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Please Excuse My Russian


While in Seattle over the holidays, I made friends with a delightful lass named Anna. Anna could do multiple pull ups and majored in math, all things that I can’t do. Our meeting was a timely one as she was planning to move to Germany just a few weeks later for an indefinite length of time. She enjoyed the nomadic lifestyle and didn’t seem bogged down by the sentimental value of material things. It didn’t matter if she would be leaving her family behind because there were planes where she was going, and when there are planes, visits can be made.

As a person who still has, in her possession, a card from her best friend from 8th grade graduation, I admired her free-ness. She could go anywhere and do anything, a life philosophy based on the belief that things would just “work out,” and if they didn’t, she could decide from there what to do next. I admired her not because I wanted to be her or to have that lifestyle myself, but because it put my own daily struggle with decisions in perspective. Should I have cereal or should I have oatmeal? is no longer an inner battle that lasts for 10 minutes. I think, Somewhere in the world someone is on a plane starting a new life, and then I will have some coffee, that being the obvious, sophisticated choice for morning nutrition.

One thing I admired most about her was the way she spoke. It was almost as though she were singing, a “hello” turned into a “hellll-ooooh.” It was soothing and calming, which made me want to talk to her even more. I found out that her boyfriend was German and I asked if he had a German accent. Perhaps he, too, sang his words, and I wondered what that might sound like. Her boyfriend did have an accent and she explained that he sometimes constructed his English sentences in unique ways, something that she finds herself doing when she is around him. “Like you are mocking him?” I asked. She said, “No, not like that.” When I still couldn’t understand, I asked her for a demonstration, but she found she couldn’t replicate it on the fly. It only came out when they were together.

With the non-English speaking bathroom construction men around all the time, I finally know what Anna was talking about. Yesterday, the one with the best English, the designated communicator of the group, beckoned me over to the bathroom. He explained as best he could, in his broken English, that although the bathtub was installed, we should not use it, and instead use the bathtub in the vacant unit downstairs.

“Bathtub here, no use. Down, you use, please,” he explained slowly, making sure that I was catching his drift.

And then to assure him that I understood his request, I found myself repeating back to him, just as slowly, and in a Russian accent, “Bathtub, me, no use. Down, the more better, thank you.”

Later that evening, I found out the men were Polish. Alan had asked. I was impressed.

“How did you find out?” I asked. “Did you point at him and say, ‘You Russian?'” And I couldn’t help but adopt my Russian accent once again at the end.

“No, I just said, ‘Are you guys Russian?'” he said. “And then I asked if anyone wanted a diet cherry Coke.”

Last modified: January 10, 2019