08 April 2007

Happy Easter! / Random update

I can now add "participation in a scientific conference" to my CV! I gave my talk on Friday about Icelandic-English language contact and syntactic change (a product of data collected in Iceland two summers ago for the senior thesis-that-never-was) at the conference "Russia East-West: Problems in Cross-Cultural Communication," and it went really well. Obviously, Iceland has nothing to do with "Russia East-West," and theoretical syntax only has to do with cross cultural communication if you do some stretching of the terms, but that's ok. The professor organizing the conference really wanted me to participate, and I was not the only one with an off-topic paper.

So, like I said, the presentation went well. However, the funny thing is that my audience was most interested in the parts that had nothing to do with my research. The (mostly female – Russian academia, especially the liberal arts, is generally female) crowd got really excited when I mentioned that Icelandic single mothers give their children matronymics instead of patronymics. Seriously. Some of the women wanted to start clapping (matronymics are not legal in Russia). Then when I explained that Icelanders don't have last names, just first names and patronymics, the Russianness in them really came out – their first question was, "How do they fill out their passport documents if they don't have last names?!?" Ah, the Russian love of paper and bureaucracy.

That reminds me of a similar story – I recently took the state Russian exam for foreigners (like the TOEFL, but Russian), and when I filled out my registration, the proctor was very, very concerned about the fact that I had only put down my first and last names, leaving off my middle names. Middle names confuse Russians a little bit, because they don't have them, and the fact that I have two of them seems to really mess with them sometimes (thanks, Mom!). He warned me that if I wanted to use the certificate saying I passed the test (I passed, by the way!) in Russia, I might have trouble if it didn't have my full legal name on it. But I don't plan to use it in Russia, and I'm sure that if I want to use it in the U.S., my first and last name will be sufficient.

And speaking of things Russians are a little confused about, here are two conversations about Easter that I've had with Russians recently:

At the Catholic center where I teach English, although this conversation was in Russian:
Me: So is Sunday Catholic Easter or Orthodox Easter?
Valentina: It's both. But you're right, they're usually on different days. This year they just happen to coincide.
Me: Oh, I see. That doesn't happen very often, does it?
Valentina: No. It's very strange that the Catholic and Orthodox ones are at the same time this year.
Nijole: And what's more, the Jewish!
Me: The Jewish?
Nijole: Yes, the Jewish!

In Russian it made more sense that Nijole (it's a Lithuanian name, btw) didn't have to say "Easter" after the word "Jewish." Obviously she was talking about Passover, but the conversation still amused me. So, happy "Jewish Easter" to my Jewish readers!

And at the university:
Alla Ivanovna: What? Leslie, you've never had homemade pelmeni? We should have a party with Russian food for you! We could have borsch and everything... although, by the way, borsch isn't Russian, it's Ukrainian. What's the next holiday? Easter, right?
Anna Vladimirovna: Yes, Easter.
AI: We could have a party for Easter! Anya, do you know when it is?
AV: April 8th.
AI: April 8th... (looks at a calendar) Oh, that's no good, it's a Sunday.

I guess Alla Ivanovna, who is about 70, spent too much of her life in the atheist Soviet era to have quite grasped that Easter always falls on a Sunday.

P.S. - Today at 12:45 in the morning, I was awakened by a text message from someone I don't know (or possibly someone I know whose phone number I don't have) with the traditional Russian Easter greeting, "Иисус воскрес!" ("Christ is risen!" or actually, "Jesus is risen!" which I think is slightly less traditional). While I appreciate the news, I didn't really appreciate being awakened by it. Also I feel like they kind of jumped the gun.

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