Nice To Meet You!
When I was out walking yesterday, I noticed a man up the road working in his yard. I’d been told that he is one of the many Russian immigrants who have settled in the area and, because I’m taking classes in that language, I decided to take a chance. “Здравствуйте,” I said — which sounds roughly like “zdras’-vuy-te” — and simply means hello. He looked up delightedly and came over to introduce himself. Sergei — or Serge, as he said people call him here — came to this country when he was twelve. His English was perfect, his accent negligible and his three young children, who are fluent in both languages, came out to meet me. We had an interesting discussion about his construction business here and about the public school his children attend. Turns out he actually isn’t from Russia but from Ukraine and though the languages are not exactly the same, he said that Ukrainians understand Russian fine and he asked me about my interest in the language. Cultural differences intrigue me — yet admittedly, I was taken aback when he said, “It is so difficult, especially at your age,” until I realized he was simply stating a fact, something that I have learned is a Russian mannerism. When I go into the Ukrainian market to buy my favorite cheese, my teacher has instructed me that a simple “I want cheese,” is the accepted protocol. Adding “please” can be a nice touch but even that is unnecessary and thought to be superfluous. She had difficulty, when she first came here, because people would pass her and say, “Hi, how are you” and keep moving. She didn’t understand that it’s often simply just a greeting. She felt hurt because she thought they’d really wanted to know. If you ask a Russian how he is, she said, be prepared for a long answer, detailing exactly what’s going on in his life. If you don’t want to know those things, say “hi” and move on. So when Sergei said “It is so difficult, especially at your age”, I decided it probably was nothing more than a left-handed compliment, that as a retired person, I would tackle the Cyrillic alphabet. I’m going to take it that way.