Saturday, September 5, 2009

Language Barriers

Here in Ukraine, one must speak Ukrainian or Russian in order to do things like grocery shopping. Since I've been here, I haven't done any formal language study, except picking up words/phrases here and there. I thought I would share some recent stories of my misadventures with Russian.

At KCA, there are a number of Ukrainian staff members, including the Russian language teachers. Some of the staff speak some English, others don't. Almost every day I see two of them come in to sweep/mop my floor. We also have some guards that we say hello to each day. More often than not, I fumble my way through Russian in the hopes of being understood, and expressing what I actually want to say.

My classroom had 2 extra desks and chairs that I didn't need, so I wanted them out of there. One day when the cleaning guy (Sasha?) came in, I told him, "Не мне нужно это, это, и это" (not necessary for me this, this, and this). [In retrospect, "это, это, и это не нада" (this, this, and this not necessary) probably would've worked too.] He replied in Russian and I understood not a single word, so I looked toward the chairs, waved goodbye, and said "До свидання, пока!" (goodbye, see you!). He laughed and said he understood.

Another day I was trying to find out what the word for "yesterday" was. I already know the words for "today" and "tomorrow," and most of the days of the week, and yes, I could've just looked them up in my phrasebook. I asked the cleaning lady, "How do you say--not today, not tomorrow, but..." (then I tried to motion something in the opposite direction). Then I tried to work through the days of the week, and somehow come up with describing Sunday as yesterday. She kept repeating some word, which I didn't know, and we just gave up. Abstract words are really difficult to learn and describe.

Another weekly adventure is buying groceries. When you want food from the produce section of the store, you have to put it in a plastic bag and take it to the clerk to weigh. She will then put a sticker on the bag and tie it closed. Once you reach the checkout aisle, the cashier will ask you if you want any "paketi" (bags). If you do, you have to pay for them (only a few cents/kopecks). Hence, we try to take our own bags with us to the store. When she has totaled all the prices, she will tell you what it is, and you are to pay her. But there is one catch--she will want exact kopecks. If you don't have exact change, she will be mad and will not give you back exact change.

"Russian is the heavenly language because it takes an eternity to learn." So true!

1 comment:

  1. actually your first phrase "мне не нужно..." was more correct than the latter one - not that the latter one was wrong, but the first one was better :)

    (can i go to heaven already, since i know the language?))))