Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Boston Charlie

It's still happening to me. I talk to people in Russian every day, but sometimes I still have problems with it. Today, riding the subway, I stood up as my stop approached. It's polite and important here in Minsk to get near the door before it opens at your stop. Everybody flows out quickly, the next group flows in and WHAM! the doors close and the train starts rolling. Bostonians can't even get off the trains as quickly as residents of Minsk can complete the whole exchange. To make this work, we always ask the nearest person between us and the door if they're getting off. If not, we trade positions and ask again until the person ahead of us also plans to get off. Everybody knows the drill.

I was surprised, then, when the lady in front of me didn't understand me when I asked if she were getting off. She should have known what I wanted even if I just grunted, but she replied to me "Я не поняла" (I didn't understand.)

I repeated my question directly into her ear, "Вы выходите?" (Are you getting off?)

She repeated her answer, "Я не поняла" (I didn't understand.)

I imagined a little more context would help her, so I asked a longer form of the usual question: "Вы здесь выходите?" (Are you getting off here?)

She still didn't understand, but a fellow passenger repeated the same words to her and this time she understood and replied that she'd be getting off.

I decided I needed to lose my American accent, at the very least for this particular phrase. Upon leaving the station, I called Alla and asked her to critique my pronunciation. She claims that I've got nothing to improve. I made her say the phrase to me anyway, and for the life of me I can't catch whatever it is I'm doing wrong. At least the lady got off the train and I'm not like Boston Charlie riding forever beneath the city streets.

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