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I’M NOT SURE what prompted my purchase of Barron’s Russian at a Glance, 2001. I had already experienced a significant Russian adventure in 1990, visiting the crumbling Soviet Union, as I wrote about in He’s Got a Lot of Balts.” And 2001 was long before I picked up some juicy Russian from Adam Higginbotham’s Midnight in Chernobyl, 2020. For instance, Higginbotham says that the Russian word чертовка, chertovka, translates into the English “hottie,” and its root word чертов cannot be uttered in polite society.
Late-Fifties Flashback. Mr. Kontos would never have taught us this in the Russian Club at Cleveland East High. I retain only a little of Mr. Kontos’ attempts to teach us the Russian language: что это, chto eto, “What is this?” Among my responses are это пол, eto pol, “This is the floor,” это потолок, eto potolok, “This is the ceiling,” and это карта, eto karta, “This is the map.”
By the way, the first Japanese phrase I learned was これは何ですか, kore wa nan desu ka, “What is this?” Its response is kore wa ____ desu, “This is ____,” a great way to build vocabulary.
Russian at a Glance, Barron Educational Series, my edition, 2001; latest, 2008.
Like other traveler’s guides, Russian at a Glance contains a Phrase Book of useful expressions and a Dictionary. It also contains Traveler’s Aids. Here are tidbits, sort of a time capsule from two decades ago.
Luggage. “Your longest wait in Russia,” the guide writes, “may be for your suitcases to come off the plane…. For the security of your belongings and safety of mind, it is wise not to pack any valuables in your checked baggage. It is also possible, at some airports, to have your entire suitcase enclosed in plastic wrapping to prevent opening or tampering before your destination.”
A Wife Dottie Flashback. I’m reminded of Wife Dottie’s experience at the Finnish/Soviet border, as related in R&T, July 1979.
And, note, the group had to leave any maps (карты) at their last Finnish fuel stop, what with importation of such subversive documents being illegal. What’s more, her Saab was singled out at the border, with probing for hidden maps, Bibles, or frilly underthings (which she had thoughtfully packed on top).
The “Key Lady.” The guide observes, “You may have a “key lady,” (дежурная, diZHURnaya) who sits at a desk on your floor and can provide you with a key.” Literally, Google Translate says the word means “duty.”
“She will also.” the guide says, “bring you tea, wake you up, arrange for minor repairs, and provide extra soap, towels, and the like. In brief, she can do many things to make your life easier.”
A Matter of the Purloined Hotel Property. Or, as I recall from one of my Soviet trips, our дежурная emptied a colleague’s suitcase at lobby checkout and triumphantly extracted a souvenir coat hanger.
Meeting People. The guide’s Meeting People has useful phrases indeed. Здравствуйте, ZDRASTvuytye, “Hello.” Меня зовут ____, miNYA zaVUT ____, “My name is _____.”
Что-нибудь выльете?, SHTO-nibut’ VYpitye?, “Would you like a drink?”
Мне очень нравится _____, MNYE Ochin’ NRAvitsa _____, “I like _____ very much.”
Inserting чертовка into this last phrase is not recommended. Indeed, it may be ungrammatical as well. ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2021