02 August 2006

О Москве

I thought I should explain something from the last post that I realized wasn't clear - I'm currently in Moscow, and will be until August 29, when I leave for Vladivostok. We have a month of English Teaching Assistantship orientation here, so I'm living in a dorm on the campus of Moscow Humanities University with the other 6 ETAs.

I'd like to write a post about my impressions of Moscow compared to St. Petersburg, where I spent a month two summers ago. Partly just to share my thoughts, since that's the point of a blog, but partly because I'd like to discuss it with anyone reading this who's spent time in both cities. Being the two "big" Russian cities, culturally if not population-wise (although I think they might be the biggest in that sense as well), and being so different from each other even from the beginning, they get compared to each other a lot by a lot of different people in a lot of different ways, and my impression so far is that some of the stereotypes about them are correct and some of them don't really seem to be. But I don't have much time right now, so I'll save that for later and just share these two language anecdotes, which I hope are funny even to non-Russian speakers.

The first is an example of how we often mishear foreign words we haven't heard before, hearing words we're more familiar with in their place. In the grocery store, I picked up a box of Earl Grey tea (which was imported from Britain, so the box was in English - always helpful). Amara, a fellow ETA, saw it in my basket, and the following exchange occurred:
A: Oh, you got some chai s bergamotom (tea with bergamot)?
L: (absently) Yeah. (I pause and think) Wait. WHAT did you say?
A: Chai s bergamotom. That's what Russians call Earl Grey tea.
L: They call it chai s begamotom (tea with a hippo)?!?
A: ...

The second is an example of English speakers' distorted perception of Russians' ability to understand our attempts to speak their language. Amanda is a girl from the University of Arizona who was here on a study-abroad program and lived in our dorm.

Amanda: Ok, so I hate it when Russians act like they don't understand you just because you made a little mistake. Like, I'm TRYING, ok? Like this woman came up to me on the street and asked me what bus she should take, and I actually knew where she was going, so I said, "Bus 190." But instead of one hundred ninety, I accidentally said one hundred nine hundred. And she looked at me like I was from another planet! And it's not like she couldn't figure out what I meant.

I don't know about you, but if someone told me to take bus "one hundred nine hundred," I don't think I'd be able to guess that they meant 190.


^u3a said...

I love that you know the Russian word for Hippo. :-)
Hope you're having fun! *hugs*

<3, L

Anonymous said...


Sounds like you are having a wonderful time already! We are at grandmas house and she showed us your blog. So we thought we'd say hello! Hope your trip is going smoothly thus far! Have a great time!

Love, Katie and Libby