One young American admitted she'd forgotten what "perestroika" meant, and the Soviets misspelled their Christmas cards, but that didn't spoil the enthusiasm of 68 British, U.S. and Soviet schoolchildren at a cookies-and-carols summit.
Despite the kinks in protocol found at any international gathering, at the end of their hourlong "Perestroika Christmas" on Thursday the children were doing what summits aim to do - making friends.The only disgruntled faces in the elegant but narrow Burlington Arcade came from lunch-hour shoppers oblivious to the diplomacy and irritated at the extra crowd.
"We came to sing a song, but mostly to meet the children, that's the most important thing," said Lilly Antonov, one of four Soviet teachers shepherding 26 charges from the Soviet Embassy school.
"Very many wanted to come and we had to choose those who could sing," she said as her pack of 11- to 14-year-olds waited for the late American arrivals from the American School in London.
"It's a bit surprising to see they're a lot like us," Drew Cortese of Warren Township, N.J., said after he and 31 classmates trundled in 10 minutes behind schedule. "I was expecting they would look more different."
The Americans wore jeans and buttons with slogans like, "Only Visiting This Planet." The Soviets, mostly girls in white blouses and blue skirts, favored red scarves and Lenin pins. Ten British students from Peterborough St. Margaret's High School for Girls wore brown uniforms.
Susan Yehle, of Finley, Ohio, said she had forgotten her teacher's lesson on Soviet reform but was excited at "the chance to meet new friends."
Arcade organizers billed the event as an opportunity for British and American children to introduce their Soviet peers to Christmas, an idea not entirely new to the Soviets.
"We don't have any Christmas, but we have New Year's which is just like Christmas," said 12-year-old Katherine Shevliecova, explaining how rituals associated with the celebration of Jesus' birth have been transferred to non-religious New Year's observances at the behest of the atheist Soviet state.