Russian Mis-Adventures

Dancing barefoot in a patch of grass in the middle of the city...
I have been told several times that I must be brave for coming to a place without any knowledge about the language people speak.

I don't think I'm brave. Just plain adventurous. And... not so wise for being unprepared.

Being unprepared has set me up to plenty of mishaps.

I also must be a little crazy to do this to myself. But then, hey, it's fun after the stress is gone.

Nora Ephron wrote in her witty, funny book I Feel Bad About My Neck, "When you slip on a banana peel, people laugh at you; but when you tell people you slipped on a banana peel, it's your laugh." So today I want to have a laugh. It's okay, you can laugh at me as I laugh at myself.

Here are some of my 'misadventures' as I foray into the Russian language.


One afternoon, I opened the refrigerator door to see what I could whip up for dinner. I had an idea of what I wanted but it would need some eggs. Looking at the empty egg rack, I surmised that I had to run to the store fast before my people starts coming through the door or the baby wakes up making it harder for me to prepare dinner. Obviously, laying an egg is not one of my abilities.

I hurried out of the door, semi-running my way to the nearest grocer in our area. The shop was just a small store and only has one shopkeeper. Some things are kept out of the display area because of lack of space so customers most often need the shopkeeper's help to get what they wanted.

While walking, I realized that I might need to speak in Russian for that reason in order for me to get my eggs. I stopped in my tracks. Oh boy! I didn't know what the word 'egg' is in Russian!

I was thinking at that time whether to go back and look up the word from my Russian book or my phone, which I left behind in my hurry. I decided not to go back as time wouldn't allow it. So I just proceeded to the store.

When I got there, there was only one customer. Good, I didn't want a crowd to witness my embarrassment. I looked around hoping I'd spot eggs so I could only point and not speak. The shop was overflowing with goods and goodies. Even the counter where the cash register was, was all laden up with just about anything people need and want. But I didn't see any eggs on display.

The lady behind the counter asked me what I wanted. I said,


She looked bewildered. Again I said,

"Eggs." But this time I curled my fingers forming a circle, as if I was holding an egg. (I was a poor student in sign language classes. I never learned anything.)

At that the lady understood that I was speaking a foreign language and told me that she could not understand what I was saying.

I said, "Eggs." Again. I made the round sign with my hand, and flapped my elbows. Too bad I didn't say, "Cluck cluck."

Light dawned in her eyes. I was relieved. I thought, That wasn't so bad.

Then she directed me to a freezer. Oh boy. I don't think eggs are kept in the freezer.

They're not. But chicken wings are.

I told the lady, "Nyet", and said again, "Egg", rounded my hand, flapped my elbows, and was about to turn my back to her and squat to show her the way hens lay eggs, when she said, "Ah! Yaitso!"

I whipped around to see her marching with a smile to the back of the store. For a few minutes I waited, knowing this time that I would get my eggs, even if I still had no idea what she said.

She came out with a bag filled with those round things. She hurriedly rang up the cash register, I paid and made my exit. I went home and tried to remember what 'egg' was in Russian, but only after I told my family and we all had fun laughing at me that they made sure I would never forget the word-- Yaitso! (I'm not clearly good with learning foreign languages either.)

And that, is how I learn my Russian as a foreign language. One Russian word at a time. Golden!

Come here and take this!

Then there was the time I told the bus driver while he was driving to 'come here!'

I was going home from work. It was past eight o'clock in the evening and it was chilly. I got in the first bus that would go pass my home.

I was feeling good with the warmth inside the bus. I watched as people get on and off it. While doing that, I tried to remember what I had to say when it would be approaching my bus stop so I won't have to miss it.

As the bus got closer to my destination, I got my fare ready. I stood up and handed my fare to the driver. I tried to say, "Here's my fare. Please take it." But instead I said something in Russian that means "Come here".

The driver ignored me. I tried extending my hand again and said, "Come here." For added measure or politeness, I said, "Please." I don't know if people were looking at me. They don't have to for me to feel really self-conscious and awkward at this time. I tried again. "Here. Come here."

Well, I'm glad to say that when I was getting off the bus others were too and they told the bus driver to stop the bus so I didn't need to speak anything in Russian. I don't think I would have been confident enough to speak anything, much more something Russian.

I paid my fare when others did. I couldn't get off the bus fast enough.

When I got home, I asked my son what the phrase "Please, take this" in Russian is, and found out my mistake. Instead of saying take this, I was asking the driver to come here! I am so glad he ignored me or we would have a problem getting anywhere!
Washing dishes is no chore when my boy does it. :)

Not so superhero

And... what does one do during emergencies when she does not know the language of the people? Use the internet.

One spring morning, while everybody was at work and I was home with a toddler getting ready for a walk with her to a nearby stream, I heard a strange sound so loud that I thought it must be something bursting in fire. I ran to the kitchen only to find, not fire, but water. It was flowing out from under the sink. I opened the door to the shelf under the sink and saw the source of the water. The pipes have burst. And those pipes were built inside the walls. I looked for an opening on the wall and found one. It was covered by a temporary covering. I tore it and I saw water bursting with so much force from a big pipe. I scrambled around for a towel to put inside the hole but the water was just too strong.

In minutes the kitchen floor was covered up with an inch of water and it was slowly seeping to the next rooms. I couldn't call my husband as he was away on a trip, so I called my mother in law. She was at work and cannot speak English.  I tried to explain to her the situation in my limited Russian. Vada. Ochen mnoga.

Thankfully, she understood me. She right away got on a taxi. In the mean time, I tried to wring the water out with a towel through the sink, then bail it out with a pail. When it was impossible, I tried to salvage some things from getting wet and damaged. Then I thought about asking help from the neighbors. Maybe one of them knows how to switch off the main control to the water.

I ran to my phone, googled 'help' in Russian and got 'pomoch'. So I told my little girl to wait by the door, as I hurried to our neighbor's apartment. I knocked on their door and called, "Pomoch! Pomoch!" Nobody opened it. I called and knocked again. Nothing.

So I ran to another door, knocked, yelled, "Pomoch! Pamoch!" No one came out.

I was going to run up to the next floor to do the same, but decided against it because my toddler was already scared and I couldn't leave her in the house with all those water flowing out. I had to do something about it. Obviously, nobody was home in any of these flats or they were and didn't want to respond.

Who could blame them? Some hero gone lunatic was running around, shouting if people need her help! Yes, I found out later that I wasn't asking for help but offering people help. The right word to say when asking for help is not pomoch but pomagite.

Anyway, the water problem got solved when a plumber came to fix the pipes up, and the water got cleaned up. But as a beginner of the Russian language, this experience (of learning how to ask for help and offer help) has helped me in many instances--- at the supermarket, at the park when I'm overloaded with the baby, the baby bag and the kids want me to get them some ice cream, counting out coins, and when the baby pram acts up.

Choose JOY

All of these 'adventures' weren't so funny at the moment they happened (although being me I could laugh myself out of an awkward situation), but now make my days whenever I remember them. All of these are reflections of God's wonderful sense of humor. All of these happened in a stressful time and all of these provided me many wonderful moments of mirth.

God said, "A happy heart is like a good medicine. But a broken spirit drains your strength" (Proverbs 17:22, NCV).

The recent days has seen my newsfeed flooded with disturbing and distressing news from around the world and even from friends. It would just be natural for me to allow myself to muddle around and be down on the dumps. However, I choose JOY. It is my intention to live happy and free, and to remember to laugh. Because those who forget to laugh, forget how to live and how to love.

We need to create an environment of joy. With such an environment, the bond of love is easy to find. This is where we thrive and not merely survive, truly live and not barely breathe.

When we laugh, we take in big gulps of life-giving air and give the sweetest music to the ear--- full of life and passion.

Laughing at ourselves elevates us from being victims. We take back control of an out-of-control situation. We become heroes.

Someone once said, "Happy is the woman who can laugh at herself, she will never cease to be amused."

Grab the opportunity to laugh today. It's God's weapon against worry, stress and fear. You can share with us some of your own 'adventures' in life by commenting below. (And thanks, someone might be needing a laugh today... and my 'adventures' may not be funny enough. Haha.)

As for me, my Russian misadventures would probably go on as I continue to learn the language. There's no giving up when one is having so much fun. And nothing beats fun. So, I'm still on board.

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