Можете ли вы говорить на русском?
No, I can’t. But I’ve been thinking about it for a long time.
Guess what that says. It’s Russian and it means “Can you speak Russian?”
I love learning languages, cultures, differences. I am semi-quadlingual and I tried to teach myself Russian about 8 years ago because I feel deeply connected to Eastern European composers especially Tchaikovsky and Prokofiev. I wanted to learn their language and culture but it was nothing like learning French or Spanish and I got distracted by polishing up on German which I remember almost nothing about.
I’ve been thinking about trying again after discovering my new neighbor is a fairly old Russian man who doesn’t look too busy.
Today I was walking home from work which is only 20 minutes away from my house. When I was just a block away from my house, an old lady on the street approached me.
“ExKuuuus me. Kahn you shupeak Rrrrussian?”
I live in a neighborhood of which largest demographic is either Russian or Gays. It wasn’t surprising that someone asked me if I could speak Russian but such friendly (sort of) approach was surprising as my experience with Eastern European people was exactly opposite of Hollywood people. (either you get it or not)
I hesitantly answered “No” but she said “well, Daht’s Ok. Kahn you help me”
I got off late today and desperately wanted a pint of Talenti and TV asap. But I’m a kind woman. I smiled and said “sure” with a nice smile.
She was holding a phone that looked like something I used in 2006: a simple flip phone with minimum function.
She said she just got a message but didn’t know how to check. I thought of my dear grandma in Korea and showed her how to go to inbox.
After a minute of guessing game of what she’s saying, I figured that she just got a voicemail but didn’t know how to check. I pressed the right button and handed the phone to her, asking whether she knew what her password was. – I said “four secret numbers, in case she didn’t know what password meant. After listening with an intense look on her face, she frowned and shook her head.
“I don’t hear. I…No message.”
I called the voicemail number again and found out, she couldn’t check the message because it was a pre-paid phone and ‘money is finished.’-according to her expression.
I tried to explain how to access voicemail inbox and the fact her password might be last 4 digits of her phone number.
Also, why she couldn’t check the message and how she could still receive calls even though she couldn’t call anymore until she puts more money on the phone.
I spoke extremely slowly with all possible gestures and easy words. But she frowned and shook head.
We were in front of all these stores that targeted and run by Russians. I suggested her to go into one of these stores to ask help but she agitatedly kept asking me questions.-maybe she didn’t understand my suggestion to seek help in a store.
Then a light flicked in my head.
I pulled out my nice looking galaxy s3 and went to google translate. I typed everything I wanted to explain, converted it to Russian, and let her read the translation.
“Prush..t…te..ka… sak… sh….ahk..”
After reading it, she went “Ahhh!!!!!.. Thank you, thank you, thank you…”
She held my hands with her both hands, took it to her face, like almost kissing my hands. It’s like an act of true appreciation.
She asked if I was a Korean. I couldn’t understand clearly but it sounded like her husband lived in Korea for a while and now her son is often visiting Korea for business.
I guessed that the voicemail might be from her son who’s thousands of miles away…
I miss my grandma.