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According to LawPundit, I am a “Swede in Russia writing in English”. Alas, no. I am also, according to them, a LawPundit reader. This list must just be a list of everyone who has ever clicked on their site. That’s pretty sad, but whatever. Hopefully I’ll soon be back to being an American in Sweden writing about Russia. We’ll find out about our new residence permits at the end of this week, and if all goes as expected, we’ll return to Falun in mid-January.

And just in time too. Maybe it’s just the gray darkness of mid-December, but St. Petersburg is really getting to me lately. Mostly all the little systemic problems that could easily be fixed if someone took five minutes to give a shit, like the disorganization at the post office or all the boxes blocking the aisles at the Pyatyorochka supermarket or the dirtiness of the marshrutka interior. Even though I usually respond to these things by saying “Grr, Russia”, I have to admit that my home country has its share of this particular brand of “idiotism” too. Take this New York Times article (thanks to Veronica for the link) about the broken elevators at the Bronx family court and how people have to wait for hours to get into the building, missing their court appointments. Really, people. I cannot believe this. It is my fervent hope that this article will provoke such public outrage that someone in charge will actually have to do something about it (besides just making statements that the elevators are slowly being repaired), like moving the court to temporary quarters until the elevators are fixed, and/or letting people use the stairs.

There are a lot of things wrong with this world and plenty to be sad or upset about, but the things that really enrage me are the fixable problems, no matter how small, that are just ignored or dealt with incompetently. 

I need to go watch this video a few more times to be soothed by cute cute hedgehogs doing it like they do on the Discovery Channel. (Thanks to CrimeanElf for the link.)

So, in America, we’ve got a constitution, and it’s widely considered to be a pretty good one (despite some of the other problems my motherland has). It says stuff like:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

H. Res 847 is not only idiotic in more ways than I have the energy to explain here, it’s unconstitutional. You know, if this kind of nonsense keeps up I’m going to be forced to stop being a live-and-let-live secular humanist Unitarian and start being a vocal atheist. Here’s a link to get me started. 

Don’t know what to get me for New Year? Make a donation to the ACLU.

Today I was in the computer lab at the language school where I work, chatting with a fellow teacher, and another teacher who I’d never seen before walked in, a young guy with a Scottish accent. He said something about it being cold, and I said it was only going to get worse, and he said “Someone told me to get some fur-lined boots for winter, but that sounds pretty gay to me.” I thought to myself: First of all, dude, how old are you, 13? Second of all, if fur-lined boots sound gay to you, you’re going to have a rough time adapting to Russian culture. For there are many things in Russia which might appear “gay” to the homophobic Brit or American (especially when it comes to footwear), and yet, ironically, Russian culture can be quite heterosexist. In any case, you dumb wanker, you’d better get yourself some warm boots if you don’t think you’re going to run home screaming before winter sets in.

There’s a series of ads in the St. Petersburg metro announcing “Let’s speak Russian PROPERLY!” followed by a number of words which are often mispronounced. Russian can be difficult to learn NOT because it has a different alphabet (so stop asking me that question already, random people) but because it has a “highly synthetic morphology” – the endings of verbs, nouns, and adjectives change for things like gender, number, and syntactic function. This is a pain to learn, but even once you get a grasp of all the rules, the stress of the word can shift when a different ending is applied, and although there supposedly are rules for this, there are only like four super nerdy linguists who actually know them. Knowing where the dictionary-correct stress in a word falls is difficult not only for Russian-as-a-second-language learners, but even some native speakers who don’t come from intelligentsia families. Fortunately, one woman has taken it upon herself to correct us all. I present Lyudmila Verbitskaya, “one of the authors of the book Let’s Speak Properly, rector of St. Petersburg State University, and distinguished citizen of St. Petersburg”:

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click to enlarge

I’m all for speaking languages properly when possible, and I certainly cringe when I hear native English speakers consistently making dumb mistakes, but something about these posters and their assertion that “a problem demanding the participation of all residents of Russia and especially Saint Petersburg is the preservation of the Russian literary language” is just… annoying. Annoying like your high school grammar teacher was annoying even if you were a good student of grammar, because of her self-righteousness. I mean, look at this close-up – didn’t you have a teacher just like her that you couldn’t stand?

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So my friend Hugh was visiting from Canada, and we went to Stockholm for the weekend. On Friday night we had dinner in a nice vegetarian cafe in Södermalm. It was a little crowded, so we took a table that was pushed right up against another table that was occupied. By a crazy middle-aged earth mother.

After sizing her up and deciding that she might possibly be nutty, I tried to avoid eye contact and therefore conversation. To no avail. She informed us that we were allowed to ask for second helpings on our meals. We felt that the first helping was generous enough, plus there was unlimited salad and bread, so we decided against it. She herself got thirds. One of the times when she was getting up she told the people at the next table that the overhead light was shining into their newborn baby’s (closed) eyes and that they ought to hold him in such a way that it wasn’t. I don’t know much about parenting, but I do know that new parents love getting advice from strangers.

Later she engaged us in more conversation. I mentioned that I was studying in Falun, and she said that it must be very nice and clean there, and then it became clear that all this small talk was just a pretext to get around to her main point, which was to talk about environmental issues, and in particular, to exhort us to see Al Gore’s environmental movie, An Inconvenient Truth. Apparently at the end of the movie, they say something like, “go tell other people to see this movie, and they’ll tell others, and the message will spread”. OK, fine. I believe in this principle, but not so much that I’d beat total strangers over the head with it in a restaurant. She made us each repeat the name of the movie and the guy who — what? produced? directed? sponsored? narrated? — whose name is attached to the movie. “You won’t forget that name? Al Gore?” No, I won’t forget. I worked on Ralph Nader’s 2000 campaign and there are people who credit me with costing him the presidency.

It was just so silly, because I am SO ON BOARD with the environmental movement, as is Hugh. Hugh, in particular, doesn’t even have a driver’s license, much less a car, he’s still a vegetarian (when so many of us who once were have given up), and he’s been wearing the same winter coat for the ten years I’ve known him. I mean, you can’t get more preaching-to-the-choir than that was. Of course, she had no way of knowing that.

I have a theory that she goes to that restaurant every day, getting her three helpings, and haranguing people. The experience was a useful reminder that one walks a fine line between spreading the message and turning people off completely.

But there we are, the link’s up there, and while I haven’t seen the film yet, I would if it were playing somewhere near me, or if the university library had the DVD. So now I’ve done the earth mother proud.

About This Blog

I'm an American who started blogging when I moved to Russia in 2004. Eventually I moved to Sweden, where life is pleasant but uneventful, and stopped blogging for lack of interesting things to say. And then I joined Facebook, which further destroyed any motivation for blogging. Maybe someday I'll start blogging again, but for now, this blog is dormant, an archive of The Russia Years: 2004-2008.

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