Last week I totally failed on my language goals. We spent a week with D’s mom (meaning 100% Russian immersion!) and I’d planned to write down at least 3 new vocab words each day. At the end of the week, I would have compiled a brand new list of words to remember. It went fine the first day… except that I didn’t actually write down the words at the end of that day or even the next day. *facepalm*
You can guess how the rest of the week went.
In the end, I remember just a couple of words.
- One word was девица, young woman (in old Russian) since we were driving through the city and kept getting stuck behind young women trying awkwardly to parallel park while taking up the entire lane.
- One was Астория, since I was looking through a travel guide to Simferopol and noticed there were several restaurants with this name. Turns out this was a famous elegant restaurant in the days of the USSR.
- Another word was бебехи, which I think is a colloquial word for stuff or junk. There’s some interesting inquiry into its origin here. My mother-in-law told us about using this word with her bilingual pre-teen grandson, who didn’t know the word. He immediately got offended and said in English, “I’m not a baby!”
- And we encountered the delightful phrase Я хуею без баяна. (Not via his mom, haha!) I’m not sure exactly what it means, but I’m fascinated by it. Does it mean this?
Anyway, we didn’t have much internet access while traveling, so we got back to dry land and bam! Russia’s all over the news again. I never talk about politics on this blog- and probably never will again- but something I heard in Nizhny Novgorod last summer keeps coming back to me.
One afternoon, we had a lecture called “Business in Russia” that was presented by the fascinating Kendrick White. He was one of the first invited foreigners to arrive in the city in the 90s. As of last summer, he’d spent 23 years living in Nizhny, amassing an impressive list of credentials. (No joke, check them out.)
During the lecture, one of the European students questioned Mr. White on the significance of the (then) upcoming US election. What Mr. White said is what my thoughts keep coming back to. He said that the winner of the election would either be the final straw, decisively pushing Russia away from the US and toward China… or the winner would bring about the start to a new era of collaboration between our countries. I guess it’s pretty clear which scenario we’re in. :/
By the way, Mr. White’s entire presentation that day was riveting. He had a ton of wild stories about being in Russia in the early 90s and getting involved with a rapidly-emerging wave of capitalism. I didn’t write any of the stories down (are you sensing a trend yet?) but I did take notes on some of the other things he said.
- Nizhny produced nuclear weapons and nuclear subs, making it a closed city until 1990
- in 1992, Mr. White was the second foreigner invited to the “opened” city
- came as a Peace Corps Volunteer to advise and train entrepreneurs
- claims there are 2 different species of people – those who grew up in the USSR and those who grew up post-USSR; while the first group is in power, the second group can’t do much to change things
- lots of artificial barriers within Russian society
- in Russia, 90s was the era of manufacturing, high-tech era began in the 00s
- “I want to help Russian modernize. The old Russia is not good for anyone.” (“The law is used against you. It doesn’t protect you.”)
- Russians have amazing brainpower but don’t know how to successfully sell their tech (medicine, IT, bio-technology, etc)
- recommends the book Lonely Ideas: Can Russia Compete?
- also recommends Tomsk, Novosibirsk, Yekatrinburg, Ufa, and Kazan as the best upcoming cities for entrepreneurs
His talk was definitely the best one in the entire program. I’m so glad the school invited him to speak! (And because I can’t bring up the 90s in Russia and NOT mention MMM, here it is: you should read this about MMM. I wish I had asked Mr. White about his thoughts and experiences with that whole affair.)
It’s now been almost a year since summer school. When our trip with D’s mom ended and I re-connected to the internet news, Mr. White’s statement was the first thing that popped into my head. Again. Along those lines, I think I’m going to disconnect more often from online RU-US news. It doesn’t make things “not happen”, but Natalie got it right in this essay. I’d rather be the weird person studying languages and building bridges than just another set of eyes clicking link after link of sensational headlines. How about you?