My first day in the USA

I came to the USA for the first time on September 11, 1992 as a math grad student at UCLA. Here is what happened at the San-Francisco airport. (Aeroflot did not fly to Los Angeles at that time, so I had to take a bus from SF to LA). My English was lousy - I could read, of course, but I had a hard time understanding spoken words - in part because I was taught the British phonetics in the Soviet Union.

The INS (Immigration and Naturalization Service, as it was called then) official (a big guy wearing an impressive uniform - probably also adorned with a gun and handcuffs - but that may be my later imagination) looked at my papers and asked:

"You will be a graduate student in math at UCLA, won't you?"

"Yes" - I answered.

"Well, and what is π?"

Here I should notice that here in the United States people pronounce π as pie (in my home country, Russia, they say pee). I did not know that, so I did not understand what he was asking about:

"Pie? Cake?" - I asked.

"No. I'm talking about circles!" - he answered, and it seemed to me that he was not quite happy.

"Round cake? Torte?" - I was still lost.

"No! Pie in the area of circle!" - he said, and this time I wish I were dreaming.


"Okay! Area is pie are squared!" - he said angrily.

I understood only words area and square, and tried to say something about Squaring the Circle - the ancient problem of erecting with ruler and compass the square of the same area that of the given circle (which is unsolvable since π is not a root of a quadratic equation with integer coefficients). The problem was exaggerated by the fact that at that time I did not know yet the words compass and ruler, and used instead words circle and line, which are very close to the corresponding Russian words.

"No!!!" - he yelled and wrote on a piece of paper

Here I began to understand something and feverishly cried the following digits: "four, one, five, nine, two..."

He was satisfied; he stamped my papers and let me through.

Of course, he did not try to "catch" me, he was just making a conversation, but I was scared to death and was wondering whether he was going to charge me with something horrible and not allow me to enter the United States...

Do you know π?!
No?! You're a spy!!!

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