Archive for August, 2009

Food in Russian and Ukraine: Of Trees and Pigs

August 30th, 2009
A common food in Ukraine

The worst food in Russia - Salo

One of you guys asked about the FOOD IN UKRAINE, which I’ll get to, at least in part. Today I’ll cover the worst Russian food. The reader also asked about sports here, but all I’ve seen is soccer, soccer,soccer, and a bit of street hoops. Ok, so here’s today’s blog post:

This city is so green and lush. If the trees had it their way, there wouldn’t be a building or even a brick in sight, but instead one endless forest. And since there’s virtually no landscaping whatsoever (which is GREAT, by the way. How I despise those noisy, polluting leafblowers which are ubiquitous in the U.S. and do nothing other than blow leaves and debris from the sidewalk, onto the street and into the air. Can anyone say broom?) What was I saying? Oh, yeah, so since there’s no landscaping, the grass grows full length. As do the weeds. It’s a jungle out here. And it often looks like it’s snowing; there’s some tree from which falls this cottony/snowy substance. Anyway, it’s been a long time since I’ve lived in so verdant a city.

This is a bit of a non-sequitor, but they eat pig fat here. In my opinion Salo (pig fat) is the worst food in Russian/Ukraine. It’s not pickled, not fried, not prepared in any way, in fact. Just a white slab of pig fat, which they then slice into thin strips and eat on bread or crackers. I’ve been offered it more than once in the little time I’ve been here. My landlord Oleg offered to leave me his pig fat in the fridge, as incentive for moving in. Pig fat, you say? Hand me that lease immediately!

Anyway, more about food in Ukraine: For breakfast I either cook kasha (which is boiled oats. That makes it porridge, I guess? Tastes decent enough, and cheap.) Or I eat muslix cereal.
The other meals vary. Every day I have Greek Salad, which is delicious and consists of the following: diced tomatoes and cukes, olives, fetta cheese, diced yellow peppers, and a very tasty light dressing similar to Italian. So, that’s a given, whether I make it at home or buy it in some cafe.

I like pelmeni, which are basically small raviolis with various fillings. They cook in seconds. I occasionally make pasta, but you can’t find spaghetti sauce here. I’ve bought several versions of their spaghetti sauce, and they’re simply ketchup. Yuch. I also do chicken and rice sometimes. And smoked fish on fresh bread. I would kill for good cheese just haven’t found any cheese whatsoever that’s worth commenting on. And toss in lots of baked bread products. The other day the bakery made this mini loaf of what was basically pound cake with a thicker, darker crust. Oh my God was that delicious. I have GOT to find a different route home!

And there you have it. A snapshot of the food in Ukraine.

EX-PAT SHAKEDOWN – Bribery and Corruption in Ukraine and Russia

August 24th, 2009

russian-bribe-corruptionBribery is alive and well in the F.S.U. I’ve written an article about my own experience bribing my way past an airport official to get a bottle of wine on my flight, but that was only one story. Since then, others have come in.

A reader in Vladivostok told me about his run-in with a traffic cop. He has a Russian driver’s license and all the necessary documents. As far as he could tell, he wasn’t doing anything worthy of being pulled over, but the cop standing on the side of the road nevertheless waved him over. As soon as the cop heard his British accent, the slot-machine sounds of hitting the jackpot must’ve been ringin in the cops ears. For the apparent violation of not adhering to the correct lane (although there are no lane divisions on that particular road), this guy had to pay an on-the-spot fine of 200 rubles. Such a fine breaks ones morale more than one’s wallet.

Another reader, let’s call him Michael, said he walking out of a bar in Simferopol, Ukraine when three cops jumped him and hauled him down an alley to a makeshift interrogation room. They made him empty his wallet on the table and helped themselves to all but a five-spot enough for bus-fare back to his flat. As far as he could make out, he was being fined for not having his immigration card with him, though most ex-pats don’t carry it with them. The safest place for this vital document is either locked in your apartment, or in a safe at the bank. In any case, it’s clear these uniformed hooligans were simply looking for some quick drinking money and found an easy target.

A third reader, an older man from Texas, told about the time taking the train from Kiev to Moscow. When Russian border agents came on the train at the crossing point, this Texan was told he’d have to leave the train because he didn’t have the right type of visa. His was a multiple-entry business visa, and they claimed he was obviously traveling for pleasure because American businessmen always travel by plane. The Texan’s fine was a hefty 400 rubles.

I still think these are isolated incidents. I’ve been living for over a year safe and sound here in Sevastopol, Ukraine, and that one bribe I made was of my own choosing. It was indeed my fault for not checking the bag that had the wine. These other guys who knows. Three or four samples does not make for sound, statistical evidence. But if you have your own stories of having to pay impromptu fines to Russian authorities, please send them in.

The Many Ways to Say “No” in Russian

August 24th, 2009

Russian word for NoMost of my students don’t seem to have a problem remembering the word for ‘no’ in Russian, but for the sake of consistency, here’s my powerphrase for it:

Is the boss in his office? No, he’s not in yet.

Ok, let’s talk about how to say no in Russian..Politely..

The word for ‘no in Russian, is ‘nyet’. To pronounce it, first say “in yet”, then take away the “ihh” sound. Although it’s obviously imperative to know ‘nyet’, you run the risk of coming across as rude if you simply answer ‘nyet’ to certain questions, offers or requests. (Imagine if a host offers you something to eat. You’d probably decline by saying ‘No, thank you’ and not just ‘No.’) With that in mind, here are some other ways to say ‘No’ in Russian:

To answer politely, the equivalent of ‘No, thank you.’ in English, you’d say ‘Nyet, spahSEEba.’ [As always, the capital letters indicate emphasis.]

To answer sarcastically, or in anger, as in: ‘Thanks, don’t bother!’, a Russian person will say ‘Nyet, nee NAHdah!’

In English, we have quite a few informal ways to say ‘No’, as in: Nope and Nyeah and Nah. In Russian, an informal ‘No’ sounds like ‘nyet’ but without the ‘t’ at the end: ‘Nyeh.’ It’s worth noting that this informal ‘no’ is as common in Russian as it is in English. My girlfriend Dasha and I, for example, hardly ever say ‘nyet’ to each other — in any context — because it’s way too formal. Instead, we use the lighthearted ‘nyeh.’

There’s one more form of ‘No’ worth mentioning: ‘Da nyet’. Since ‘da’ means ‘yes’ in Russian, it appears as if you’d be saying ‘yes no’, but you’re not. Instead, ‘da nyet’ has the feeling of acknowledging something, and yet declining or contradicting it. Here are some examples:

Every time I visit Dasha’s home, her mom immediately offers me something to drink, saying, “You must be thirsty.” I then smile, pat my stomach, and say, “Da nyet, on the way over I drank a whole thing of juice. But thanks.”

If it’s winter, her mom might say, “Let me turn up the heat, you must be cold.” Assuming I’m not cold, I’d reply, “Da nyet, I’m very comfortable.”

It took me a while to get used to saying ‘da nyet’ because, as I mentioned, it seems like you’re saying ‘yes no’, but then I realized that in this phrase, ‘da’ is an acknowlegment. It’s as if the ‘da’ part is saying, “Yes, I see your point, but…”

So, there you have it. The many ways to say ‘no’ in Russian.

How To Construct Useful Russian Phrases

August 23rd, 2009

Because of something called cases, it can be difficult to construct useful phrases in Russian. However, if you’re willing to allow some minor grammatical mistakes in your communications, then there’s a host of useful Russian phrases you can create, using the fill-in-the-blank method below.

Before getting started, it should be pointed out that the only correct spelling of a Russian word is with the Russian (Cyrillic) alphabet. Since I will be using only English letters in this article, I will be giving two different spellings: The first will help with pronounciation, where capital letters indicate emphasis, and the second version will show the more common, simplified written form. Ready? Let’s get started:

Phrase #1: Do you like______ ?
Phonetic spelling: TibYEAH NRAHveetsa ________ ?
Usually written: Tebe nravitsa ________ ?
Literally: To you is pleasing _______ ?
Example: Tebe nravitsa chocolate? (To you is pleasing chocolate?)

Phrase #2: I like ________ .
Phonetic spelling: minYEAH NRAHveetsa ________ .
Usually written: Mne nravitsa ________ .
Literally: To me is pleasing _______ .
Example: Mne nravitsa pizza. (To me is pleasing pizza.)

Phrase #3: Where is ________ located?
Phonetic spelling: GihDYEAH naKHOdeetsa _______ ?
Usually written: Gde naxoditsa ________ ?
Literally: Where is located _______ ?
Example: Gde naxoditsa toilet? (Where is located the toilet?)

Phrase #4: How old are you?
Phonetic spelling: SKOILka tihBYEAH lyet?
Usually written:skolko tebe let?
Literally: How many to you years?

Phrase #5: I am ____ years old.
Phonetic spelling: minYEAH ____ lyet.
Usually written: mne ____ let.
Literally: To me ____ years.
Example: Mne 40 let. (To me 40 years.)

Phrase #6: I want _____ .
Phonetic spelling: Ya khaCHU ____ .
Usually written: ya xochu _____ .
Literally: I want _____ .
Example: Ya xochu soup. (I want soup.)

Phrase #7: D you want _____ ?
Phonetic spelling: Tee KHOchish _____ ?
Usually written: Ti xochish _____?
Literally: You want _____ ?
Example: Ti xochish coffee? (You want coffee?)

Phrase #8: What do you do?
Phonetic spelling: chem tee zahniMAIeshsya?
Usually written: chem ti zanimaeshsya?
Literally: With what do you occupy yourself?

Phrase #9: I spend my time doing _______ . [NOTE: This is in answer to the question above.]
Phonetic spelling: ya zahniMAHyous ________om.
Usually written: ya zanimayus _____om.
Literally: I occupy myself with _____ .
Example: Ya zanimayus sportom. (I spend my time playing sports.)
Example: Ya zanimayus businessom. (I spend my time doing business.)

Phrase #10: I live in ________ .
Phonetic spelling: Ya zhiVU v ______ .
Usually written: ya zhivu v ______ .
Literally: I live in ______ .
Example: Ya zhivu v America. (I live in America.)

As I mentioned, there are plenty of grammatical mistakes in these constructions, but you will absolutely be understood by native Russian speakers, and you will certainly find these phrases useful at some point.

Good luck!

Tips to Learn Russian Fast

August 19th, 2009

Wouldn’t it be great if you could just snap your fingers and BOOM! you could suddenly speak Russian?

The way technology progresses, I’m sure there will come a day when we’ll all be able to upload any language we want directly into our brain, like in the movie THE MATRIX. Sci-Fi musings aside, there still are things you can do to learn Russian fast.

First, learn to read Russian. If you think it’s too hard, think again. Given the right training, most people can learn to read in a few hours, and feel totally comfortable after a few weeks. If you haven’t already gotten started, be sure to watch this post on learning to read russian videos.

Meanwhile, boost your confidence by learning a slew of cognates. A cognate is a word which is very similar between languages. The words for television, computer, telephone, music, guitar, piano, doctor, etc are extremely similar in Russian and English, and require you only to slightly Russify your pronunciation. This is a way to acquire vocabulary fast.

Most people know about the benefit of using flashcards, where the English word is written on one side, and the Russian version on the other. They realize the cards are important, but few end up using them. Also, there are better ways to construct a flash card that lends itselft to learning Russian fast. Go to Target, WalMart, a grocery store go somewhere and buy yourself some index cards. Blank on one side, lined on the other. Cut them in half so that you have twice as many to work with. For 99 cents, you’ll end up with 200, and that’s a lot of new Russian words to add to your vocabulary. Once you start working with them, be sure to put a mark by the words that you miss. The more marks a word has, the more you need to review it. And finally, be sure to flip the deck over and test yourself on the Russian words as you search for the English meaning. (For a more detailed video of how to work with flashcards try this earlier post on Russian flashcards.

The timing, though, of WHEN you review words is as important as how long you study. Pretend, for a moment, that you only want to memorize a single word in Russian. For example, chicken, which is kooreetsa. You could write the word on your study card, with the English version on the other side. And you could sit and practice that one word for two hours straight. But that would be a monumental waste of time. Instead, spend one minute reading and pronouncing the Russian word kooreetsa. Then think about something else. Maybe read a page of something on the net, or watch a few minutes of TV. And then come back to your lone study card. What was the word? If you don’t know, try giving yourself only the first letter. K— Ahh, there it is Kooreetsa!
Then, go away from it for an hour. Watch a whole TV show, or go have dinner with the family. And then test yourself again. If you get it right, you’ll need to wait much longer the next time. Try it again in the morning. Make the gaps between review sessions longer when you get it right, and shorter whenever you forget it.

Finally, give up on listening to the radio in your car. Instead, make a commitment to making your drive time your Russian study time. Download Russian MP3s to your player, or find (or make) Russian tapes for an old-fashioned analog tape player. Whatever technology you use, the effect will the same: Quality listening time while driving. Don’t underestimate the value of this method. The time you spend in your car can literally be life-changing if you use it to full advantage. We may not have immediate upload capabilities like the characters in THE MATRIX, but all the same we have time-tested techniques which will help you learn Russian fast.

Power Phrases Final Review

August 17th, 2009

Power Phrases Lesson #1
All Power Phrase Lessons | All Russian lesson audio & mp3 downloads

Congratulations! You Made it. I hope you are feeling confident about your ability to communicate and get some things done when visiting Russia or Ukraine. If you have any questions or requests, feel free to leave a comment on the blog or get in touch.

You can get the final review audio file from the link above or down load the 30 minute Russian mp3 here.

30b another review

August 17th, 2009

Get the Flash Player to see the wordTube Media Player.

Power Phrases Lesson #30b
All Power Phrase Lessons | All Russian lesson audio & mp3 downloads

Last review before the big final review!