Sunday, February 28, 2010

Curling? Seriously?

The other day I tried to get the girls to sit down and watch some figure skating with me. Nope... They just weren't that interested. How can my daughters not be excited about Olympic figure skating?! I told them that they only get this once every four years, and that it would be fun! "After all," I added, "we really hope to take you to Sochi in four years."

"Really?!" exclaimed Katya. "And can we get tickets to CURLING?!!!!"

Curling? Huh?

"Yeah, CURLING! It's SO COOL to see how physics and friction work!"

I take no credit for her scientific leanings. Check out her recent blog post to see how her curious mind works... Lord knows how I struggled through the basic classes in high school. Curling cool? Not so sure. But my scientific nine-year-old? Definitely!

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Happy Birthday (Now Get Cooking)

The best birthday present: a yummy breakfast made by Chris and Katya!

Birthdays, just, well, AREN'T a big deal in American culture, at least not once you're an adult... They can easily pass by without your acquaintances knowing it was your "big day," because it's just not "done" in our culture to tell people about it. There's some sense that you'd be then putting them in the awkward position of having to do something for you.

When friends do know about your birthday, they'll often invite you out and then split the bill to treat you.

Here it's the opposite!

Birthdays are a huge deal in Russia. They rank up there with the attention we give a milestone anniversary, New Year's and even, perhaps, some elements of Thanksgiving. Russians invite their family and closest friends over for a lavish meal (or they go to a restaurant), and the festivities last at least six hours (in my experience). There is usually a lot of alcohol involved, even when it's a child's party (for the adults!).

Famous singers regularly give special concerts for their birthdays, particularly when the age is a "jubilee" one: a multiple of five.

Perhaps the strangest tradition for me is that it's customary to treat all your coworkers to desserts or meal when it's your birthday. You get more dressed up than usual and bring in cakes, etc., to work. It makes me feel so self-conscious! If you don't do it, though, you offend people because you never gave them the chance to share your special day with you, and to wish you all of their long-winded and sincere wishes for a health, happiness, love, success, etc.

The proof? Even the guys who sell me my vegetables and fruits at the market gave me this beautiful bouquet of roses!

The other proof? I now need to spend the rest of the day making homemade tiramisu to bring in for all my colleagues. Since I work equally in two different buildings, I need to cook for both sets of faculty! (I'm just not gonna cook for the elementary school teachers, where I also teach... I do that later in the spring when I make big desserts to simply say "Thank You!" for all they do for the girls).

I could just buy some cakes, but that's, well, just NOT me. I take pride in being a good baker... Since so few of my colleagues actually know how to cook, they really appreciate it. It's also a rare chance for me to show that despite the many cultural gaffes I might make from time time, there are some things we Americans can do rather well...!

My birthday was actually on Sunday, but I haven't cooked yet because Monday and Tuesday were national holidays, and Wednesday there was already tons of food to celebrate "Defenders of the Fatherland Day," which is basically "Men's Day."

"We're Aching You On!"

This billboard says, "Folks from our neighborhood: Moscow–Vancouver. Cheer on our team!"

Every once in a while, a random Russian word or expression hits you in the face. Somehow, it can so adeptly capture the very essence of the culture. This week, the word in question is "болеть."

According to Collins, this is the definition of the verb:

болеть, -ею
болеть (+instr ) to be ill (with),
болеть (impf) за +acc to be a fan of (-ит 3sg) (-ят 3pl ) (подлеж, руки итп) to ache

Those of us who have learned Russian as another language are very familiar with the first uses of the verb. "Я болею." ("I'm sick). "У меня болит головa." ("I have a headache," or, literally, "I have a head hurting.")

The Olympics, however, have introduced me to a whole other usage for this common Russian word: "Я болею за наших спортсменов." It's the same "I'm sick" from above, but you add on "for our athletes" and the entire meaning changes! "I'm sick" suddenly becomes, "I'm cheering for..."

Or does it?

Americans "cheer" for their teams. Or we "root" for them. But "ache"? "Suffer"? "Make ourselves ill"? Talk about extreme fans. Oh, no, wait... They're not "fans" in Russian. Russian fans are called "болельщики," or "people who are sick." The word can even mean "addict"!

While watching the Olympics with a bilingual Russian friend the other day, I brought this up. Until then, he had never stopped to consider the double meaning of the word... And you know what? It made him smile! There is something so poetic, so "true" about the tendency of the Russian soul to suffer...

Just look at this headline:

Вся Москва этой ночью отчаянно болела за нашу сборную. ("All of Moscow grimly rooted for our team tonight.")

See what I mean? When you pair "болеть" with the adverb "oтчаянно," the effect is intense! That adverb can be translated as simply "desperately"... but it can also mean"like in grim death"!

Unfortunately for Russian "болельщики," these Olympic games are providing them with more opportunities to feel pain than ever before...


Here are some examples from the press for those of you who'd like to see more:

"Рошетт поддержали миллионы болельщиков и Лайсачек." ("Millions of fans and Lysacek supported Rochette.")

"Тренер сборной России по хоккею извинился перед болельшиками." ("The coach of the Russian hockey teams said he was sorry to fans.")

"Владимир Познер: Я еды болеть за Плющенко!" ("Vladmir Posner: I'm headed to cheer on Plushenko!"

In this article about the current state of sport in Russia, Спорт в России пал "смертью храбрых" ("Sports in Russia Have Become the Death of the Brave"), you really get the double sense of the word. The author goes on to say:

«Болеть» за наших было и есть сплошное расстройство: спортсменов жалко (они на финиш совсем никакими приходят), еще жальче коллег-журналистов, которым по долгу службы положено позитивно живописать этот срам. "Cheering" for our athletes has been and is a non-stop mess: you feel bad for the athletes (they cross the finish line absolutely out-of-sorts), and you're even sorrier for our journalists who are obligated to put a positive spin on this defeat."

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

"I Touched a Champion?!"

Back in 2005, I took Katya with me to cheer on the USA at the World Figure Skating Championships here in Moscow. Evan Lysacek won the bronze medal, and Katya got to shake his hand. There weren't than many American fans in the stands, so our sign got us noticed and he was very gracious.

Perhaps we also were noticed because I stupidly walked around all day with the flag backwards on my face. Completely oblivious, I had no idea why some people, including Canadian champion Barbara Underhill, smiled at me a bit oddly in the bathroom! That was back when Natalia still woke me up every hour or so all night long, screaming incessantly in between... I was tired. Really tired. I'm amazed I got the face paint on at all!

GOOD FOR EVAN for planning and executing such a continuously challenging long program. His overall level of difficulty fairly earned him more points than you would receive for a less strenuous program that just happens to contain a quadruple jump... Eh-hem. I think the new scoring system is great. A triple executed cleanly towards the end of a program should earn more points than one popped off in the opening sequence before you're tired!

My students were so sweet the next morning! A group of ninth grade girls came running up to hug me, giving me the most sincere and hearty congratulations on "my" victory! I hadn't even heard the news yet, so it was a nice way to start the day.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Watching the Olympics

When I was growing up, life used to come to a standstill during the Olympics. It was great! I have such wonderful memories of curling up on the couch with my screaming, screaming for our team! It's a real let-down to watch the Olympics here in Moscow... The events aren't on when I'd like to see them, the US athletes are always covered, and there aren't any of the "behind the scenes" commentaries... I also really miss hearing coverage by our former US Olympians...

This year we can't even watch ANY of the Olympics. Our cable decoder is broken and it can't be fixed until after the Games end. Without cable, you can't get any television reception at all, so.... You just forget about it. But it makes me really sad! Trying to catch coverage on youtube just isn't the same... I want my girls to have these special Olympic memories, too.

We want to take them to Sochi 2014, and I want it to really MEAN something to them...

In any case, I've been able to get the figure skating coverage through itunes. Katya got up last night while I was watching the men's long program, and I let her stay with me for a while... Even Asya got in on the act, but she was a bit frightened by our cheers and groans...

We're watching the skating through our Apple TV, a "magical" little white box you hook up to your television and internet modem, allowing you to rent movies from the US, purchase TV episodes, watch free programs and youtube, and access your whole itunes library through your television. For those of us living overseas, it's great. Through it, I discovered "Make It or Break It," a great show on ABC family about elite gymnastics, and we often rent movies.

During the Olympics, it's allowing me to watch the figure skating coverage with Scott Hamilton and Peggy Fleming's commentary. AWESOME! I wish they offered other events, too, though...

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Sometimes Grammar Is Just... Nice.

Natalia was invited to a birthday party today for a really sweet girl in her class. This party was actually "American-style;" the kids were dropped off at the party. (Natalia was thrilled!) We're in Moscow, people, so it's completely natural—and cool—that the party was held on the boat in front of the President Hotel, right next to the Peter the Great monument and old Red October chocolate factory. It stays in that same spot year-round, particularly now when it's literally frozen in place. The location was great—they basically had a room on the boat, and the kids were free to run around (the room, not the boat!). Natalia thought it was the best thing ever to go to a party on a boat!

The birthday girl has a sister in the fourth grade in our school, so I've seen the girls' mom and dad "in passing" for the past 2 1/2 years. Not having kids in the same class until this year, we've never really chatted except for a few minutes while waiting for our daughters, or before and after piano recitals. Even though Natalia and her younger daughter are in the same class, we haven't overlapped that much at pick-up or drop-off this year, either.

I often see the girls' dad, and he just gives off this aura of being such a great father and all-around nice guy... Even when you don't really know him, he puts you completely at ease. The same is true for the girls' mom; she has a smile that just radiates sincerity. Even though we barely know each other, there aren't any pretenses, there isn't any awkwardness, and I feel as if we've been friends for a long time, but just haven't had the chance to really "chat" yet. I've had the sense all year that at some point we'd be really good friends, thinking how silly it was how we "wasted" all that time before realizing it.

In any case, because we've never really talked other than superficially, we've been "acquaintances" all this time... When I came to pick up Natalia this afternoon, however, she invited me to join the group, have some dessert and a cappuccino.

And then it happened. We went from "Вы" ("Vui"/formal "you") to "Ты" ("T'ee"/informal "you"). She initiated it, kind of laughing and shyly smiling at the same time, "Давайте на Ты!" ("Davayte na t'ee!"/"Let's use the informal subject pronoun!").

It may seem so silly, but I think it's really cool that there's an informal and formal way of saying "you" in Russian (and in other languages). You remember the day you go from one to the other with friends. I can clearly recall all the times I've had the same moment with other friends with whom I speak French, Spanish, Italian and Russian.

For those of you who don't know these languages, it's kind of like the day I graduated from 9th grade and the most special teacher I ever had told me I could call her "Pat" instead of "Mrs. Clark."

In Russian, it's a grammar moment. And it's just, well, nice.

Joining the Army... The Joys of Conscription

One of my students had to go register for the military this week. All boys have to sign up when they're sixteen, and you're supposed to serve for a year when you're between 18 and 27. I don't think I need to even mention the conditions in the Russian Armed Forces... That being said, it's not that hard to get out of it: university studies; bribery; fake medical certification stating you're unfit to serve; being a father to two kids... I only know one boy who is now in the military, and that's because he's attending the equivalent of West Point.

I thought you might enjoy my student's take on the experience. He wrote this for the school newspaper and it cracked me up when I read it. His humor really shines through when writing in Russian; I had no idea he had such wry and sarcastic wit! The English version really doesn't do him justice.

Как я ходил в армию!

Недавно мне прислали повестку о постановке на воинский учет. Безусловно, я очень обрадовался. Зачем учиться, когда я могу надеть каску на голову, таскать автомат и бегать кросс? А что, предложение заманчивое!

Собравшись с мыслями, я поехал в военкомат. При входе меня встретили люди с суровыми лицами, которые проводили меня на медицинскую комиссию.

Вначале мне предложили тест, обязательный к выполнению, в котором было 300 вопросов.

В помещении , где я проходил тестирование, было страшно холодно, поэтому пришлось сидеть в куртке, шарфе, шапке и (!!) перчатках! Ох, я представил, что и на службе также тепло.

Слава Богу, народу было мало, всего трое человек. Один из нас был похож на пассивного

зубра, а другой - на злобного тушканчика. На кого же был похож я?

Вопросы были разных типов. Некоторые вопросы сводились к тому, чтобы соединить

палочки и кружочки, другие представляли собой задачи про бизнес. Солдатам, конечно, нужно знать толк в бизнесе!

Но самые сложные вопросы были в части «С». Они были настолько сложны, что я даже потерял дар речи. Серьезно!

Самый сложный вопрос из этого раздела был следующим: (только прочитайте лучше несколько раз, задачка построена так, чтобы дезориентировать человека)


Саша познакомился с Машей.

Маша познакомилась с Сашей.


Познакомился ли Саша с Машей?

варианты ответа:

а. Да

б. Нет.

в. Затрудняюсь ответить.

Я был ошарашен. Долго думая, я выбрал ответ в.

Но это было только начало. Затем я прошел круг почета по докторам. Первый из них был стоматолог. Когда он полез в мою ротовую полость своими пальцами, не совсем чистыми, я чуть не упал в обморок. Это было шокотерапия. Другие доктора вместо того, чтобы осматривать меня, разговаривали по телефону. А затем я попал в место, где надо было раздеться до трусов. Учитывая, что температура была чуть выше нуля, мне было вдвойне «приятно». Затем меня вызывали четыре доктора. Для меня осталось загадкой одно. Каждый из них мне говорил: « Снять трусы!». Причем, когда я их снимал, мне сразу же говорили «Молодец! Надевай!». До сих пор эта загадка не разгадана. Неужели все врачи нудисты- любители?

Думаю, что об этом я узнаю в армии.

С уважением , будущий солдат Сxxxx Гхххх.

How I Joined the Army!

Not too long ago I received my notice to register for the military. Well, of course, I was thrilled! Why study, when I can wear a helmet, lug around a machine gun, and run cross-country? What a tempting offer, no?

Filled with these thoughts, I headed to the military headquarters. I was greeted at the entrance by people with severe faces who led me to the medical commission.

To start off with, they gave me a test I had take—with 300 questions.

The area where I had to go through the testing was horribly cold, so I had to sit in my coat, scarf, hat and (!!) gloves! Ah, I figured it was just as warm when you enlist.

Thank God, there were few only a few others, only three people in all. One of us looked like a passive buffalo, and the other... like a spiteful twerp. So who did I look like?

There were all kinds of questions. Some tasks had you join dashes and squares, while others had you solve questions about business. Soldiers, of course, need to know how to get by in business!

But the most difficult questions of all were in part "S." They were so hard that I was even left speechless. Seriously! The most difficult question in the section was the following (it's best to just read it a few times, since the question is designed to confuse you).

Here goes:

Sasha met Masha.

Masha met Sasha.


Did Sasha and Masha meet?

Possible answers:

a. Yes.

b. No.

c. It's hard to say.

I was dumbfounded. After mulling it over, I chose answer "c."

That was only the beginning. Then I had to make the rounds of all the doctors. The first was a dentist. When he poked around my mouth with his not-too-clean fingers, it was all I could do to not faint. It was shock therapy. Instead of examining me, other doctors simply talked on the phone.

And then I got to the area where you have to strip down to your underwear. Keeping in mind that the temperature was only slightly higher than 0 degrees Celsius, you know why it was doubly "enjoyable" for me. Four doctors called me over. This was the final test. Each one of them told me, "Take off your underwear!" You know, as soon as I pulled it down, they immediately told me, "Fantastic, young man! Put it back on!" I still haven't figured out that last riddle... Could all doctors be nudist enthusiasts?

I think I'll find out in the Army.


Future Soldier Sxxxx Gxxxx

Friday, February 12, 2010

Slammed (?) Just a Joke (?)

(Edited again on 4/13)

Man... I'm very tempted to change my settings to prohibit anonymous postings...

I am asking again for the snarky anonymous poster to please just stop leaving comments. You called me "reasonable," but I really don't feel comfortable having other readers—and people in general—debased on my blog. That's just not what my blog is for.

When Jules mentioned my kids' name, your response indicated you might just be looking for something to be argue about. No child's name has been changed from what it was, no one has neither imposed "cultural imperialism" (are you kidding?!) on a child nor done something Biblically wrong. If you read back to earlier years in my blog, you'd know why my kids have the names they do, and that the choice of their names comes purely from cultural respect.

And so what if people write about how hard it is here? Ya' know, it IS hard here compared to life in many other places! I've never been one to focus on the negative side in my blog, but it certainly IS part of our Moscow life. Let people in different countries where life is easier and more honest appreciate what they have! Another side to that coin is also deepening others' respect for what tough cookies Russians are to have lived through all they have and still do. Keep in mind that most of my readers aren't Russian. If Russians are reading? Well then they benefit from getting a foreigner's take on your culture... And they get a glimpse of America, and Americans, that moves beyond superficial stereotypes.

As far as my readers go, they are a group of people sincerely interested in Russia. Many of them have been here in the past and feel a deep connection to this place. Why on earth insult people who only spread goodwill to this country?

(Edited on 4/13)

I guess I just got my first real taste of negative readers... So it's not just Americans coming here (and invading the globe) for easy money and a life of luxe, we're also ignorant about geography, history, other cultures and.. egad... some of us are even stay-at-home mothers instead of being "productive." You know...

Nous, les américains expatriés par choix personnel, nous ne correspondons pas à votre stéréotype de l'américain monolingue et idiot. La mayoría de la gente que escribe de sus experiencias al extranjero lo hace por motivos de curiosidad y respecto. Vorrei anche aggiungere che benché sia personale questo mio blog, faccio uno sforzo di non offendere mai agli altri. Por eso, no me gusta para nada que alguien me deje mensajes negativos. Dies ist mein Blog... Niemand muss es lesen. Je n'ai jamais exigé qu'on soit tous d'accord avec moi; mais ça m'irrite vraiment qu'on m'insulte!

Мы же интересуемся окружающим миром!

Wow... "What brings me here? The smell of a fast buck and a life of luxury?"

Yeah, that's a comment I got the other day on my blog.

OK... Let's see... Fast buck? I work so hard that it's 1:48 a.m. and I'm STILL not done preparing for work tomorrow.... I work with such commitment and determination... I spend every working moment trying to do the best job I possibly can teaching my Russian students... I try so hard to do more than just teach the language... I try to introduce topics that will really make them think, that will really touch them... And after pay day? My salary simply covers the cost of my girls' education and and the clubs (music, arts, sports) they do after school. Barely. Hardly a fast buck. I work so hard so my daughters can have an excellent education.

My husband? Moving here has hardly been a "fast buck" for him, either... Crashing world economies and international problems stemming from 2001 haven't exactly been conducive to profits. He sticks it out here because he, too, is passionate about what he does—helping to create a viable legal network so Russian business (and the Russian economy) can legitimately thrive... Such developments would better the lives of Russian people.

If this country can move beyond corruption and work legally, life will truly be better for all!

Please don't slam me. I'm too busy trying to do an honest day's—and night's—work. I need all the encouragement—and sleep—I can get...

Monday, February 8, 2010

Google Me This...

Another blog I really enjoy has this as a regular feature and it's often hilarious... So I'm going to give it a try here at americangirlsinmoscow.

So how did recent readers stumble upon my blog? Well...
  • Someone is evidently looking for "cat diapers" and well, we all know that I write about that fascinating topic quite frequently!
  • Barbeque equipment in the "off" season—or inappropriate content? You'll find neither here. The searcher who typed in "mosco grils" will only get this from me: the advice to "Work on your spelling, dude!"
  • "Eiffel Tower crafts." Yes, I did post both about the Eiffel Tower playhouse I made the girls from cardboard and the paper sculpture that Katya made—but alas, that's it...
  • "Childfree." This blog—and this family—are anything BUT!

Thursday, February 4, 2010


I've been back at work full-time since Monday. It's rough. I'm still pretty weak and I'm doing the bare minimum... Unfortunately, however, after having been gone a week, there's a lot of administrative stuff to get caught up on...

Natalia went back to school on Monday, too—but then coughed so horribly throughout the night that both of us barely slept (ergo the persistent fatigue). She stayed home on Tuesday with our babysitter so she could use the ultrasonic inhaler with medicine drops to help clear out her lungs, and she's been back at school since.

She really missed school and is so darn proud of her new cursive "Ж"!

She absolutely loves working on her handwriting in both languages; I'll include some samples soon. (Quick quiz for those who read my earlier post this week about my high school's toilet paper: Can you pick out the hard and soft signs in the alphabet?)

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Oh, No...

What's wrong with this picture?

How many moms instantly saw this potentially heart-breaking disaster?! Look closely...

Yeah... Oh, poor kid, poor frog... Poor mom! I'll never forget what I went through the day Katya accidentally dropped her BELOVED rag doll (which I quickly learned was no longer made and impossible to replace) in Manhattan and I frantically retraced my steps to find it... It was spotted in a gutter by another mother who imagined the desperate child who might have lost it. She lifted it out and gave it to the shopkeeper nearby. Amazingly, I found it.

A year later, my mom spotted a brand-new version of the rag doll and we were elated to then have a "spare." Katya's first doll was literally falling apart by then, too. Katya, however, took one look at it and declared that she wanted nothing to do with it. "So, what? You're going to replace her because she's old? Is that why you had another baby?" (Natalia was a few weeks old). Gulp. The old baby and new baby happily co-existed from that day on.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Time to Take Down the Trees...

Two weeks ago a friend and I took our kids to the kids' brunch at the Hard Rock Café. As we arrived, a worker was almost done dismantling their "tree." Such metal structures are what you see here in Moscow--they then get covered with fake branches that can be any color of the rainbow. Plain old green? Forget about it! Try purple, hot pink, turquoise, turquoise...!

As a sign of the times, though, we had far fewer "yolki" (holiday trees) all over Moscow this year. There wasn't even one at Lyubianka! Of the trees I did see, many were actually advertisements, sponsored by beer brands or banks. The ornaments all featured their logos, and the "skirts" were mini billboards. We've had trees like that for the past few years—but last year I noticed more trees advertising cheerier items such as Ferrero Rocher chocolate balls...!

This tree was in front of the Счётная Палата, the Russian Treasury. Appropriately enough, the tree was sponsored by Sberbank.

"Sberbank: New Joys! It's important to us, that it's important to you."

On a personal note, I should confess that our apartment is still completely decked-out for the holidays. I did put away the holiday-themed hand soap dispenser and hand towels in the bathroom, but that has been the extent of it... In order to put away the tree and all the ornaments, I have to remove all the stacked boxes in our entryway, repack everything, then stack it all up again carefully. I just don't have the energy.

Heck, I'm doing well, though... Last year the kids begged me to keep up the tree until March... I figured, "Bleh... Why not... They don't have a yard, so if this is the only tree they get, fine..."

Monday, February 1, 2010

Word of the Day

Any Scrabble fans out there? If so, you'll like this word:



a holder, usually of ornamental metal, for a glass cup without a handle (from which you would drink hot tea or coffee)

Also, "zurf."

I spotted the set in an underground pedestrian passageway and just had to take a picture... Yet again, blogging leads to odd pictures... Then again, what an odd—and completely commonplace—shop. Tacky stuffed tigers, zarfs, party masks, fake designer handbags, hats and batteries.