The conversation was not going well when the first notes of the Beatles song filled the car.
Oceans of cultural differences, not least among them language, had gotten in the way of any meaningful dialogue with the 15-year-old Soviet girl on the drive through Huntington Beach late Monday morning.
But when Paul McCartney started singing "Can't Buy Me Love," the Soviet visitor began humming along. The ice had cracked.
"I love the Beatles," Sasha Krapukhina blurted out, her English a bit rough around the edges, but still passable after just three months of on-the-spot practice. "They are my favorites! "
Before the day ended Krapukhina covered many of her favorites, from clothing to literature.
The Moscow music student also made it clear that she and 14 other Soviet teenagers who arrived in Orange County late Sunday night for a weeklong stay to promote world peace are troubled by the specter of nuclear war.
"The threat of war must be abolished," she said. "I want to sleep happily, not in fear."
The Soviet youths, ages 13-17, are here as part of the "Bridge of Peace" program sponsored by Peggy Bassett, minister of the Church of Religious Science in Huntington Beach.
"We are doing something to bring about peace," she said. "We are opening our hearts to one another. . . . I don't think we have time to wait for the heads of government, we have to do it ourselves. Children could teach our politicians how to live in peace and friendship."
The trip is co-sponsored by the church, which is contributing $20,000 to underwrite costs, and Youth Ambassadors of America, a group that sponsors student-exchange visits.
The Soviet students have been paired with county teen-agers, and the entire group is staying at an undisclosed youth camp in the county. On Christmas Eve, the Soviet visitors will move into the homes of their U.S. hosts to celebrate the holiday. Before the trip ends Sunday, the group will visit the Crystal Cathedral to see a performance of the "The Glory on Christmas," as well as tour the Queen Mary in Long Beach and spend a day at Disneyland.
The three Soviet boys and 12 girls were chosen because they won an essay contest on the topic of peace.
At a press conference Monday morning officially marking the start of their U.S. stay, singer Jose Feliciano sang "Feliz Navidad," "Imagine" and "We Are the World," as the teens linked arms and sang along.
But the Soviet youths, a bit weary after a 27-hour multistop flight, which landed Sunday at midnight in Los Angeles, were eager to sample Southern California.
Following the welcoming ceremony, the students and their U.S. counterparts were teamed with individual reporters for lunch and an interview.
Most of the Soviet visitors wanted to go to the beach.
Krapukhina, the daughter of a Moscow computer company executive, was no different. But she had also heard about U.S. shopping malls, so when asked whether she wanted a look, she eagerly agreed.
Coming from a country where consumers often spend hours in line to buy simple necessities like food or wait weeks to buy a washing machine or automobile, Krapukhina was wide-eyed when she first surveyed the Westminster Mall.
"Where do we start?" she asked her two U.S. companions, Arielle Lawson, 15, of Santa Ana, and Amie Greenfield, 16, of Huntington Beach.
Within moments, the three had disappeared down an escalator and into a trendy women's clothing store. They drifted from rack to rack, chattering about colors and sizes. Lawson then coaxed Krapukhina to slip on a $140 denim jacket with leather trim. Her short hair pulled tight in back with a pink clip, Krapukhina studied herself in the mirror and mugged playfully for a photographer, striking several modeling poses.
"Do you like?" she laughed.
Lawson then pulled a matching skirt, the micro-mini model, and showed Krapukhina. The Soviet girl, her hand over her mouth, blushed.
Lunch proved less novel.
Pizza and Pepsi. Lawson and Greenfield ordered the diet brand. Krapukhina wanted "the real stuff."
Like most of the Soviet visitors, Krapukhina comes from a middle- or upper-class family. This is her first trip outside the U.S.S.R., but she has been exposed to many Western notions and creations, pizza among them.
One of her favorite authors is Ken Kesey, who wrote the book that became her favorite movie, "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest." A violinist, she has studied at a Moscow music academy for seven years and wants a career in music. As composers, Bach and Tchaikovsky are her loves.
Housing is tight in Moscow, but Krapukhina is lucky. An only child, she lives with her parents in a second-story flat not from the Kremlin, she said. She has her own room and spends her free time dancing and reading.
As for boys, she smiles shyly and says, "I like them."