I Bought Fish Today!
Well, let me rephrase that: *I* bought fish today. From a person. Who didn't speak english. By myself.
This might not sound like a big deal to folks, but you've got to understand how daunted I've been by the language here. My first day out, I used the international symbol for "I don't speak the language": I wore my iPod all day. And yesterday, while across town, at lunch I seriously considered catching the Metro to go back to the apartment just so I wouldn't have to try to order food from anyone. However I'd misjudged how far from the Metro I'd gotten and eventually defaulted to that famous Russian/Italian restaurant Sbarro (blushes) because I could just point to the food I wanted.
Also keep in mind, there is no such thing as customer service here in Russia (Moscow, at least,) and that goes QUADRUPLE for you if you aren't Russian yourself. There is no, 'Hi, how are you today?' or "Can I help you?' at ALL. There is complete ignoring, or at the very most a sour look shot your way - everyone's way. Its as if your mere presence is putting them out. And smiling? I'm not going to say it doesn't happen, but I've only seen it happen twice, and nearly fell over with shock both times. So no, I'd not say the atmosphere is really great for practicing in a real life situation, either.
But today Em and several of her friends took me along with them on their regular excursion to a local rEE-nok (phonetic), or outdoor market. Word for memory: Reno (a place where you also lose money); word I actually remember: Reno (whoo hoo!) Anyhow, its a a pretty interesting place; part flea market, part mini-mini mall, and part farmer's market. There's pretty much nothing there you can't buy. Some very specific stalls: the dairy stalls, bakery stalls, spices, vegetables, meat, smoked meat, light bulbs, beaded curtains -- you name it. Actually, now that I think about it, the only stuff they really didn't have was touristy stuff. This was definitely a market for the locals.
It was the first time I'd spent a lot of time out in Moscow proper with folks who spoke english, and it was a great shot in the arm. All of them had at least a year of Moscow under their belts - a few with several - but it was encouraging to see that again, EVERYONE is treated pretty brusquely here. It was also a world of good to hear folks speaking the language at a speed that allowed me to pick up words, hear them used more than once, and to be able to ask questions ("Hey, what did you just say? What is the word for...?") Much better than a book; of which I am carrying around two.
I decided yesterday during my panicked lunch debaucle that I was going to start packing lunches for my excusions out of the apartment. Granted, my Russian won' t get any better very fast this way, but a) there are a lot of really fantastic parks around, full of trees starting to turn into fall color, b) the weather has been fantastic so far, and c) there is basically no such thing as a non-smoking restaurant over here, and its often turns my stomach to be eating and gagging on the air. So in cruising the market, I'd been keeping an eye out for things that would be good to pack out for lunch. I'd seen some smoked fish at one point, and my mouth started to drool. We walked along a little further before Em noticed the saliva dripping down my face, and she suggested I go back and see how much it cost. Buoyed by some (pretty entertaining) english conversation - and the realization that I was really gonna have to just give it a try at some point - I went back to the stall to get some fish.
Granted, I stood outside the stall for a few minuted gathering my courage (and surreptitiously referencing my books to make sure I wasn't making up words again,) I stepped in and pointed to the fish. (italics=russian)
"Please, err, one?"
The woman held up a finger. "One?" I nodded. The word 'da' completely escaped me. Jesus.
She picked up a few fish and felt each of them until she decided on one and reached for a bag. Drunk on the success of not having exploded in flames or been sneered out of the shop, I boldly interjected, "Err, ummm, nyet - two."
So she, y'know, gave me two. It was crazy.**
I managed to pay for the food and left the store triumphantly, bag o' fish clenched in my hand. I crowed about it to anyone who would listen for the rest of the morning, much to the amusement of those in our group (bless them.) It was, as they say, a very good day.
**I'm not entirely sure I can eat all of this fish, but by god I bought them all by myself and they're not going to waste. I am considering keeping one as a souvenir of my trip, as I really don't need a large, furry hat.