chatting after that, and it got to the point eventually where we were talking every day. She went to school in Boston and I was in New York for Vanessa and Miranda Selbst’s wedding, and had a couple of friends in Boston anyway, so I went to meet them, and her, and after a week with her I couldn’t stay away.
I proposed in March of this year and we were married in June.
Where did you tie the knot?
We had seven people at a civil ceremony on my parent’s back deck. We are still planning to have a larger get-together with friends and family at some point in the future, but for practical reasons we had to get legally married before we could organize the logistics of such a thing.
Are there any language issues?
No, actually, when we first started talking, one of the things that struck me about her was that she used a couple of idioms that I like, even though English wasn’t her first language. After she used “This ain’t my first rodeo,” I sent her the video of me saying the same in Berlin.
Had you ever been to Russia before?
Never, it was all completely new.
What was it like meeting her family?
There were a couple of language issues. Her dad and older brother can communicate fine in English, but her two younger siblings can at best say a few phrases. So what ended up happening was everyone spoke Russian, and then broke to translate for me at some point. It felt a little isolating at points, but I still felt very welcome there. They really made me feel right at home despite the communication issues.
Was you ever worried because of the current issues with Ukraine? What is the feeing like in the country?
It was never really a big deal while I was there. I don’t think there’s been any reverberations in the major cities from the fighting; the bans on food imports have probably been more impactful. Actually, before we got there, her youngest brother, who is nine years old, went off to Crimea for a martial arts camp. That’s how not-a-big-deal it was at the time.
What did you do while you were there?
We spent most of our time in St. Petersburg and Moscow. I am afraid to say I didn’t see much in the way of museums, palaces, etc. We walked around the gardens at Peterhof and saw the Hermitage from outside, both of which were beautiful.
We toured both cities, by boat, and saw some of the major sites, but I didn’t really engage in too much site seeing. I did a lot of my favorite things, which are lying in bed with my wife and playing with animals.
How complicated is it to have families on two different sides of the world? How do you choose where to live?
Rada doesn’t really want to live in Russia, and neither do I. It’s hard, because she misses her family a lot, but she spent high school in the States, as well as university, and Russia doesn’t hold much appeal to her beyond being close to family. It would also obviously be very hard for me with language issues.
I think in terms of choosing where to live, I’m afforded a lot of flexibility. There are some good arguments for living in Canada, but the weather isn’t one of them. We also have to wait to see how Rada’s job opportunities pan out, because, while I can pop open a laptop mostly anywhere, her field of study (chemical engineering) demands a lot more equipment, and so a bit of permanence. We’re going to wait and see how things pan out.
What’s this I hear about meeting your in-laws in your underwear?
When her dad came home from work, the first night we were there, he knocked on the bedroom door, and Rada, being fully clothed, called him to come in. She is not used to having someone else in the bedroom with her in Russia. I met my father-in-law in my underwear.
It’s amazing what you pick up from people when you don’t have language getting in the way. I feel like I learned a lot about communication by not talking.
Your view on Russia in general?
I didn’t get deep enough into it to form an informed view on Russia. I think it is another place where there are people, mostly, and because I couldn’t communicate with many of them very well, I couldn’t learn much about it.