Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Found in Translation

Most of our time here in Moscow has involved language mistakes.  It's just life.  The Russian language has been a blast to learn, but is insanely difficult.  So part of the learning of course is just screwing up.  All the time.

And it's bothersome for me especially, because I don't want people to know that I'm "not from around here."  And occasionally I get away with it.  But I almost always don't.  There's always this point when something clicks in the other persons head that you can visibly see them realize "oh, he's not Russian."

But here are a couple instances lately where I've had good interactions.

  • A week or so ago I took a couple passports to be registered, and when I dropped them off, the man told me in English that they would be available on Tuesday.  Then, for some reason, he looks at me and then says it in Russian.  With my natural desire to try to fool people by any means, I go with Russian and continue our conversation.  It felt so good.  As dumb as it sounds, it gets frustrating when people revert to English automatically.  Just because it show's how obviously not Russian I am.
  • I went to a fruit and vegetable stand near our apartment, and of course butchered the endings on some of my words (when you address a direct object, for instance if you say "I want strawberries," whatever the direct object is, in this case the strawberries, you have to change the ending of the word.  And there's a different ending if it's plural.  Am I putting you to sleep already?).  I'm sure I messed it up, but the woman apologized to me!  She said "excuse me, I'm sorry I don't understand so well, I'm not from here."  Even though it was me who messed the language up, something felt so good about not being the one apologizing.
  • I stopped by another fruit stand a few days ago to pick up strawberries (yet again).  This was the first time this spring I had stopped by this particular stand, but the woman there asked about Beth.  She said she knows that she is pregnant and was wondering if we had the baby yet.  I told her not yet, but any time now.  She was warm and very well-wishing.  I know this really isn't that big of a deal, but I cherish interactions like these.  You can believe we will be frequenting this stand often.

These are just three of my good experiences, but for every one good experience I could share probably 20 mistakes.  But it's all part of language acquisition.  And it keeps you humble to say the least. :-)


  1. I know the feeling! The word endings don't change as much for us, but the there are a begillion articles to clarify the direct object, which of course is difference for each of the three genders, etc. It's those little things that get ya down! But boy does it feel good when I order a cup of coffee at a bakery stand and they switch to dialect to ask about sugar - at least I think that's what they are asking...

  2. Haha!

    It's really sad that most of my victories are just fooling people or faking it... But it still feels good. :-)