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John Adams is an unlikely fellow to be presiding over international assignations between lonely American men and lovelorn women from the former Soviet Union. In fact, he looks more like a guy you knew in high school--math club president, maybe--than an impresario of global capitalism trading in that universal currency, amour. Adams, who ran a downtown sandwich shop before becoming a matchmaker, calls his Phoenix-based business A Foreign Affair, and describes it in marketing pitches as "an international introduction, dating and marriage service for singles wishing to meet Russian, Asian and Latin women for correspondence, love and marriage."
You can find his storefront on the World Wide Web--and it's all completely legal. Adams, who says he sort of fell into the business after realizing he could reach a global audience at almost no cost via the Internet, sells the addresses of foreign women who are looking for a mate beyond their geographical borders. Whenever Adams gets his hands on a foreign dating-service publication, he writes the women directly and offers them, at no charge, a spot on his own plenary list of dating prospects. Adams makes his money by charging American men a premium for access to those addresses.
On the Web site, you can click on an "Order Form" button that sweeps you off your feet and onto a page that accepts Visa and MasterCard transactions. (Despite all the press about the risk of sending credit-card numbers over the Web, plastic transactions are becoming increasingly common on the Internet.) A Foreign Affair charges $10 per address, $35 for the addresses of five potential Ninotchkas or $100 for something called the "Platinum Subscription" (unlimited addresses for a month).
"We've done very well," Adams says, referring to his business partners, three high school buddies. Precisely how well, Adams won't say. But to make a point, he opens a file cabinet crammed with dossiers on 1,500 foreign bachelorettes. In the year since its inception, Adams explains, A Foreign Affair has serviced 700 paying male clients.
The Web page sagely advises that American men purchase as many addresses as possible: "There are literally thousands of women from around the world and from all walks of life waiting to meet you! ... The more women you correspond with the better chance you will have of success!" What's more, "they are at least somewhat familiar with the English language."
"It turned out there's great interest" in this kind of a service among American men, Adams says in his surprisingly sedate office down the street from the Ritz-Carlton hotel. "The diversity of our customers is amazing--it ranges from doctors, lawyers, just regular businessmen, [to] a lot of people who travel internationally and just want actually to have someone to go out and have drinks with."
Yes--everyone asks Adams if some of these women might in fact be the Internet equivalent of "escort" girls, but he assures that they are not. And in response to another obvious question, he says he hasn't used his own business's services. "I'm in a relationship with a woman, so I'd never get away with that," he says jokingly.
The thawing of the Cold War pumped new life into what used to be called the subscription-bride trade--there are about a dozen companies that sell the addresses of women from the former Warsaw Pact states; several have followed A Foreign Affair onto the Internet. But that's only one niche market for a service that's cropping up all over the online world: Earlier this month, a Tucson firm took a similar service, called "The Girls of Sonora," to the Web.
Though A Foreign Affair promises to connect lonely American men with "Asian Women" and "Latin Women," most of the action seems to focus on the apparat-chicks of the former Red Menace.
A Foreign Affair's Web page offers a "sampling of the 1,000 foreign women that we have on our database," illustrated with snapshots, helpfully arranged by category. You can browse lists of women from Russia, Ukraine, Moldova, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. And you can also search by age. Click on any of the women and you get an assortment of snapshots (clothing not optional) and Playboy-style vital stats: There's Julia from Ukraine, who peeks out from behind apotted rose bush. Julia is five feet four, 123pounds, is a nonsmoker, has auburn hair and is endowed with 352537 measurements. She works as a secretary and describes herself as "a faithful and romantic lady" who "will become a good wife for happy family and love."
Then there's Irina, a stunning 22-year-old who lives in Russia, has gray eyes, describes her religion as atheist, is five feet seven and weighs 114 pounds, is "well-educated" and works as a "law assistant." And get this: She lists her hobby as architecture. Irina is "looking for a gentleman, tall, age 27 to 38, for serious relationship and marriage." Irina's additional photos look like they belong in a model's portfolio. Why would she ever need to fish in foreign waters?
Adams has a few answers ready: Now that the Berlin Wall has fallen and everyone gets CNN, he says, the world is a much smaller place. Also, he adds, American men may seem like princes compared to their hard-drinking (as the stereotype goes) Slavic counterparts.