Monday, December 18, 2006


Today was (finally) the last day of class! We were doing grammar exercises until the bitter end.
I am leaving on an overnight train to St Petersburg on Friday. I will be there for December 23-28. I am staying with a Fransciscan community that is headed by an American. There are people from six different countries that live there, and the lingua fraca is Russian.
I plan on also seeing a lot of sites during that time and just unwinding from the semester.
On the 28th of December I will be taking the overnight train to Moscow. After a 11 hour layover, I will be taking another overnight to Dnopropetrovsk, Ukraine. I will then meet a friend there and head to Marganets, Ukraine. Marganets is the neat mining town that I spent New Years last year.
Around January 6 I will be heading to Kyiv to meet my mother and sister who (hopefully) will be arriving.
After a week hiking around the country with them: I don't have any idea what I will be doing.
I will have internet connection very, very rarely. So apologize in advance for the hiatus. I will post as often as I get the chance. I assume that I will be back in Vladimir by January 17. Classes will resume on January 26.
I will try to post one last time before I go!

Friday, December 15, 2006

Cases in Grammar

Last night I went to the farewell party of a Russian friend who is returning to Turkmenistan. He is an ethnic Russian studying law in Vladimir.
The night was nice. I was having a great time, until I managed to make three errors, in the course of an hour, in my usage of the genitive plural case endings.
It managed to really beat my confidence back. After three years of college Russian, and four months in Russia, I still cannot put together a bloody sentence without a case mistake! Cases are something that should have been mastered before completing the 200 level of college Russian.
To say that cases are my only problem in the Russian language would be laughable. Though cases are just so key to Russian, that without their appropriate application sentences make no sense. Additionally, latter topics in Russian are impossible to attack without having already learned the case endings.
Genitive plural is known to be one of the more challenging topics in introductory Russian. Though, I am not in introductory Russian. That being the case (pun), I was embarrassed by my missteps in the language.
It doesn't help that three of the people sitting at the table with me speak English at the translator level. Their English is so good... Imagine the Queen of England, they sound like her. I think she probably makes more grammatical mistakes than they do.
And then there is me. Speaking some variant of Russian to these people who are being very patient, though you know they are thinking, "Wow, Americans really don't learn foreign languages! Maybe this one is particularly inept. When Jason speaks Russian, it is how Bush speaks English." It was also delightful that they would race to beat each other at correcting my mistakes. It was nearly a game for them.
Of course, they were really trying to be helpful, but it was rather more terrifying than strengthening. It also felt sort of silly, continuing speaking Russian to people who speak English better than an Oxford prof.
I came home feeling anxious that a semester had passed and I was still making elementary mistakes. I resolved that the next morning (today) I would do a complete evaluation of my knowledge of the cases.
I woke up and began reviewing. Starting with the nominative, then accusative, then genitive. I was amazed at how weak my knowledge of endings were for some of the cases (namely genitive. More specifically -ья (un/stressed) as an ending).
When I went into the kitchen to eat breakfast, I was feeling really lousy that I had managed to learn so little of the appropriate case endings. I sarcastically remarked to my hozaika, "You know, I think that my Russian is worse now, than when I got here!" Her immediate response was, "Your right, it is. Now eat before it gets cold!"
I wasn't really in the mood to eat anymore. I was really in the mood to drink heavily. But, using my better judgement, I decided studying would be more productive.
I discounted her evaluation of my Russian by the fact that she has never, in the four months I've known her, ever said anything positive. I think it might damn near kill her to say something, anything, positive, or at least not negative. But that is all another story.
As I have said before in my blog: If you are a student of Russian, nothing will be more of a hindrance to your advancing in the Russian language, as not knowing the cases thoroughly. It is like building a house, you need a solid foundation.
Cases are like concrete. Your house is gonna suck if you don't use concrete. I am now reviewing not only the appropriate case endings for nouns, but also for adjectives.
So, now I will return to my apartment to study the cases, as listed in my copy of Schaum's Guide to Russian Grammar.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

CNN Russia

I have nothing to report... But CNN does! There is a special on Russia:

And, you can also watch the CNN video special on Russian xenophobia if you click on the video on the left hand column, of the above link!


Tuesday, December 12, 2006

The Post Office

On Friday I decided to send a couple of Christmas postcards. Going with the theory that if you've written me, I'll write you. So I headed to the local post office. I stood in line for fifteen minutes waiting to buy stamps. When I finally got to the front of the line, I asked the (at most 25 year old) girl for stamps, for a certain number of post cards to America. Her exact reply was, "What?"
So I repeated my request, carefully pronouncing my words and mentally checking my grammar. Her response was, "You aren't speaking Russian! I don't speak your foreign language! You can't come to the Post Office and..." She was interrupted by her senior colleague, who said, "I understand him very well. He needs stamps for postcards to America."
It was slightly humiliating to have this Russian gal yell at me (and point) so that everyone in line could know that, yes, there was a foreigner in their midst who is a poor student of phonetics.
So I waited as the senior postal worker counted out the right number of stamps. I handed the younger postal worker a 500 rouble note ($20). Unsurprisingly, she asked, "Don't you have smaller bills or change?" I said, "No, this is all I have." She seemed to not believe me, as she refused to complete the transaction until I had looked in my pockets.
Having proved that I had no other money, she grumbled and gave me my change.
I then went across the street to the cathedral to buy the Christmas cards. After a couple of minutes, I finished buying my postcards and was headed for the door. I was stopped in my tracks by the babushka who had sold me the postcards. She said, "You shorted me 60 roubles!" Too say that I was embarrassed, wouldn't well enough explain my emotion. I, of course, gave her 60 roubles and apologized. It was really her mistake, but it was awkward none-the-less.
I headed home feeling sort of dejected.
When I got home I showed my hozaika (host lady) the post cards that I had bought. All she said was, "You need to buy envelopes."
I replied, "But they are postcards..."
"Of course! But not in Russia they aren't!" she said.
Now, feeling as though nothing could go right, I decided it would be best to seek my Russian girlfriends help in sending the cards (and in buying envelopes).
We agreed to meet at 1800 in the city center. Having finished writing all of the letters, I met her at the agreed time.
We headed to the post office. Sure as could be, the young, rude postal worker girl, from earlier that morning, was the only person on duty. So we waited in line for a time before the girl "helped" us.
My girlfriend asked for ten envelopes for America. The girl said, "There are only eight envelopes. Come back next week if you need ten." My girlfriend told the clerk that eight would suffice.
The clerk said that each envelope would be 8 roubles (32 cents). I said, "That can't be! They are normally 1 rouble!"
So my girlfriend asked the clerk if perhaps these were not the right envelopes. The clerk responded that my girlfriend knew less about the post office than her foreigner boyfriend. And that yes, these were the right envelopes.
The young clerk then sold us more postage, as I was now sending "cards", not "postcards".
So I began addressing the envelopes. When I completed addressing the envelopes, my girlfriend took them back to the postal clerk. Now an older woman was at the desk. She said, "These aren't the right envelopes."
I said, "That woman sold them to us" pointing at the young postal worker sitting at the end of the counter.
The young worker's reply was simply, "Oh! I forgot!" as she smiled.
It was at this point that I asked my girlfriend the Russian for "witch" (its "ведьма") . Having learned this new vocab word, I expressed my view that the witch at the end of the counter should have to pay for the new envelopes. My refering to the witch, as a witch, seemed to upset my girlfriend. I think that the demonic employee enjoyed it.
The elder clerk said that, because we had bought the wrong envelopes, we could simply cut-out, and paste-on, "Par Avion" stickers.
So the next ten minutes were spent cutting-and-pasting.
Having completed all of this, my girlfriend, again, took the letters to the elder. It was then that we learned that the younger clerk had also sold us the wrong stamps. I owed the post office another 7 roubles.
By the time the escapade was over, more than an hour and a quarter had passed in the post office.
What did we learn? Witches do exist. They work at the Vladimirskaya Pochta.
Russian customer service...

Friday, December 08, 2006


Besides the VERY EXCITING new pictures posted with the help of my father, I have had a really interesting week. On Wednesday I took my midterm Oral Proficiency Exam. This exam is what gives someone their language rating.
As I posted in my first blog, I had tested at the 1- level. To work for the government or in business, one must at least obtain a 2/2+. I will not find my test scores for another couple of months, but I am certainly nervous about them.
The test for me worked like this: I was told to be prepared to take the exam at 1510 on Wednesday. At 1510 I went into a room, alone, with the examiner. The examiner was Dr Ben Rifken (former Chair of the Slavic Dept at Univ of Wisconsin). Dr Rifken began by just freely chatting (in Russian) about how I was doing, etc. He then asked me to give a brief autobio. From what I told him about myself, he then drew his next set of questions (i.e. "You work? Where?" or "You have a sister? What does she do?"etc) it was really very relaxed.
This portion lasted for probably eight minutes. It is the more conversational portion of the test. The next part was the dialogue. Dr Rifken randomly selected an index card with a prompt on it. The prompt was, "You are renting out a room in you house. A candidate calls to rent out the room. Interview him to find if he would make a good house mate." That portion went alright. Though, for me, it was hard to come up with questions to ask. I feel that I probably did ok on that portion too.
Dr Rifken concluded the test with just chatting about the social life in Vladimir. All-and-all it was a fun experience.
What mistakes did I make that I would suggest others taking an OPI look out for? 1. Use the formal singular (Wy) not the informal singular (Ty) (this won't effect your score, but it is courteous). 2. Use up all the time you have talking. The examiner should need to cut you off because you are talking too much. 3. Try to come up with some original responses (i.e. you know that he is going to ask "Как Дела? " ("How are you?"), try to say something different than "Хорошо" ("Well"). When the examiner asked me how I was, my answer was something along the lines of, "Знаешь, все хорошо. Но, сегодня меня болит голова! Вчера была вчерника и сегодя это похмелье..." ("You know, alls ok. But, today I have such a headache! Yesterday was a party and today this hangover...") The examiner can't use the contents of what you say against you. Actually, my statements about having a hangover lead our discussion in the direction of the very social side of life in Russia... Which is easier to talk about than the political side. I had also prepared the hangover response in advance, along with some other uncommon things to say to the examiner.
I hope all is well! Enjoy the pics! They will be labeled soon!

Tuesday, December 05, 2006


*** NEW PHOTOS WILL BE UP ON THURSDAY!!! I'll try to label them before Monday!***

Apparently I have given my readers the wrong impression. Some have (wrongly) assumed that life in Russia (or at least Vladimir) is always exciting... I assure you its not. I do not post blogs frequently, because of the lack of material to post blogs about!
Most days are incredibly hum-drum. On top of that, we have not had sunlight in more than a month. The sun rises at around 0830 and sets around 1545 (3:45 pm). Everyday is as equally bleak and grey as the day before. Though the weather has been hanging around 35 degrees (F). The monotony typically runs like this:
Around 0745 I wake up and shower. I then get to hear my hozaika (host) complain about something (usually: 1 That she didn't sleep well, 2 That she is poor). As soon as I have finished eating breakfast, my hozaika typically feels compelled to yell at me... Usually that I need to go, lest I be late to class.
I then set-off for class around 0840, and arrive at about 0855.
Classes run in 50 minute blocks (with 10 minute breaks) until 1150, when when have lunch. We at lunch in a cafeteria in the basement of the school. After our 40 minute lunch we have two more classes.
Classes release at 1420. After classes, I might make the 10 minute hike to the internet cafe. If not, I go home.
As there is almost nothing to do at home, I try to go out as often as possible. One of the services provided with the program, is that we all have free tutors. If I go out with my tutor (she is 21, and a student) we might go sit in a cafe and talk for a couple of hours. We, of course, only speak Russian.
Barring the exception that I go out, I typically sit in my room. I can read either read grammar or practice phonetic transcriptions. As I said, we have 3 TV channels, so that is not a great option. My hozaika is usually busy watching her soap operas, or gossiping on the phone.
I have dinner when she feels like cooking. In the last week this time has varied from 1545-2000.
Taking a nap can be a real hi-light of my afternoon.
I usually get to bed at about 2300, and the day ends.
Now, to be honest, I go out probably about 4-5 days of the week. I do not have time enough for all of the social obligations that I have made! So I cannot say that the above is too typical for me.
Not all of my twelve colleagues have been so fortunate. Many of them spend day-after-day in their rooms. Some listen to music, watch TV, or sleep. Russia can really become tremendously depressing if you don't find hobbies. If you enjoy soccer, art or basketweaving in the States, find people with like interests here in Russia!
It is simply impossible to spend all of your free time studying. A lot of my colleagues are really, really homesick. Some have become rather disenchanted with Russia. Some have discovered why Russians drink so much. A couple have began smoking in order to have something to do, to kill time (seriously). It is remarkable what Russia does to people.
What advice would I give to other students coming to Russia? "Make hay while the sunshines!" When I first got here I went out as often as I got the chance. I wanted to meet as many people as possible before the winter and darkness set-in. This has greatly improved my experience in Russia.
I have to say that the Catholics in Vladimir have been really nice. They invite me to things all the time. I spend every Friday night with the youth group. I can be sure that for four hours, I will speak/read nothing but Russian. The three (practicing) Protestants in my group also spend a ton of time with their church groups. They have also had a really good experience.
What else has been good to break-up the monotony? Having a girlfriend! That is probably the single best advice I can give to an American student coming to Russia: Find a girlfriend/boyfriend! Your Russian will improve more speaking to your girlfriend/boyfriend for one hour, than it would improve in four hours of studying!
More later! Remember: PICTURES on THURSDAY!!!!