russian thanksgiving.

November 26, 2012

I worked until 7:30 pm on Thursday, November 22nd, known in the United States as Thanksgiving. Actually, it was one of the most stressful days I’ve had at work thus far. Between jetting into the center of the city for a meeting for which we were late; trying to explain that it would be extremely difficult to cover the entire discipline of Rhetoric and Composition (which as I’ve explained doesn’t really exist yet in Russia) and Writing Across the Curriculum and how to write a research paper in a four-day conference; and rushing back to my school for an appointment with a student (for which I was also late), the day felt a little hectic.

Amidst all my running around, though, I did see a real, stuffed turkey in a store window. And that seemed very Thanksgiving-y.

Actually, missing Thanksgiving didn’t feel like that big of a deal.  After all, my younger sister Alyssa did it last year in London. And if your younger sister can do something and make it seem easy, as the older sister, you’re sort of obligated to just grow up and do it. I definitely missed seeing my family and I really missed Grandma Wiseman’s rolls and Grandma Pat’s homemade pumpkin pie. But, I assume that if I ask (both on the blog and in person) and if I smile real nicely, I can have those things when I visit for Christmas. Maybe knowing I get to do Christmas makes it easier, too.

Luckily, my workday eventually ended and I got to go to an expat Thanksgiving potluck. The night before, I roasted part of a butternut squash while video chatting with my family. I had to roast it in chunks because both my oven and the one pan I own are both small. And the butternut squash was huge. No matter; I roasted the other half over the weekend and used it in soup and my apartment smelled like fall for days and I was happy. With bestie Molly’s help, I decided to make couscous with roasted butternut squash and roasted apples for the potluck.

Expat Thanksgiving potluck was great. We had most of the things you’d expect to have plus some other things–spinach salad, bread + cheese + deli meat, dressing, MASHED POTATOES, rice + mushrooms, pumpkin pie, apple cobbler and chicken (since a whole turkey was not to be found). It should be noted that I can say almost all of those foods in Russian. We accumulated enough alcohol that everyone could have their own bottle of wine. We were young PhD students and young photographers and young journalists and some of us were even young Russians having their very first Thanksgiving. And in the crowded flat with palm tree wallpaper, we talked about our jobs/projects and our families in the States and our lives in Moscow. I barely made the last metro home.

And there was no Black Friday; we just went to work. No one was trampled at WalMart in the midnight rush to get one of three $15 GPS systems for their car. Here in Russia, we just push each other into overcrowded metro cars and run out of things at the grocery store like milk. But no one ever gets trampled.

In other Thanksgiving miracles, my friend Jen had to fly to NYC to get a new visa. Okay, that’s not a miracle–it was probably frustrating for her–but she brought me back crunchy Peter Pan peanut butter.  I love it, I love it, I love it.

After about a month, I feel like I’m making strides with the Russian language.

For example, I realized this morning that Keanu Reeves stares at me in my bathroom. There’s a hologram movie poster on my bathroom wall, right above the toilet. I had no idea why it was there, but thinking that perhaps it covered some hole or unsightly stain, I left it. Since I didn’t recognize the actor’s face (because really, that doesn’t look like Keanu Reeves at all) or the title, I assumed it was some Russian film that either my landlord’s sons or the American dude who lived here before me liked.

But today, as I stepped out of the shower, I saw the letters at the top of the poster and sounded them out: Keanu Reeves. And I said in shock “No…” And then I stood in my towel and stared at the poster for a few minutes trying to determine if the face really belonged to Keanu Reeves. I stared at the other words. I knew “День” was “day” and that “когда” meant “when.” I thought “остановилась” looked a whole lot like the verb for “to have breakfast,” a word we’d learned the night before in Russian class, but couldn’t understand how that fit in with the sci-fi looking poster. A quick Google search of “Keanu Reeves” revealed this movie: The Day the Earth Stood Still. The two month “who is that man in my bathroom” mystery solved.

Over the weekend, I went with my friend Sveta to see two opera singers perform. They sang in Italian, Spanish, and German. And then in Russian. I studied the titles of the Russian songs in the program and tried to show off my skills. For “она, как полдень хороша,” I could get as far as “She is ___ nice” and Sveta completed the thought: “She’s as nice as the midday.” For “все отнял у меня,” I knew that “все” meant “all” and “у меня” meant “I have.” I thought the song seemed positive, but Sveta translated the whole thing for me: “He took all I had.” “Oh,” I said.  The song “на смерть чижика” was about a small bird dying.

I recognize words all over the city now: работник for worker, which I derived from работать, the verb “to work.” грибной for mushroom. капуста for cabbage. I was pleasantly surprised to realize that the word for brussel sprouts (брюссельская капуста) uses the word for cabbage. Last Thanksgiving,  I tricked my family into eating brussel sprouts by instead calling them “baby cabbage.” When we asked for directions and the man told Sveta and I that the address of the house party we were looking for was “недалеко,” I knew we wouldn’t have to walk very far.

Of course, I’ve had my mistakes. Like the time I thought I understood the construction for “to want.” If “я хачу” means “I want,” then “вас хачу” must mean “you want.” нет. “вас хачу” means “I want you.” Those are not the same. Or the time I used “слива”–plum–instead of “Слева”–on the left. Again, very different words.

My old man shoes have been gradually breaking since I arrived in Moscow. The photo below and on the left is from sometime in the beginning of September. Since then, that small hole grew to the size of half dollar and the sole of the shoe separated from the sides. As I walked home in the rain a few nights ago, my feet soaked from water coming in at the places the shoes were coming apart, I knew I’d need to take them to a shoe cobbler. I was quite excited by this, as I’ve never had an occasion to take my shoes to a cobbler before. However, I knew it was a big risk: the old man shoes are my favorite shoes, and I couldn’t just hand them over to anyone, especially someone with whom I couldn’t communicate.

So, I practiced a newly learned Russian phrase: Я немного говорю по России. And I approached the window of his shop and after “доброе утро,” said that phrase (“I speak a little Russian”), hoping this warning would indicate one, that I was trying, and two, that we should use hand gestures and writing and that he should speak slowly. I showed him the shoes, which needed no explanation; it was clear they needed work. And he wrote down the cost on the receipt and I paid him the rubles and he said “завтра.” And so, I went back завтра.