Thursday, March 10, 2011

I Talk Good Russian

In an effort to integrate myself into Moscow, I signed up at a language school to be a "conversation facilitator" for a group of Russians in the final stages of learning English. They are basically fluent, but need to be more comfortable, and need help with the little things such as articles. "I walk THE dog" not "I walk dog". Also maybe some help with tone, i.e. why do you sound so angry and flippant when you tell me you ate cake and watched TV last night?
My first meeting with the director of the school was to go over my role and responsibilities in the group.
She tells me that my main role is to keep the conversation flowing.
I am a skilled conversationalist, this is easy enough. 
I am not to allow any one person in the group to dominate the conversation.
Ok, cheerlead the wallflowers, I got this.
Do not let them fight, well they shouldn't fight, ok they will fight, but you have to not let them or it will get out of hand.
Excuse me, they're going to fight? What am I, watching the gremlins? Should I also not let them have water at night? Huh? Oh that isn't important, let's just go on to the next rule? Ok.
Participate int he conversation yourself, share with them things about the United States, they will be very interested int he United States. For example, maybe you tell them why you have name like man, but you are not man.
Why I have a man's name, but I am not a man? Robin isn't a man's name. It is for a woman or for a man. Like Sasha for you Russians. In America Sasha is a woman's name, typically a black woman's name. For example, our president, who is black, his daughter's name is Sasha.
She is appaled by this information and does not believe me. We move swiftly on, no need to dwell...
Week one of the conversation group and I learn  my group consists of 8 Russian women. My devushkas.
The conversation topics and follow up questions are provided for us and week one is about emotions and communication. This should be fun. Among the group of 8 they have 3 names. The 8 of them are all either Elenas, Natalias, or Tatianas. Easy enough not to mix up.
The question comes around: "Are you open with your emotions, do you show people what you are thinking easily?"
HA! Silly question, Russians don't show emotions, I am not even sure they will understand the meaning of this question. How can this be a question if there is no alternative?
Tatiana #1 (The only Tatiana in her world) is a tall typical Russian woman with a severe blonde bob haircut who keeps her fur coat on the entire class. She is anxious to answer this question, I can tell by her raised eyebrow. She tells me:
I do not show emotions. People at my business will say I am cool? Yea, cool. Because I will not show emotion. For example, you do not know if I like you, I don't like you, who knows? But for example, they I have power. If you do not know, power is with me."
(Side note: Russians love the phrase "for example" and place it awkwardly and excessively in conversations. It is their well placed curse word I believe. For example.)
The wall-flower sitting next to her is excited by this realization, and wants to high five Tatiana. Tatiana will have none of this, and tells wall-flower in a monotone voice:
No! You do not touch me. You have no access to me.
Wall-flower is very sad.
Tatiana continues with:
You see what I did there? I have power. Also, I do not like to be touched.
The phrase of the day I teach Tatiana is "cold-fish", as in "Your co-workers don't think you are cool, they think you are a cold-fish". She enjoys this phrase very much, I can tell by her raised eyebrow. She writes it down in her notebook and mumbles about remembering this and using it in the future.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Robin,

    Yes, when you're teaching the Russians it isn't just English but their attitudes which are surprising at times. That your supervisor was ignorant about your name in America was significant.

    Good that you taught that lady 'cold-fish'!

    Rob MacDonald