11 May 2007

Windows and Radishes in Russia

The funny thing about the window being broken...it wasn't.

Things like this are always happening, making me feel stupid constantly. I will tell a story about radishes too. But first, the window. It opens two ways. One way to open it causes the window to open from the side and the other way opens it from the top. To make this easier to explain, I've added visual rhetoric. (See pictures below.) In any case, I always open it from the side, and that was the only way that I knew how. I came home from St. Petersburg to flowers on my table and an open window. It was opened from the top and I thought it was broken. I tried to close it and was unsuccessful (obviously).

The problem was a case of "na ili ot cebya" or in English, "push or pull" kind of thing. It is like when you go through a door and you think you know that you have to push it but it ends up being slightly heavier than you think and so you decide it must need to be pulled, and then you kind of throw up your hands in despair because the door seems to be smarter than you are. Or am I the only one that experiences this? It's an easy comparison because it happened to me the other day, when I was going to the metro. I approached a door that I thought you had to push to open and spent about 5 or maybe 10 seconds trying to figure it out. I was right in thinking "push" but the door was heavy and I didn't anticipate it. I wonder what the Russian man behind me was thinking...

I left the already-open window open, determined that it was broken. A few days later, my host dad came into my room and noted that it was quite cold. He asked why I had the window open. I hesitated and said, "Because I don't know how to close it." He showed me how it closed quite simply and went into the kitchen.

Story number two is about radishes. On Victory Day (it is celebrated like July 4 is in America--it's a big holiday in Russia), May 9, we had a birthday party for Maya. Her birthday is on the same day. I wasn't really sure what to expect, but it ended up being a marathon event. We went into the nearby forest with a lot of food, a hammock, picnic table, etc. and set up shop, so to speak, and proceeded to have a barbecue of sorts. No matter that it lasted more than 8 hours. That's a long time to sit on a log. At the first, there was a lot of bustling about, making preparations. I didn't know what to do and so I just stood there, feeling rather useless. (Which I am, because I can't speak Russian.) When my host mom got the food out, though, I was gladly put to use cutting cucumbers, tomatoes, bell peppers, and (I thought) radishes. Eventually, every one kind of wandered away and left me there, cutting away. The kids were off to the side, playing, and two women (party for parents and children, novel!) came and asked me something that I didn't understand. They didn't know who I was or that I wasn't Russian at first and I ignored their question and continued cutting my radishes. It took me about fifteen minutes probably to cut all of them and I was satisfied with my work by the end. The party progressed, and at one point in our feasting, my host dad turned to me and said that I cut the radishes very well. (In Russian, so at first, I didn't understand him.) Then he said it in English and I said, "Thank you," not fully realizing the strangeness of such a comment. Then I noticed everyone around the table looking at me and suppressing quiet laughter, and I was confused. My friend Mike (by the way, Mike served a mission here in Moscow a few years ago and came back for a visit), who was sitting on the other side of me, served as translator for a moment. "He says they don't usually cut radishes," Mike told me. And then I'm pretty sure I turned a little red. Gah.

Opening from the side. (Handle perpendicular.)
From the top. (Handle up.)
Closed. (Handles down.)

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