The Russian Lesson

In the next room, I hear the unmistakable chatter of a foreign language.

Actually, I hear my bride, Inna, speaking Russian, which is not all that unusual as she was born and raised in the land of matryoshkas, permafrost, and never ending snow.

Inna is teaching Russian to one of my daughter’s friends, who wants to be a translator. Although she can speak a few sentences, they’re starting with the alphabet. Which of course, is a great place to begin.

My youngest is also sitting in. But she has an unfair advantage because she’s heard Russian since the day she was born from her mother and grandparents. Her grandparents have lived with us, off and on, since her birth nearly 20 years ago.

There’s been a lot colluding with Russians in my life since 1992.

The in-laws have spent most of their time in Russia, where my father-in-law works as a medical missionary.

Russian is a tough language. I can say probably five words – maybe.

My favorite Russian phrase is, “Good day (or good health) to you.”

Here’s how it looks in Russian: здравствуйте.

Pretty scary, right? Hardly a vowel in sight!

Let’s see how that looks in English letters, shall we?  Zdrastvooyte.

Don’t you need more vowels? Apparently, some languages eschew the lowly vowel.

I don’t wanna brag or anything, but it only took me 2 years of law school to learn how to spell the word eschew… and another 2 to know the meaning.

My daughters have had the blessing of growing up hearing Russian.

The in-laws speak a little English here and there.

“Paul.”  “House.”  “Why did you marry our daughter and bring her to this forsaken place?”

Easy stuff like that.

Ever since I heard a tongue other than English, probably when I was in elementary school, I wanted to be able to speak it. I hated it that others could communicate in ways that I could not.

I’ve tried to learn Spanish too many times to count, and all I’ve got is Pablo. See?

There was a time when I wanted to learn French. So, as a freshman at Jacksonville State University, I took a French class.

I mistakenly thought that because I was born in Louisiana, some Cajun French would be in my DNA.

It was not.

And my grade showed it. Laissez les bon temps rouler!

The Russian lesson is winding down. I am instructed to go to my bookshelf and retrieve books on Russian.

I bring back a few. One is titled “My first Russian reader.” It’s probably more at the later elementary stage though.

Not that I can read it.

But, like Professor Hill reminds in The Music Man, you got to know the territory (if you want to sell band instruments).

You gotta know the alphabet if you wanna read Russian.

I hope the friend takes this lesson seriously. We need more folks like her willing to learn more languages. (They tell me she already speaks French and Spanish so I am sure she’ll get Russian). I know a guy in Colorado who teaches awesome guitar building courses and he also preaches the need for Americans learning a second (or third) language. He lived in Brazil for a while and can speak fluent Portuguese.

My problem with foreign languages is that I really want to learn them, but don’t have the willingness to put in the time.

So, I’m content to listen to others as they learn from an expert.

Matches from Mother Russia

Not long after we got married, my bride started to light a candle. She had a little book of American made matches, which she didn’t know how to operate.

To be fair, she had never seen a book of paper matches in her life. She got a little discombobulated and began yelling at me in Russian.

“AMERICAN! What are these things?”

Or something like that.

“Where are the matches?” she demanded. “This is garbage. Is this some kind of joke?”

Or words to that effect.

Her face was soviet red.

I paused and measured my words carefully.

“Let me see what you doing sweetheart.”

I took the book of matches, tore one out of the book, folded the book over the match, lit the match, and then the candle.

“See, honey. It’s simple. “Prosta!”

I imitate a guy on a Sprint cellphone commercial that I’d recently seen that played on the Russian word for simple.


“You’re probably used to the wooden match…”

She stormed off mumbling something about her grandmother being right about the poor Americans who lived under bridges.

I remind her that we are most certainly not living under a bridge.

Sure, the house had horribly green carpet, but we had a roof and such.

She continues her stomping and such.

Two years later…

Eventually, her parents made their way to the land-without-wooden-matches.

As her mother unpacked her suitcase, she unloaded approximately 10,800 boxes of Russian made wooden matchsticks.

Which, is a lot of matches.

My bride had convinced her mother that the poor Americans – in addition to having no taste in carpet – couldn’t produce a simple matchstick. Russians apparently did not use the lowly and prosta paper matches.

I’m not bragging or anything, but I’ll just add right here that we did beat the Soviets to the moon.

And we do make wooden matches, thank you.

We also make the paper kind in a little book. But, I’ll never experience the joys of using them again because I have about 10,799 boxes of Russian fire-starters left to go through.


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