You Should Live Here: English in Cyrillic

You wouldn't think it would take so much time and so many starts and stops to get one little post up. It's all in my head...just can't seem to get it down on virtual paper. Or maybe the biggest problem is that it's all in my head. Ah, well...

One of the reasons Kiev was on the top of our list of foreign posts was that David and I both have Russian-speaking experience. David speaks excellent Russian, and I understand most everything that is said and can speak enough (in a pretty darn good accent, if deplorable grammar) to get by.

Language is an interesting thing and I love that in most countries of Europe, most people speak at least two languages, and one of them is usually English. (Ukraine might be the exception - lots of people study English, but it is not common by any means, and speaking it is a lot different than reading text book phrases. I've had a few occasions in which store clerks have gotten really ugly with me for not speaking their language, even when I was making my best effort.)

I think it's a little sad that most Americans don't ever learn a second language and that they are even resentful and unhelpful to people who don't speak English. The way things are said in another language can be so beautiful and sometimes more precise than in one's native tongue, and language helps a person understand culture and other people's way of looking at the world so much better. It's also a delightful experience to participate in a conversation when two people try their hardest to understand and to be understood - if we gave all our conversations that same effort, amazing things would happen.

Having said that, I have to say that I haven't been very good at teaching my kids any Russian or Ukrainian while we've been here. The school does offer it in first grade, so Calvin has had some exposure to it, but up until the other day, I thought he had pretty much only learned how to say hello, goodbye, a few colors and animals, and how to count.

There's a "mini-market" that opened a few months ago on the corner about 50 yards from the front door of our building that I occasionally go to for a soda or snack. I guess you could consider it the Ukrainian version of a 7-11.

If only they had Slurpees...but I digress.

So the other day, I needed some refreshment but the babies were crazy and I was not dressed appropriately for going outdoors, so I decided to see if Calvin was game for a bit of adventure. To my surprise, he was totally up for going to the mini market by himself to get me a soda, and some ice cream for his brothers and him.

Then suddenly I got nervous. He's a smart and capable boy, but I decided he needed some survival skills in case anyone started speaking to him and he didn't understand what they wanted him to do or whatever. (My boys have been known to get really frustrated about the communication thing, and I suddenly had visions of little American boy imploding when all the lady was trying to do was tell him his total.)

I was halfway through my advice to just start speaking English back to whatever they say so that they know you can't understand, to smile and hand them the money, and if that fails, just put the stuff down and come home without it. He looked at me with a look only Calvin can give and said, "Mom. I'll just say 'Я не понимаю русский.'* It's not a problem."

All rightie then. No worries.

He came back, pleased as punch, and was hero of the hour for bringing ice cream and soda and the correct change back. And I learned that those first grade Russian lessons do amount to something. Calvin can read any word he sees in Ukrainian or Russian, and it is funny to hear him pronounce things in a near perfect imitation of native speech.

And as Calvin learns to incorporate Russian into his communication skills, Ukraine is learning to incorporate English into lots of things. I've been amused on more than one occasion how many English words are used these days on signs and in Russian in general. The most amusing if when they take an English word and turn it into an authentic part of native speech by adding the Russian grammatical ending. (Like the verb "to park" - they take park and add "ovaht" to the end, and voila! A new Russian verb: parkovaht! Even though they do have a real Russian word that means the same thing. Hmmmm....)

Just for fun, I've taken a few pictures in the hope that you will also get a kick out of English in Cyrillic. I'm starting to think that if you learn as much as Calvin knows (or at least the sounds of the letters of the alphabet, "please," and "thank you,") you'll totally be fine in Kiev.

Wanna take a car for a тест драйв? Pronounce: tyest drah-yeev and remember to roll your "r!"

McDonald's signs are my favorite. There are words for most of the food items on the menu, but because of the charming "Mc" branding thing, in Ukrainian they keep the whole English word and just spell it in Cyrillic. The thing is, if you don't pronounce it with a Ukrainian accent (i.e., the way it's spelled), the person taking your order will not understand you in the least. I promise. So...

чiкен рол. Say it, "chee ken rrrrrohl."

бiг тейсты. They left out the 'n' for some reason. So just say it, "Beeg Tayeesty."

мкфлюры кiткат. Say it, "McFl-you-ry." And it's not "KitKat" even though it might look like it - it's "KeetKaht."

мкменю - "McMyenYou" - that's what a meal deal is called. So, you order a биг мак ("Beeg Mahk") Menu or a дабл чизбургер (Dah-ble Cheezburrgerrr) Menu, or a мкчикен (McCheeken) Menu, or a филе-о-фиш (Feelyeh-oh-feesh) or чикен макнагетс (Cheeken McNah-gets) Menu. That is, if you want a large фрай (frrry) and drink to go with it. (An interesting note on the McNuggets spelling - there is a letter in Cyrillic that makes a "ts" sound (like the z's in "pizza", but when they tranliterated it they used the "s" sound and "t" letters separately. It's funny, and I'll tell you more about it in a minute...)

Would you like to advertise on this биг борд? You can put anything you want on a "Beeg Borrrrd." Just call 489-5555.

Here's some брикет ("brrreeket") for your барбекю ("barr-byeh-kyu"). And an example of using an English word (grill) and putting the Russian declension on the end, since the briquettes or for the grill, it's грилив ("greeleev"). So cool.

My favorite for Calvin to read: супермаркет ("supehrrrrmarrrrket").

роллы. It's plural for "roll," so it's "rroley." (They're crazy about sushi here, btw - signs for roley everywhere...)

коктейли. It's not one cocktail, it's a bunch: say it, "Kohk-tyeh-lee."

Eрнст енд янг. I like how they provide the transliteration right on the building for you.

хелло раша. This makes me laugh every time I see it because they are making fun of themselves a little bit. Say it, "hhhelloah Rrrahsha!" (with a really hard -guttural? - "h"), and be sure to emphasize the "ah" sound in Russia. Bet you never knew "Russia" rhymes with "Sasha" did you? (P.S. The "ah" sound at the end of hello is not pheonetic at all, and is very slight, but it's how they say it and how they answer the phone.)

ланч меню. Say it, "Launch Myenyu."

сайт. Say it, "Site." You can buy the empty lot behind this fence by calling this number.

тип топ сервис. Probably the best thing in Kiev. Literal roadside tire repair. You seriously just pull up onto the sidewalk in front of this one. And what's it called? "Teep Tohp Sairrveece." Truly.

пицца папа. Say it, "Pizza Papa." Remember how I told you about the "ts" letter? That's it, twice, in pizza. But it's inexplicable to me why two "ts's" are needed in Russian pizza. It takes two z's to make that sound, but it should only take one "ц," right? Maybe they're just trying to compensate for making you think you can really get good pizza in this country.

мiстер снек сендвiч-бар. "Meester Snek Sendveech Bar." If you need a snek or a syendveech, this is the place. Also a fun one to hear Calvin read.

And here's a couple others that I didn't get pictures of, but are pretty common around town:

паркинг: parrrrking. Really emphasize the "g" with a slight "guh" breath at the end and you'll be saying it just right.

сайдинг: siding. Again with the g at the end. Lots of the big hardware megastores have begun selling сайдинг - a whole new concept in exteriors. I think it's especially funny to transliterate words with "ing" at the end.

йога: yoga. It's relatively new to have these kind of classes, but it's become a bit of a craze here now.

And now, for the word that started the whole concept for this post:

камтугеза. This one was brought to me in a newspaper first, by my Russian teacher. She said that she had no idea what камтугеза meant until she started saying it over and over again to herself and trying to puzzle it out. You try it: "Kahmtugyehzah... kahmtugyehzah... kahmtugyehzah..." Do you know what it says? Give up? It's "Come together!" The best ad campaign for a radio station I've ever seen. By the way, don't you love the "Radio Roks", too?

The only one that might possibly be better than камтугеза is the name of an actual financial institution here in Kiev: брокбизнесбанк. Say it, "Broke Business Bank." Heh. If that doesn't amuse you...

And now, just for more fun, let me send you on a little linky treasure hunt: My sister posted about two great links she found all about Kiev, which you can find on her blog. They are super references and might be of particular interest if you are living or planning to live in Kiev sometime. Clickety click to read some great things that other people have noticed and written about this city and Ukraine!

*That's, "I don't understand Russian," with first grade grammar. :)


Jenny P. said...

Heaven help me if I EVER have to live in the Ukraine.

That's all I have to say about that.

Linda Stahr said...

Seriously laughing HARD over these signs. And here, all the signs are in Spanish. I think at this point in time, I'd PREFER Russian transliteration. Love it.

Gypsy Girl said...

Ah, I've been waiting for this one! The weird thing is that I miss those signs. Arizona doesn't have funny things to take pictures of. Well, not THAT funny anyway...
Kahmtugyehzah... ha ha ha ha ha.

Super Happy Girl said...

"rroley" :D Yeah, sushi rules everywhere.

Even though you did a great jod explaining things, I'd have to go back and forth and re-figure it out...which means that at least now I know KeetKaht and rroley, so I won't starve if ever lost over there.

Melinda said...

I love this too very funny. I love to visit your blog and can so relate to life in Ukraine. Did you ever get my email about the family you recognized on my blog? Melinda
aka Sister Kinghorn

hannah said...

This is amazing. I've sent this to all of my friends studying Russian or who live there... love it!