Adventures in Russian

I have a certain preposition predisposition for becoming afflicted by completely ludicrous illnesses.  It’s rare that I’m not, say, unable to use my wrist, unable to eat anything but toast, allergic to alcohol, or have a broken bone (or ten).  My current issue is that I seem to have reinvented smallpox, or at least baby chickenpox (chickpox?  chickletpox?).  The Russians around me reassure me that being allergic to the weather here is fairly common, and that a lot of people are afflicted by whole-body rashes when the temperature drops as steeply as it has here recently.  Of course, in Russia, when one is ill one oughtn’t drink cold water, and my Russian teacher advised me to rub vodka all over myself when I have a cold.  So I take all health advice with a pinch of salt.

I had some friends over for dinner on Sunday night and was forced to wear pyjamas because clothes are too irritating.  My friend Nastya’s a complete legend and turned up in pjs as well – winn!!  Lana suggested I start taking some vitamin D – after all, I haven’t had summer since January 20 this year – and probably some iron for good measure.  This in turn meant pharmacy adventures…  But more on that in a second.

Today and yesterday I had staff meetings at each of my schools.  They each lasted about two hours and were held entirely in Russian.  Is my brain melted? – you ask – and yes, yes it is.  It’s kind of mind-boggling actually – who’d have thought, eighteen months ago, that not only would I be in Russia but that I would be able to understand so much in my thirdish language?  Go me!

Of course, I wouldn’t want you to think that I’m that awesome at Russian, so I’m going to give you a couple of quick examples in how I make myself understood…

  • On Saturday, Naz and I went to Novgorod, one of the birth-places of Russia.  Naz has been looking for some traditional wooden shot-glasses for her friends, so we went to some touristy little stalls.  I explained that we wanted “like a small tea-cup, but just for vodka, and like a tree”.
  • Nastya said something about my snowboard jacket and I had no idea what she was talking about.  I asked how what I was wearing was different to a ‘coat’, and she was trying to think of a way to say that a coat is insulated – so I asked if a coat was a coat because “барашки есть” (sheeplets/lambs exist there).
  • In the pharmacy, ‘vitamin D’ wasn’t too hard – I said “vitamin D” and “like the sun”.  Iron, however, was a bit more difficult: I said that I was vegetarian, pointed to a metal thing on a cabinet and said that I needed that, said that it was like in blood, that it’s in meat but I don’t eat meat.  The pharmacist was more than bemused.  Haha in the end I asked her if I could write something down, and wrote ‘Fe+’ then said “like Mendeleev”.  (If you don’t get this reference, ‘Fe’ is the chemical symbol for iron, and it’s found on the periodic table which was invented by Russian chemist Mendeleev).  Result!

I’ll write again soon but have a few projects underway which are keeping me busy.  One such project is acquiring flights to Siberia – Nastya invited me to come and spend the xmas break with her family near Novosibirsk.  I’ve managed to get the extra required time off  work and went to the hostel earlier so that she could help me book flights – and as I selected the flight it sold out.  The price also jumped hugely, and I’m pretty sure I’m not going to spend over $600 going to Siberia…  Whether I end up in the -40 temperatures there or not though, I definitely need to buy a winter jacket pronto: as you can see, winter’s finally arrived:


aka ‘How to drink Vodka like a Russian.’

In Russia, the traditional process for drinking vodka is as follows:

  1. The vodka should be stored in the freezer prior to serving
  2. Before drinking, everybody should stand
  3. Make a toast – it should be to something positive, and to something that is happening/has happened
  4. Shot the vodka – 50mL shots are standard
  5. Follow with some kind of pickley thing.

Personally, I’m against eating anything which looks like a dead baby arm, so I skip the pickley part.  I really think that step #3 is an amazing idea however.

After yesterday’s post and its tone of ‘deepening madness’, I’ve got a lot more to be positive about: thus, here are my (alcohol-less) toasts for the day:

Life and its improvement
As mentioned, I went to see HR today.  I can indeed quit one school without being fired from the other, or having my visa revoked.  As it was, I’d set up contingency plans and places to go to if I had to leave the country this week (thanks so much to everyone who helped, my friends are amazing 🙂 :)).  I’m handing in my resignation tomorrow – though I will stay until the end of December, to finish the term out.  Happily, uni have agreed to let me defer my lessons until after I’ve finished working at school #2.  So huzzah – I’m going to have some time to rest and recover.

Fabulous Renglishisms
On popular songs in Russia:

Note, in the next picture it’s someone climbing a rock-wall:


On expats saying hilarious things

  • My Russian teacher asks me what interests me, and the guy next to me starts chanting ‘boys, boys, boys’.
  • A girl in my Russian class: ‘Talking about fucking Russia throwing shit at you and expecting you to deal with it.’ (re sharing one seat on a bus with a friend on an eight-hour trip after pre-purchasing two seats)
  • Drunk Naz: ‘He’s a pedofile because he looks at Laura with his glad eye…  You can’t hear the glad eye, you must look at the glad eye…  No no no, glad eye and pedo eye are different.’
On the ‘normal’ Russian
  • My students gave me some advice re keeping myself safe in Russia: ‘be rude to people, all the time’.
  • During a lesson on taboos:
    Me: ‘Have you ever broken any taboos?’
    S (instantly): ‘Yes, of course!’
    Me: ‘uh.. thanks for your honesty.  Which ones?’
    S: ‘Well, I steal things.’
    Me: ‘What?  What kind of things?’
    S: ‘From the supermarket, all the time.’
    Me: ‘You’re not the first Russian to tell me that!!  Is stealing from the supermarket common here?’
    S: ‘Well yes, of course.’
  • Discussing taboos relating to public nudity:
    Me: ‘So, what would happen if I walked naked, if someone walked naked, down Nevskiy Prospekt in the middle of the day?’
    (students confer)
    S:  Shrug.  ‘They’d just think you were a normal Russian.’

On conversations between Naz and her bf Mikita

  • Mikita wants to set me up on girl-dates:
    When I was staying with them, Mikita didn’t say a single word to me.  But since then, he’ll ask Naz to say ‘hi’ if she’s in the staff room with me, will steal her phone to add Renglishisms to her texts, and constantly asks her ‘Why don’t you go see Laura?’
  • Mikita also wants to set me up with his best friend:
    Mikita and Lyokha carried my suitcase when I was crashing with M and N.  Since then, M continually asks Naz if I’ve said anything about Lyokha.  Conversation between N and M the other day:
    N: ‘I think Laura needs a Russian boyfriend.’
    M: ‘Lyokha!’
    N: ‘No no, Lyokha is too skinny, Laura needs a strong (gestures muscles) man.’
    M: ‘It’s okay, Lyokha knows his situation and has learned to adapt.’
  • Mikita on Australians (or, more specifically, a drunken Queenslander riding a crocodile):
    ‘Why doesn’t Laura speak like that?’
  • Mikita and vkontakte (Russian Facebook):
    Mikita got super excited when he realised I was on vk.  Naz: ‘I guarantee you he’s at work, showing you to all of his friends right now.  Don’t be surprised if next time you come over, there’s ten guys waiting for you.’
  • Mikita on romance:
    During a telephone conversation to Naz re getting a visa to the states: ‘You’re right, it’s easier if we get married.  We can do it Saturday, it only costs $100.’

On teaching environmentalism to Russians
An amazing interpretation of Captain Planet (the noise at the start is greedy capitalists chopping down all of the trees):

Thanks everyone (as always) for your support.


You can count on it (groan)

One of my students kept saying ‘clotheses’ in our warmup today, and I’d noticed him doing it before so decided to do some work on countable and uncountable nouns.  The exercise basically involved grouping a series of words into two columns – countable/uncountable.  After the students had finished, I had them compare with their partner.  Two at the back were arguing over whether ‘view’ was countable or not – one said no, whereas one said yes and went on to demonstrate: ‘one view, two view, three view’.  With his Russian accent, it sounded exactly like the Count on Sesame Street, and I completely lost my shit.  It was fantastic.  How did that even happen in real life?!  So we then put youtube and the Count up on the screen to demonstrate what I was talking about.  The whole process made me very happy.

Speaking of Russian cliches, I went on the hunt for taco shells (a hunt which took me far and yonder!) to a kmart-esque supermarket with my friend Naz.  We were chatting about teaching, and she told me a story about how she’d been given this new (fairly high-level) class, and as an introduction they were talking about their childhood aspirations or something.  One of the students responded that he’d wanted to be a pro athlete (sorry if I’m butchering this Naz!).  Another student latched onto the word ‘sport’ and turned to another student to ask ‘what sport do you like?’.  It was more than slightly off-topic.  But Naz’s first thought, rather than ‘oh, she’s clearly in the wrong level class’, was ‘oh well, maybe she’s drunk’.  Because that’s a legitimate state in which to turn up to class in Russia.  Amazing!

Speaking of class levels, I finally hassled the uni enough that they got back to me, have enrolled and start next week.  As part of the placement process, yesterday I had to do a Russian exam (incidentally, I’d never have thought i’d be so happy to get 52% on an exam haha).  It was so brain-melting that when I caught the metro to work afterward, I got out at the other end and was legitimately lost.  I had no idea where I was, despite the fact that I was standing at a metro station to which I travel three days a week.  Oh dear..!

I’m going to finish with a Swedish joke (not an oxymoron!! – or a pun, for that matter).  I was watching a Swedish film called ‘Marianne’ with my friend Karie the other day, and it’s basically about this middle-aged man who’s being haunted at night-time.  So he hasn’t slept in weeks, his wife has died, his mistress is stalking him, his baby has just been murdered, he’s been told to stay home from work because he’s crazy, and his adult daughter has just moved out.  Basically, it’s a shitfight.  And when some people come to visit him and ask ‘how are you’, he responds with this:

I lolled.

“Yes, I mean, da”.

(Along with the Russian for “I don’t speak” and “I don’t understand”, the most common phrase I’ve used the last 48 hours.  And incidentally, the ‘not speaking’ part is out of sheer laziness, because Russians keep asking me directions and it’s shorter than ‘nfi’ )

Well, after a more-than-minor meltdown yesterday toward the end of my “induction” (it definitely can’t be written without quotation marks), resolved partly through massive facebook pep-talks and partly because the more-than-moderately-inappropriate “Chasey Lane” by the Bloodhound Gang came on in a pub I was in (and I was hilariously the only one in the room who understood what the lyrics meant), I’ve had a rather ridiculously effective 24 hours.

This afternoon I found an apartment – the centre of St Petersburg, right near direct metro lines to both of the schools I’m working at, at the moment entirely to myself, fully furnished, and all for about $100 a week.  Outrageous.  Not bad for 48 hours in the country.

I also had training at the second of the two schools at which I’m working.  The staff (and especially my boss, who was good enough to give me an old phone as mine inexplicably doesn’t work in Russia – btw my new number is my old number (starting with 61) + 18 416 246 522) all seem very friendly.  More interestingly, while in the teacher’s room I saw a book about love sayings in English.  I picked it up and flicked to a random page and saw it was all in Renglish – evidently the author had thought they were a lot better at English than they actually were, and didn’t get a native speaker to check anything.  I particularly enjoyed misquotes and the ‘amasing’ spelling.  I flicked to another page and it was the start of a chapter on dating.  It read something like “Dating is very important and what a lot of people enjoy most in their life.  But sometimes dates end badly when one person sexually assaults the other.”  WTF.  Hilarious!

I do not think that word means what you think it means.

On the topic of Renglish, after finishing work at school #1 I caught the metro to school #2 (which has lost 7 employees in the last month btw) as I was teaching for a couple of hours today.  It was a group of mid-teenagers, with a couple of particularly outspoken students.  One of them, wanting to go to the bathroom, interrupted me to ask “Laura, please, can I come out”?!  Haha.  All I could think about was the Princess Bride and “I do not think that means what you think it means”.  I almost managed not to actually laugh at him, and when he came back we went through better ways of saying what he meant.

I feel like lots has happened but I’m ridiculously tired and am moving house tomorrow, so will keep it brief – I’ve been existing so far pretty much on sushi (who would have thought?  Sushi is HUGE in St P) and overpriced coffee; killed a mosquito approximately 3 seconds ago (get the important facts here people); and seen some pretty awesome things on the street.  The two things that come to mind are one guy doing CRAZY impossible tricks with a football and his face, and a guy outside Burger King trying to hussle people in by shuffling at them.  It was pretty ace.

The other thing that has stood out is how much Russian people love it when you speak Russian to them.  A happy dance would not be out of the question!  Haha and if Russians looked like they do in the movies, that’d be quite the sight to see.

The sky is freaking beautiful here – no photos yet as I’ve been somewhat preoccupied.  I think my first will have to be of the outside of the place I’m living in – the block looks like it should house a meth lab and multiple murders.  Fantastic.

A Viennese Sojourn


To start with, it probably bears mentioning that Australia and Austria are different places: apparently, that’s not widely understood.  Also, only one of them has kangaroos!  When travelling in Europe, anywhere non-English speaking that I go, it’s assumed that i’m actually Austrian.  I had a great number of conversations in Russia that went

Они: От-куда вы?Я: Из Австралий.

Они: Ага, из Австрий!

Я: Нет нет.  Австралий.  Как кенгуру да?

(Англусский for the win!)

Them: Where are you from?Me: From Australia.

Them: Ah, from Austria!

Me: No no.  Australia.  Like a kangaroo, yeah?


Anyway, let’s get back to pretending that i’m not writing this way after the fact.

I didn’t have much of a plan for where to go after the Czech Republic.  Beforehand, I knew fairly well (‘where’, if not ‘when’).  It was fly into London, visit Edwin on the way through, head to Germany for a concert, France for some snow, then Czech for my CELTA—but afterward, I didn’t have anywhere to be until Istanbul in late March for my flight back to Aus (which nearly didn’t happen—but that’s a different story).  So when Robert and Paul suggested I come and spend a few days with them in Vienna, I figured ‘why the hell not?’

Of course, then I got on the train in Prague.  And I love trains.  It was around five hours to get to Vienna, which wasn’t nearly long enough: after the stress-out that had been my CELTA, I wasn’t ready to return to the non-rocky real world yet.  So, when I got to Vienna, rather than call the two guys straight away, I went to the ticket window and bought myself an overnight ticket to Bucharest, Romania.  Fuck—how cool is Europe?  Then I called the guys and told them that I had a few hours before I had to leave, and we met up just by Cafe Central.

Cafe Central (das Café Central) is this big posh café in the centre of Vienna.  Think chandeliers, grand pianos, suits and heels; marble and cake racks.  Not to mention a fairly amazing menu.  That’s not even why it’s so awesome though, but rather the intellectual tradition associated with it.  It used to be a café where minds from around Europe would come: Trotsky and Lenin were regulars.  Add in Freud, Hitler, and Tito, and you can see how much of the 20th century was influenced or affected by the people who passed time in there.  It’s just crazy.  The decor and feel of the whole place is classical, and you can imagine it not having had changed in the last hundred years.  It’s like this weird time bubble, where so much has been brewed and happened, but hasn’t itself been affected at all.  Shivers.

Paul writes a guide to Vienna, so was full of facts about the city.  He and Robert also pointed out an incredibly hot Austrian man to me, because apparently my guy friends are awesome.  Or trying to kill me: the guy was far too good-looking for me to be able to process.  Robert feasted as usual, and I took on a Viennese coffee (which to be fair, is how I normally drink coffee), and a freaking strudel.  Take that, Austria!

More strudel than prude-l!
More strudel than prude-l!

Now that we were full of goodies, we went for an exceedingly brisk walk around central Vienna.  I cannot for the life of me remember any of the stories Paul told us, but here are the (blurry) results:

Then, it was on to Bucharest for adventures.