Recently we presented the short series: Opposing Worlds, where “S” from Russia visited America (specifically: Arizona) for the first time. Whilst the focus here is usually upon westerners heading east, it was interesting to hear the reverse perspective – all in an attempt to understand the differences (and similarities) of our respective cultures.
The plot-twist here is ‘S’s American visit – from the perspective of his hosts: “B” and “G”. What would a visitor from the east bring to our homes – both physically and mentally? Well, that would of course depend upon the person concerned.
As with westerners, ‘they’ are not stamped from the same mould -regardless of what western Cold-War propaganda about a uniform army of indoctrinated “Commies” told us. Who exactly was brainwashed? -We may wonder.
I’m jumping ahead, but the artifacts are easy to discuss. ‘S’ brought a little something of his home, family and culture with him – an act that didn’t occur to me when visiting St.Petersburg with only functional “gear”, I admit.
B&G were treated to selected Russian music and film -some of ‘S’s favourite comedies from the Soviet era of his youth. Family photographs brought insight into life back-home, a winter picnic and visual documents of his son’s wedding, whilst ‘S’s narrative, fleshed-out the gaps. That is, until “his English ran out of steam”.
I asked ‘B’ when he first connected with ‘S’ online: “So long ago!” came the reply. He was looking to “learn a little Russian”, but by his own admission; it’s been difficult. Words and characters dependent upon sounds or structures alien to the English language is still a problem for him.
Similarly, English still still holds challenges for ‘S’. In lieu of verbal communication, an exchange of text provided the key. Who said letter writing was dead? Even if it has migrated to shiny, digital form. That’s not so ideal of course when both parties share the same physical space and wish to communicate on the fly!
So, the default language on Arizona soil was English during ‘S’s stay. As if lifting verbal weights; ‘S’ could only sustain the effort for a while, starting with vigour and clarity, then tapering off. “He was always trying to teach,” ‘B’ revealed, before admitting with a smile, that: “I found it hard and gave up!”.
Fortunately, the Russian language contains more English-derived words (but in cyrillic characters, right?) than you would imagine, and even a handful of latin characters too. It’s surprising to find such commonality whilst studying a seemingly alien tongue. “I could manage those words!” says ‘B’, smiling again.