Sufian Zhemukhov immigrated to the United States from Russia in 2010 to pursue his work. He's an associate research professor at George Washington University and teaches European history and Russian history at the University of Maryland.
He said navigating American culture has been the most difficult part of his transition. Along the way, Zhemukhov took a storytelling class to hone his English skills.
He'll be using those storytellilng skills this weekend when he's town for the 2019 KeyBank Rochester Fringe Festival. His show is called "Flirting Like an American."
"The show is about how a first-generation immigrant explores American style of flirting," Zhemukhov said. "My experience, I can assure you, was more funny than you might expect."
Things can get lost in translation, not because of a language barrier, but differences in culture.
"Americans are known for smiling and Russians, for example, never smile; that's a big deal when you meet a stranger and present yourself to a woman," he said. "Russians, when they are angry, kind of shout at you, while Americans are nicely passive-aggressive."
Those American smiles can be misinterpreted.
"Probably the most embarrassing one was when I walked into a coffee shop and I saw this young lady kind of flirting with me and I thought, 'She's too young with me to flirt,' " Zhemukhov recalled. "When she gave me the receipt, I saw that she gave me a senior discount."
He wants Fringe-goers to have fun, but also urges them to remember something.
"I would like the audience to see that immigrants are really trying hard to adjust to American life, and it's not easy and the many things that a person who was born here takes for granted are really hard for immigrants," Zhemukhov said. "But I don't want to do it in a boring way; I want to do it in a funny way so that people will leave my show with a light heart."
"Flirting Like an American" is playing at Geva on Sept. 13, 14 and 15. Get tickets at RochesterFringe.com. The show includes stories that were featured on PBS and won Story Slams at The Moth and National Storytelling Festival.
Click the LISTEN link above to hear Zhemukhov talk about the show and his experiences as an immigrant in the United States.