Saturday, 13 June 2015
Things Are a Little Harder in Russia
Ok, so I think I have come to the conclusion that everything is harder in Russia because it can be. This is to say I believe a culture in which twelve vowels is standard and each plural adjective has as many options as a birthday card the expectations are just higher. Yet just like a birthday card only the correct plural will be accepted. So how can you tell I am getting into the second part of my Russian education? Inga is a great help, letting me study and keeping me hydrated and full as I devote hours to class trying to get the sticky grey matter to absorb at least a little of what my teachers are patiently showing me. Inga and I are speaking more Russian at home and I am finding that my daily responses are coming first in Russian in some cases. I hope it doesn’t mess with my writing, but I shall leave that for you to decide and tell me. Some things are helping my writing. We tend to take for granted sentence structure and now as I sound out a word, that I may or may not know, I have to find clues as to ‘the what’ based on the structure of the sentence. Thankfully Russian grammar rules are very strict and absolute in most cases, unlike sloppy English.
So my Saturday finds me down on the beach, doing a little studying, and enjoying beautiful Anapa. It is a gorgeous hot day and like the locals I am enjoying a glass of beer or three and relishing a culture mature enough to allow a casual beer on the beach. No draconian law enforcement, chastising us and treating us like children for enjoying a beer here! It is normal and perhaps one of the reasons this country is not Muslim. Back when Russia was forming into an actual self-determining country a choice had to be made. The choice was between being Orthodox Christian and Muslim and the ruling King, for lack of a more accurate descriptive, is quoted as saying; “It is the joy of every Russian to enjoy a drink.” Henceforth the Russian people’s official faith was Orthodox Christianity, as it didn’t have rules against casual drinking. This was called the Byzantine Empire and happened in 988. Let’s think about that for a second, before America had anything resembling an organized society and Canadians of the time were worried about the size of beavers, Russia had an organized society! If we look at these people from within this framework, it is easy to see how they are a little reluctant to accept that the West knows best ideology bantered about with impunity. This country has been built, or perhaps forged is a more correct word, by revolution. We have learned from Marx that only true change comes from violent revolution. Russia has had more than a few of these while America has had, but one and we Canadians have had none. When you have paid for your current society with blood and death, you cannot help but respect it more. To add a little spice, most Russians remember the last revolution clearly while their American counterparts of the same age are digging up relics of their own or reenacting them in costumes. I guess the difference is like the taste of a cake your Grandfather told you about and the one you ate in New York twelve years ago. One is significantly more real.
Ok, so what have I learned in my courses? I have learned the alphabet and, for the most part, the different sounds the letters make. I never sounded out words in English. Rather I learned them on sight and I’ve had to change this process in my learning style. Sounding out words is difficult if you are unsure of the word you are attempting. Add to this the insecurity you have with the new alphabets sound and you get my difficulty. Some of these sounds are entirely different, even alien sounding. Others letters look like English ones yet have different sounds. Multiple syllable words are the norm as well. For example, the word fridge is one syllable in English and in Russian it has five. Russian has 33 letters and believe me they use them, well except for the one letter that has no actual sound of its own. This letter looks like a B and just separates the sound of the letters on either side of it. Plurals are a new horror. If I designed an English test for plural rules and the students added an S to each answer, they would be right about seventy-five percent of the time. But this is Russian and as far as I can tell it seems that they have about sixteen different plural adjectives that depend on masculine, feminine, or neuter. It gets complicated past that as different letters modify different parts of the sentence, not just the noun or verb equally. But this is normal here and no one thinks about it. Just like in Canada when I get asked why I used an emotive adjective in my crash description and I have to think; “Shit ok which is the adjective again?” Here is a good example of some of the sound differences the SHH sound. There are two different yet close sounds to SHH. Borscht is a great example, as well as an excellent traditional soup, The last letter that looks like an upside down w in printed form has a tail and that makes it a hard sign. Like the great sports car Porsche, there is no t or ta sound after the shh sound. With such a challenging language, it is no leap to understand how accepting a little more difficulty in getting things accomplished is normal.
We went out for a BBQ the other day. This prevented me from doing my homework and so my walk to school was very reminiscent of my high school days when I often walked to school without doing any. The difference being I rarely had to apply myself in school while here, pushing 50, I most certainly do. Luckily for me it was State holiday and the school was closed when I arrived so I was saved by the state and didn’t have to show disrespect to my teachers by not doing my lessons. My friend Vladimir and his wife Irene brought their kids and the newest addition to the family a grandchild. Lova wrestled some time from his very busy life to attend and our friend Natalie came with her brother and his wife and kids. Natalie’s little nephew is ten and has been taking English in school and greeted me in English and then had loads of fun practicing his English. He was jubilant to hear about the ease of plural adjectives in English! The BBQ was held in a little out of the way place that the locals call Snake Lake. I have never seen a snake on the three times I have been there. Drinks and food were plentiful as was catching up and enjoying each other’s company, as is the culture here in Russia. During a swim in this man-made lake, I lost my glasses and while I tried several times to find them, I was unsuccessful. Dejected I gave up and returned to the table to eat and made the statement that it was impossible to find them in the murky water and it would be like finding a needle in a haystack. Vladimir’s boy didn’t give up and searched further out and found them for me! This was an impressive demonstration of this polite and attentive culture. A guest lost something and this would not stand until it could be rectified. It also showed the never give up Russian attitude. Meanwhile, Lova was organizing a recovery team that it used to pull bodies from the lake to suit up and come help the stupid Canadian that forgot to take off his glasses! It is just the way things are here! Many people and family ask why I love it here and am working so hard to stay…this is why, friendship and comrade mean so much more. As with anything English, there are exceptions and I have friends like this at home as well and you to a person know who you are. You are in my thoughts when I go to sleep and again when I awake. I long to see you here so you can experience this wonderful Russian lifestyle personally. Russia it is not just sitting on a gorgeous beach with incredible views and cold beer. It is the ethnically diverse culture that shares the ideologies that respect and hospitality are far more than mere ideals. I am typing this and four Kavkaz boys in their late twenties are dancing to traditional Kavkaz music and trying to get their girlfriends to join them. The girls are traditionally a little more conservative and are shyly being lured into the dance. Now to go order another beer from my Armenian bartender and host at my favorite seaside bar and answer questions about the price of cigarettes and booze in Canada and watch his eyes raise in disbelief and then wonder if I understood his question. Yes, my friend I understood and understand Russian pretty well. I long for the day I can express my thoughts to you in Russian. One day I will.