When we first got to Russia (20-year old children, basically), we didn’t know how to do anything. We could tell people “Моя дядя самых честных правил, когда не в шутку занемог”, which is about as useful as “London is the capital of Great Britain” in England. I mean, if you go to England say that, they’re likely to say “Oh, yes, it is… thank you…?” Well, our functional language training in England was as bad as yours was.
Anyway, we were very hungry very often. We didn’t understand Russian food. If we asked in a cafe for Russian food, like Borsch, the waitress would start shouting “ЭТО НЕ РУССКАЯ ЕДА!” and chase us out of the cafe. So we became more careful and started saying “Дайте суп пожалуйста” and they gave us okroshka. When we said “this is not soup, this is salad in bread water”, the waitress would shout at us “ЗАТО РУССКАЯ ЕДА!” and chase us out of the cafe. Sadface…
Our kitchen at our flat was not good. Perestroika did not happen in our kitchen. Our oven looked like it had been taken from a K-91 nuclear submarine. So we didn’t want to cook at home but we were so ashamed of making another mistake in a cafe that we decided to buy some food. Eggs, milk, bread, cheese. Food for large foreign toddlers.
When we finally found a food shop, we were once again exposed to the differences between Russia and England. When we got to a food shop (at the time we thought it was named ‘PRODUCTS’, which seemed silly. But looking back I realize it was PRODUCE, which actually makes sense. But we were 20-year old toddlers, so we didn’t understand) we discovered that buying food was an ordeal: We didn’t know but first you had to request the food from one assistant . We did this through a series of mumbled ‘’that’’ ‘’that’’ ‘’and that-s’’, never asking how much they cost because the first time we tried we heard only KHs GEKHSs and ZHEZHs, from a not-so-happy-to-see-you shop assistant. And I understand them. Shop work isn’t much fun and when you have to listen to 7 large foreign children trying to say “сыр” but saying “sir” “see-ya” “Siir” “si!”. I bet that gets very annoying very quickly.
After you made your order, you got a paper receipt. You then took the receipt to another assistant, handed it to her, showed your passport, explained why a British Citizen had need of one kilo of Ementhal (I always bought a kilo of everything! The grammar for 250g is more complicated) and then waited 3-6 weeks for your permission slip to come from the ‘Russian Federation Food and Agriculture Industrial Organisation For The Protection Of Domestic Foodstuffs From Hungry Foreign Students’.
Another thing I wanted to buy was some pasta. I approached the assistant and began to squeak my desire in broken Russian (Although my noun endings were perfect!). If you don’t know Russian, there’s a translation later. ‘Zdravstvuite’ – ‘Здравствуйте, что вы хотите??’
‘Daite pastu pozhaluista’ -‘Пасту хотите??’
‘Da, pastu’ (I began to smile… I was doing it! Two years НЕ ЗРЯ! THIS IS THE GREATEST MOMENT OF MY CHILDHOOD!!!)
The assistant reached under the shelf, grabbed the requested product and placed it on the counter.
I gazed uncertainly at the tin she had placed in front of me
‘….A eto pasta?’ I asked
‘Да, видите, там написано ‘’паста’’. Вот помидорчик’ – ‘Pomidorchik?’
‘Liz! What’s a “pomidor”??’
‘I dunno! Stop shouting, the Russians are looking at us’’
The kind assistant, seeing our confusion lifted the tin up and pointed to the smiling, hat-wearing tomato on the front and repeated ‘По-Ми-Дор’
‘Ahhhhhhhh, Tomato!!!’ I exclaimed! – ‘znachit tam est tomatnii sous?’
‘Ну, вобщем да, можно так сказать’
‘chto?’ – ‘Не важно… Идите в кассу’
‘ummm, kuda ya idite?’ – ‘В Ка-cсу’ she pronounced, pointing to the cashier
‘Ohhh, Kassa – eto cashier?’- ‘Не знаю’ she said and turned away, never to speak to me again.
I was unfazed and I bounced over to the Kassa, paid for my tin and left with Lizzy, safe in the knowledge that I was about to eat. Possibly like a King and possibly not but eat I would nonetheless!
Eventually we got back to the ‘kitchen’, and I gleefully tore the top off the tin. To my deepest dismay, I wasn’t greeted by happy pieces of pasta floating in a lovely sea of tomato sauce… At this point I’ll translate the above conversation.
Be healthy and successful! Be healthy and successful! What would you like?
Give me please paste – You want paste?
Yes, paste. – Here you are, paste!
Is that paste? – Yeah, look it has ‘paste’ written on it and there’s a little tomato.
A little tomato? – Well, a tomato
…Ohhhh a tomato! So it is having tomato sauce?
Well, basically, yeah, you could say that.
Never mind, just go to the cashier
Where to I to go?
Ohhh a ‘cashier’ is a ‘пщшфуао’?
I don’t know
So in the kitchen that Perestroika forgot I stood probing a tin of tomato paste, probing deep with a rusty spoon in the vain hope of finding something carbohydrate-y. Nothing. Not even a workman’s dismembered finger. A quick search in the dictionary confirmed the horrible truth… After two years of a British University Education (£10,000 and hundreds of study-hours) I hadn’t even learned enough to buy ‘Макароны’…
Sadface. Very very sadface DX
Craig Ashton, Sankt-Petersburg