Tag Archives: language

And Then I Try Not to Cry…

20 Jun

While I really do have tons of fun living here in Russia, it’s not all international travel and exciting adventures. There are days like today, days when I am completely exhausted and only want to sleep for a week, but, instead, I find myself sitting outside of a bank on the verge of tears in the middle of Moscow.

A few weeks ago, while I was back in the States for a long weekend, a news story hit that the bank in which Ben’s pay is deposited (and has been for almost three years) would begin phasing out service to clients who are U.S. citizens. Despite multiple inquiries and expressions of concerns from American employees, his employer has insisted that this will not be a problem for us in the immediate future.

We decided not to risk it and to get as much of our savings out of there now, allowing us the peace of mind to enter July with our money secure either way. After successfully transferring a small amount back to the States, we learned that in order to transfer more we had to sign a form. (Note: we only learned this because we have friends who went through the process, there was no indication on the website about it.) We went to the bank today to sign this form only to be turned away because Ben does not have a notarized translation of his passport. He has had multiple interactions with this bank without needing one, so this was a big surprise. We were annoyed, but there was absolutely nothing that could be done, so we gave up for the day.

On our way out, we stopped by the ATM to get cash. The first ATM said the operation could not be completed, but a man in front of us also had trouble, so we switched lines to another machine. The next two ATM’s gave the same message and spit out the card.

This is the point when we began to get really nervous.

Ben went back inside to find our friend (who speaks Russian) to follow up with him, while I sat down outside and put every bit of energy I had left into not crying.

The end result is that a block was put on our account in response to resent charges. We never would have been able to figure this out on our own. This could not even be taken care of in the branch, Ben was sent away to call and take care of it over the phone.

So. Freaking. Frustrating.

We are so lucky to have awesome friends willing to translate notes and show up in person to translate for us. Navigating this system would be impossible without them. I understand that we do not speak the language of the country, but we were brought here knowing that this is the case. We never expected to have so much trouble with things that we consider to be so simple.

I often think about sharing my frustrations like this one, but usually never end up posting them. The reality is that life here is both amazing and so, so hard. It’s not all sunshine and roses; sometimes, it’s grey skies and smelly metro cars.

So, I cry. I process. Then, we figure out how to deal with whatever it is that is happening. At the end of the day, living here is worth dealing with situations like the one today. As long as we feel this way, that the positives outweigh the negatives, we will continue to support each other and get through the frustrations.

до свидания!

Providing Amusement

23 May

While at the grocery store this afternoon, I managed to greatly amuse an older Russian man.

Unlike most people here, he seemed fairly chatty.  Our first encounter was when we both tried to pass through the same space and he cleared the path for me.  I thanked him and heard him say something, but could not make out more than “девушка” (young woman), so I continued on my way.

We later met at the checkout counter.  I was there first, but there was some confusion and we ended up in a similar position of heading for the same spot.  He gestured for me to go ahead and then said something I could not understand, but seemed fairly jovial.  The dialog that followed was:

Me (in Russian): I do not understand. I do not speak Russian.

Him (in German): German?  (in English):  English?

Me: English.

Him: Ah. Okay! Good!

His English wasn’t very good, but he was kind enough to translate when the cashier told me the line was cash only.  He also very slowly, yet very emphatically, indicated how I should count out my 100 ruble notes when I was paying.  While I appreciate the sentiment, it did make me feel a little frustrated when I was trying to find a one ruble coin in my change pocket.  I wanted to shout, “But I know how to do this part!!!”  When he saw that I was able to give her exact change he said, “молодец!” (well done/good job*).

Normally I would appreciate a Russian cheer-leading my small victories, but the exchange then took a weird turn.  As I grabbed my basket, he started excitedly saying something in Russian and laughing.  When I said I didn’t understand, he started using his hand to indicate pulling a trigger and kept on laughing.  I don’t think that is EVER a good sign.

до свидания!

* I learned this one from bowling!

A Moment of Kindness

23 Dec

Russian cashiers are not known for their amazing customer service skills.  I assume the logic is that if you want to buy milk, you will buy milk; it doesn’t matter if they smile and ask how your day is.  They ask if you need a plastic bag and if you have a store card then they tell you your total and badger you for as close to exact change as possible.  The majority of the time, I get through these interactions with no problem and leave with my groceries.

Tonight, I was at the store and saw something that was on my x-mas list for our family.  The display showed that it was supposedly a great deal, so I went for it.  When the cashier began to ring up my items she asked if I had a card and then broke script, saying something that I couldn’t understand.  I admitted (in Russian) that I didn’t speak Russian and didn’t understand.  She continued speaking and pointing at a card with the discounted prices.  I somehow understood from the gestures and concern that in order to get the discount, I had to have *something.*  Before I could respond, she took a sheet of paper with a barcode, showed it to me and then scanned it.  I said, “спасибо большое,” (“thank you very much”) and she looked at me with a little smile, put her fingers to her lips, and said “shhhhh.”  It was such a conspiratorial moment and such kindness on her part that it shocked me.

I sometimes find it difficult to create meaningful blog posts because so many of the things that affect my daily life here are insignificant by American standards.  Does anyone really want to read about a helpful cashier?  Yet, this made me walk home with a skip in my step and a smile on my face.  I feel like every action here takes more work than I am used to: going outside requires layers-upon-layers of clothing and three doors to unlock and relock; buying groceries means decoding labels, determining which stores carry which items, and figuring out what happened to every single container of milk less than 2.5% (where DID they all go?!); and, buying train tickets means navigating a Russian-language site because the English version does not allow you to purchase tickets and the expat site charges over 40% more.  Given this, the positive experiences, no matter how small, really make a difference.

So, thank you to the nice young woman at the grocery store for helping me out tonight!  Not only did you save me lots of money, but you made me feel like we understood each other without even speaking the same language.

до свидания!

Advanced Russian

21 Sep


There are a number of activities that Ben and I call Advanced Russian. In addition to the fact that they usually require an advanced knowledge of the language, often these activities require a better understanding of norms and/or procedures. We tend to avoid these activities whenever possible because living here already requires so much effort. Why make it even more complicated?

Last February I began to really miss my pixie cut. I had a week off from work and spent most of my time pinning photos of cute haircuts and trying to decide if I wanted to go for a cut or not. Haircuts definitely fall into the Advanced Russian category. While there is at least one salon here that caters specifically to English-speaking expats, it is quite a bit more expensive than what I like to pay and short cuts require maintenance. If I was going to do it, it wasn’t going to happen there. Ultimately, I decided not to add another stressor. Instead, I took a pair of scissors into the bathroom and cut myself bangs as a compromise.

That wasn’t enough, though. Seven months later and I still wanted that haircut. I live two minutes from an afforable salon, yet still tried to convince myself to “wait until after winter?” That’s unacceptable.

I started to wonder if I can truly live here if I am unwilling to even get a haircut. I have been here for over a year and this is my home: a simple haircut should not hold me back. A Russian friend called the salon for an appointment, I loaded up a couple pictures on my tablet, and I went for it.

And… I love it. The haircut is great and the process was not bad at all. The receptionist and stylist both spoke a little English and were very kind about working with me. I will definitely go back when I need a trim.

The fact that this went well, though, does meant that I plan to tackle every Advanced Russian activity. Everything is viewed with a want-to-do versus willing-to-accept-the-hassle comparison. We really have to pick our battles around here. So, no one is allowed to say “remember the haircut” when encouraging me to do something, because then I will have to tell you about the time when I left the pharmacy on the verge of tears simply because I could not understand how much I owed.

до свидания!

Here are two photos of my haircut. Sorry for the poor quality!


One Month

27 Sep

Today marks one month since Ben and I arrived in Moscow.  It’s been a busy month of finding an apartment, starting work, and figuring out how to live here.  We had a huge learning curve when we arrived – everything from navigating the metro system to simply learning how to buy groceries.  By now we have settled  into a daily routine and are using our weekends to relax and explore a little.  We’ve made some friends (including a few with knowledge of the city!) and have been enjoying a bit of social time, as well.   Continue reading

Language Update

23 Jul

I am slowly working my way through the Rosetta Stone lessons – taking my time to go back and review sections when the new lessons become overwhelming. I haven’t even put a dent in the overall program, but anything I can learn before arriving in Moscow will help. I struggle with grammar, but think that learning the vocabulary will be the most important thing upfront and hope that the subtleties of the language will come with time.   Continue reading

Time to learn Russian

18 May

I just completed my first hour of Rosetta Stone!

While I don’t feel ready to hit the streets of Moscow just yet, I was very impressed by the lessons. I can definitely see the potential in this method of learning. So far it seems to be based on pattern recognition and repetition of images/vocab. It will take some time for me to remember the concepts outside of the program and I think they may be a little too forgiving with regards to my pronunciation. I’m sure that will get better with practice, though.

до свидания!