Lost in Translation

One of the biggest mistakes we made when coming here was to assume that everyone in Moscow now speaks a little English so communicating won’t be too hard……. Well that was the underestimation of the year, in reality hardly anyone speaks English here and those that do, still aren’t fully fluent, which makes for some interesting times when you are trying to get things done here.

In the shops and supermarkets there is a lot of pointing, gesturing and animal noises to try and get whatever it is you are after, although we are slowly coming to grips with some of the more common terms and phrases and can answer in the appropriate Russian.   Often after trying to explain to someone exactly what it is you want you just take whatever they give you and be done with it.

Even with the more fluent English speakers there are many times when their understanding of what we have just said is completely different to what we meant and has caused some eyebrow raising moments when trying to arrange a meeting with another person.   The funniest have been with a friend of Angela’s who has been exceptionally helpful in helping us settle in to Moscow and enjoy life here.  Anyway one night after work Angela decided that we would go and check out the new mall that Natasha had showed her which was nearby.   We worked out that it must have been around Yugo Zapadneya metro station which is one stop down the line from us, so we got off the train and started wandering around the area which didn’t look familiar to either Angela or Obarra.   After having no luck identifying any landmarks we decided it was time to call the only person we knew who could tell us where it was, Natasha.  Well the conversation went something like this;

Tony: Hi Natasha we are looking for that mall you took Angela to yesterday but can’t find it can you please tell me where it is ?
Natasha: Where are you now then ?
Tony: We are at Yugo Zapadneya and have just left the Subway (meaning Metro station)
Natasha: Well if you just tell me what you want to order and hand them the phone I will tell them what you want……

Lesson #1 – Always refer to the Metro as the Metro, not the Underground or Subway (Subway is a restaurant chain…)

Then there was the time that she was coming to pick us up to go Nordic Skiing one Sunday and we hadn’t confirmed how many of us were actually going to go, so we sent her a text to see if she could fit us all in.   One of my texts asked her if she had room for me and Jimmy, to which she replies “No, I have no room for you, but I have place for you and Jimmy in car” which initially left us a little confused as in the same text she had said both she didn’t have room and that she did.  Anyway we pile into the car when she arrives and as we are leaving she asks what is the problem that Jimmy and I need a room ?, she had thought that we were moving out.

Lesson #2 – Room is a room, place is a space.

A few weeks later she was meeting us to discuss some English documents relating to a school she is looking to send her son to so I text her to arrange where and when we will meet, so we had sorted out a time and she asked me where we should meet, so I replied “Do you want to meet at our place ?” to which she replies “Our place ? We have our place ? Where is it ?” so to clarify I reply “Our place is my place” which she obviously worked out was our apartment.  Anyway we get in the car and she asks, “what is this special place that we have that is our place ?”

Lesson #3 – Our place is Our Apartment, otherwise it is taken as a special rendevous place between you and the person you are talking to…..

It is hard enough keeping your English simple enough to be understood without having to think about the literal translations that the other party will make, but provides for some amusing times.

Even the kids have some difficulties at their school where some of their teachers are American.  Molly came home one day completely frustrated that her teacher didn’t understand her.  She had to answer a question where the answer was 10, anyway that conversation went something like;

Molly: its Ten
Teacher: no the correct answer is Tan
Molly: Yeah that’s what I said Ten.
Teacher: No, you said Tin, the correct answer is Tan….

Then there was the argument over whether you cooked tea or not after Molly wrote a sentence that said something like “Dad cooked me tea” so after a bit of back and forward Molly had to tell her that tea was how we said dinner in NZ.   With the difference in ages it looks as though Molly will retain her English vocabulary while Jimmy is rapidly developing an American vocabulary as he learns new stuff, so will be interesting when we eventually get home.

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Tony Fitzpatrick
Architect, Dad, Traveller & Head Rover at Around Rock 3
After a brief flirtation with Japan in the early '90's, and some occasional trips to Australia since, I have had an unrequited love affair with Japan and general desire to explore the world for the next 20 years while reality prevailed and I found myself pretty much stuck in my home country of New Zealand (not that is an entirely bad thing...).After a chance opportunity arose in mid 2012 to relocate our family to Moscow, Russian Federation I finally set off on my OE with my family in tow. It has been an amazing journey that has seen us experience life in Russia, Japan and now Finland, as well as visiting around a dozen countries so far in our adventure to date.While my family situation has changed along the way, I am continuing to explore the world with my tri-lingual son and enjoy sharing the adventures we have had with my followers.

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