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L.A. Lurker: Russian Made Easy

By L.A. Lurker

Learning a foreign language is an exciting challenge, an intense bonding experience with classmates and a great way to open your horizons to other cultures. It can also be a source of major trauma when you choose a language like, say, Russian. Studying Russian is similar to learning Latin, with its complicated noun declensions and verb conjugations, except there's a wrinkle - you have to speak it, too.

On the first day of Russian, you start of course with the most basic - how to say hello:

Zdravstvuite! Menia zovut [fill in your first name]

The teacher would write the word for "hello" on the board, but you don't know the alphabet yet. That comes next. Besides, you don't actually pronounce ALL of the consonants - you are in fact supposed to omit the first "v". What a relief.

Next, the alphabet is the easiest part of learning Russian, relatively speaking. First you start with the letters that look the same in English, of which there are exactly six: A-E-K-M-O-T. Next you learn the 10 or so Russian letters which come from the Greek alphabet. The few moments of rattling off various sorority and fraternity names to practice these letters is probably the highest point of perceived coolness the Russian language ever attains, so remember it. After rush is over, you are faced with the "false friends" - the letters that look exactly like English ones but turn out to be entirely different: B=V, H=N, P=R, C=S, and so forth. When all possible means of comparison and contrast with known alphabets have been exhausted, you finally get to learn the exotic Russian letters of Slavic, obscure or simply mystical origin.

End of day one.

By now it's probably obvious that learning Russian is not exactly for everyone. You could call it an acquired taste of sorts. Even a studious type college friend, who was working on a linguistics Ph.D. at the time, questioned my choice major by asking me something I will never forget: "Isn't Russian the language where every other word looks like KAOPECTATE?" Well, yes, I had to admit, that's actually kind of true. And I also told him that if he ever needed to find a restaurant in Russia, he should remember to look for the PECTOPAH sign. I believe in memory by association.

So even if you never learn a single letter of Russian, just find the PECTOPAH and buy some BODKA at the BAP, and you've got your basics covered.

By Joel Achenbach  |  July 19, 2006; 7:38 AM ET
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Good morning, friends. Gee, if reading this kit is anything like the language, I'm in trouble. Sounds like a hard language to learn, but perhaps worthwhile. I'm running late, just wanted to pop in and say good morning. It's so hot here, I'm sweating inside, can imagine what the outside is like. I hope your day is good, please take care in the heat. And remember that God loves you more than you can imagine through Him that died for all, Jesus Christ. It's a good kit, interesting. A learning experience, what they all should be, don't you think?

Posted by: Cassandra S | July 19, 2006 8:03 AM | Report abuse

L.A. Lurker, thanks for this fascinating glance at a subject I know almost nothing about!

I once worked with someone who had majored in Russian. But between college graduation and the time I met her, she had had a car accident, which she claimed had caused her to forget how to speak/read/write Russian altogether. I majored in French and I have no such excuse. Twenty-five years later, I know more French than the average person but no way could I converse or even understand a movie without the subtitles.

Posted by: kbertocci | July 19, 2006 8:15 AM | Report abuse

Great kit L.A. Lurker, I took a course in university, the History of Russia and the Soviet Union (in the 80's), many of the students in the class were majoring in Eastern European studies and spoke of the challenges in learning Russian.

Posted by: dmd | July 19, 2006 8:53 AM | Report abuse

L.A. Lurker
I printed this out and gave it to a few coworkers of mine who speak Russian. They found it so brilliantly funny that they stuck it on their bulletin board. Your literary immortality is assured.

Posted by: RD Padouk | July 19, 2006 8:58 AM | Report abuse

Growing up, the family dog was named "Sabaka", and from what my Dad told me, is the Russian word for "dog", and is the only thing he ever got out of his college russian class. He didn't tell me if "Sabaka" is specifically a male or female dog, but if this post gets caught up in the wirdy dord filter, I'm gonna laugh, real hard!

Posted by: Pat | July 19, 2006 9:06 AM | Report abuse

Hmmm, so all that "CCCP" stuff is kinda sorta making sense now.

Posted by: RD Padouk | July 19, 2006 9:22 AM | Report abuse

*smacking the Post server soundly*

Jeez, I refresh almost continually since 8:30, and it's only when I post in the Error Kit that the new one shows up! Appropo, no? *pulling hair*

Anyway, my younger brother took Russian in college, but I've never heard him use it. Then again, he lives in Vermont, so he had to go and learn another language anyway.


Posted by: Scottynuke | July 19, 2006 9:29 AM | Report abuse


First thing I try to learn in any language is "Where is the bathroom?"

With that and the curse words, I'm pretty much covered as far as verbal communicatons. Pointing and waving dollars seems to get me anything else I need.

Still, I may skip ahead from learning an Arabic language, one of the forms of Chinese, or build on my modest 25 year old foundations of Espanol and go directly to Yesterday's Really and Truly Language of the Future, Esperanto.

I'll be infinitely ahead of everybody else linguisitically.


Posted by: bc | July 19, 2006 9:39 AM | Report abuse

I had my first post held, tried to submit a link regarding posts yesterday about the merits of ethanol/biodiesel. Perhaps there is something subversive in the link to the Renewable Fuels Association.

Posted by: dmd | July 19, 2006 9:39 AM | Report abuse

SCCs: "communications" and "linguistically".

Startin' the day off right, aren't I?



Posted by: bc | July 19, 2006 9:42 AM | Report abuse

Speaking of CCCP, my mousepad comes from the Soviet-era Moscow, and says "CCCP" on it.

Well, and KAOPECTATE, too.

What letter is "3", anyway? Kinda weird having numbers as letters IMO.


Posted by: bc | July 19, 2006 9:45 AM | Report abuse

Sorry to stray off topic, but I just saw this article and it reminded me of Joel's kit on Superbowl sponsorship.

Apparently now you won't even be able to get sick on an airplane, without the airsick bag having an ad on it. Perhaps sponsored by Gravol?

US Airways to place ads on air sickness bags

Associated Press

PHOENIX -- US Airways wants to make the most out of a nauseating situation.

The Tempe, Ariz.-based airline plans to sell advertisements on its air-sickness bags -- those pint-sized expandable envelopes tucked between the in-flight magazines and safety cards.

"They're in every back seat pocket," said spokesman Phil Gee. "We figure while it's there, why don't we make it multipurpose?"

Passengers should see the new, commercialized sickness bags in September, he said.

The ads are just the latest initiative the company has used to squeeze out a bigger profit.

Posted by: dmd | July 19, 2006 10:12 AM | Report abuse

Sorry to stray off topic, but I just saw this article and it reminded me of Joel's kit on Superbowl sponsorship.

Apparently now you won't even be able to get sick on an airplane, without the airsick bag having an ad on it. Perhaps sponsored by Gravol?

US Airways to place ads on air sickness bags

Associated Press

PHOENIX -- US Airways wants to make the most out of a nauseating situation.

The Tempe, Ariz.-based airline plans to sell advertisements on its air-sickness bags -- those pint-sized expandable envelopes tucked between the in-flight magazines and safety cards.

"They're in every back seat pocket," said spokesman Phil Gee. "We figure while it's there, why don't we make it multipurpose?"

Passengers should see the new, commercialized sickness bags in September, he said.

The ads are just the latest initiative the company has used to squeeze out a bigger profit.

Posted by: dmd | July 19, 2006 10:12 AM | Report abuse

L.A. Lurker, excellent ! Sheds light on the pronounciation of that old Communist-run Soviet TV station: BPEMR, famous for propaganda like "Stalin is now in the 30th year of having a really bad cold, Gorbachev to assume leadership post". I heard, (figuratively, not literally) that Russian speaks closely to English, in reverse. If you record an English conversation and play it backwards, besides something from Lennon, it's supposed to sound like Lenin. I also heard that Russian is one of the most difficult languages to learn, besides English. Nyet?

Posted by: Vlad from Grad | July 19, 2006 10:15 AM | Report abuse

L.A. Lurker - I also really like this Kit because it is from your own personal experience. It says something nobody else can say.

Posted by: RD Padouk | July 19, 2006 10:16 AM | Report abuse


Posted by: omni | July 19, 2006 10:17 AM | Report abuse

OK let's try this in a manner where the link will actually be active...

Posted by: omni | July 19, 2006 10:18 AM | Report abuse

hey 'snuke - try F5 - the site is prolly caching at the server (i have problems with it here as well)

Posted by: mo | July 19, 2006 10:25 AM | Report abuse

Also had trouble getting the blog up. Wound up reading Howie and Andy Cohen while trying to link up. Nice kit, L.A. I took 2 years of Latin in high school. Don't hardly remember any of it, except "Veni, Vidi, Vici". OTOH, it did open one's eyes to how much Latin insinuated itself into all of the western European languages.

Posted by: ebtnut | July 19, 2006 10:26 AM | Report abuse

darn - hal filtered out my ctrl part of the post - 'snuke, hit ctrl and F5 at the same time...

Posted by: mo | July 19, 2006 10:28 AM | Report abuse

ebtnut - i took latin in highschool as well - what sublime torture! i can still decline agricola... yeah, THAT helps me in my everyday life...


Posted by: mo | July 19, 2006 10:37 AM | Report abuse

Heard about CBS ads on your eggs?
Believe it:

The company doing the printing:

Posted by: GyppedOne | July 19, 2006 10:40 AM | Report abuse

and poeta - i can still decline poeta too...

Posted by: mo | July 19, 2006 10:40 AM | Report abuse

Great kit. Seriously great kits from all boodlers.

I grew up in a nation with 2 official languages in a part of the country where you did everything you could to get out of french class. The french I know has more to do with reading the back of cereal boxes all these years than any language studies I did in my youth. At the same time, we had a gentelman whose native language was french, working in our office. On occasion he would speak french without realizing it, and I could understand the gist of what he was trying to say. I guess I absorbed more than I thought.

Growing up in a place with many different immigrant heritages, we could generally count in multiple languages, and did so while we toasted each other in those same languages. Sadly none of these skills were retained...the consumption of beverages had something to do with that.

Now it would be kind of nice if I had another language included in things I know.

Posted by: dr | July 19, 2006 10:45 AM | Report abuse

Fourth attempt, by the way:

What's the point of a language if you can't use it to communicate to its fullest extent (last part)?

In Focus: Exiled in Russia

Fareed Zakaria: American Mark Ames is Editor of The Exile, an irreverent English-language bi-weekly based in Moscow. Loyal readers snap up The Exile for its mix of investigative reporting, truth-telling, and caustic satire and vicious polemics. Its critics call The Exile sexist, racist or otherwise objectionable. Founded in 1997, the paper continues to pull no punches in its coverage of Russian corruption, organized crime, and the nouveau riche and it does so at a time that the Russian government is restricting press freedoms and threatening to revoke the Visas of any foreigners who disrespect Russia. Meet Mark Ames...

I find--I find Moscow to be generally a safer city than most big American cities. If you're a Russian banker, you know your lifespan is like that of a fruit fly I guess but if you're an American manager or you know an accountant for Ernst & Young, I mean you're not going to have to worry. You're probably going to have to bribes cops every once in a while on the street if you're driving a car. And I don't know; I just--I look at that as wealth distribution. [Laughs] No, I mean it's--it's like it's a tax you pay for living in an interesting country and I think--I think Moscow is sort of a good training ground. It's a pretty tough place, so like if you can survive here you know and take your skills back to America you won't be too scared of anything anymore. [Laughs]

Show Cancelled
Independent TV Networks in Russia:
Before Putin: 3
After Putin: 0

Posted by: Loomis | July 19, 2006 10:49 AM | Report abuse

re: Russian-speak is English in reverse.

So, Achenblog in Russian is pronounced:


I like it.

Posted by: farfrombeltway | July 19, 2006 10:50 AM | Report abuse

dr, you mean you never had a reason to use the french you learned in school? Pitou, Pitou, (sorry meaningless unless you studied the same silly grade 6 french text as Ontario student did). OK thats all I remember.

Despite 9 years of French study I was never able to become fluent, I wish I had.

Posted by: dmd | July 19, 2006 10:52 AM | Report abuse


when is JA going to post your guest kit ?

Posted by: curious | July 19, 2006 10:58 AM | Report abuse

Excellent kit, L.A. Lurker. I think Russian sounds great. I love listening to it just as I like listening to French or Spanish. But Russian also sounds like a lot of work for the mouth to do, so many discordant consonents and multisyllabic words (pardon spelling).

Posted by: CowTown | July 19, 2006 11:03 AM | Report abuse

Great kit, L.A.

Your handle always makes me think of The Doors, so here's a little tribute:

Well, she got into this program couple years ago
Took a little Russian, see which way the wind blow
Read a little Tolstoy in her Hollywood bungalow

Is she a lucky little reader of the plays of Chekov?
Or is she the lost sister... of Karamazov
Karamazov, Karamazov, Karamazov, woo, c'mon

L.A. Lurker, L.A. Lurker
L.A. Lurker gonna have to choose
L.A. Lurker reading Russian gloom
L.A. Lurker a thesis to prove
Sittin' thru your classes
Lookin' for pravda, for pravda, yeah
For your prav-prav pravda

For the pravda, ohh, yeah

Posted by: SonofCarl | July 19, 2006 11:06 AM | Report abuse


Designating the year 2005 as the 'Year of Foreign Language Study'.

Whereas according to the 2000 decennial census of the population, 9.3 percent of Americans speak both their native language and another language fluently;

Whereas according to the European Commission Directorate General for Education and Culture, 52.7 percent of Europeans speak both their native language and another language fluently;

Whereas the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 names foreign language study as part of a core curriculum that includes English, mathematics, science, civics, economics, arts, history, and geography;

Whereas according to the Joint Center for International Language, foreign language study increases a student's cognitive and critical thinking abilities;

Whereas according to the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, foreign language study increases a student's ability to compare and contrast cultural concepts;

Whereas according to a 1992 report by the College Entrance Examination Board, students with 4 or more years in foreign language study scored higher on the verbal section of the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) than students who did not;

Whereas the Higher Education Act of 1965 labels foreign language study as vital to secure the future economic welfare of the United States in a growing international economy;

Whereas the Higher Education Act of 1965 recommends encouraging businesses and foreign language study programs to work in a mutually productive relationship which benefits the Nation's future economic interest;

Whereas according to the Centers for International Business Education and Research program, foreign language study provides the ability both to gain a comprehensive understanding of and to interact with the cultures of United States trading partners, and thus establishes a solid foundation for successful economic relationships;

Whereas Report 107-592 of the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence of the House of Representatives concludes that American multinational corporations and nongovernmental organizations do not have the people with the foreign language abilities and cultural exposure that are needed;

Whereas the 2001 Hart-Rudman Report on National Security in the 21st Century names foreign language study and requisite knowledge in languages as vital for the Federal Government to meet 21st century security challenges properly and effectively;

Whereas the American intelligence community stresses that individuals with proper foreign language expertise are greatly needed to work on important national security and foreign policy issues, especially in light of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001;

Whereas a 1998 study conducted by the National Foreign Language Center concludes that inadequate resources existed for the development, publication, distribution, and teaching of critical foreign languages (such as Arabic, Vietnamese, and Thai) because of low student enrollment in the United States; and

Whereas a shortfall of experts in foreign languages has seriously hampered information gathering and analysis within the American intelligence community as demonstrated by the 2000 Cox Commission noting shortfalls in Chinese proficiency, and the National Intelligence Council citing deficiencies in Central Eurasian, East Asian, and Middle Eastern languages:

L.A. Lurker, your future is guaranteed!

Sadly, this resolution:

1st Session
S. RES. 28

seems to stress language as a security measure rather than as a bridge to communication and understanding.

Posted by: Loomis | July 19, 2006 11:06 AM | Report abuse

Does the devil wear Pravda?

Posted by: Loomis | July 19, 2006 11:09 AM | Report abuse

So many languages, so little time. I just *love* learning languages, but didn't know I had the talent until waaayyy after college, where I actually took a year of Russian (grandparents, and all that). I vaguely remember the alphabet and can say a couple of sentences maybe. But that was so long ago.

People tell me that they simply *cannot* learn a foreign language, to which I reply: Well, you learned your native language, didn't you? And it was at at time when your developing brain was being bombarded by all sorts of things every second of everyday. Then, it took a couple of years to get even the first meaningful words and sentences out, although you began to understand what your parents (and/or caregivers) were telling you -- you had already started to accumumlate a large passive vocabulary. The active vocabulary takes much longer. I would think that as an adult, it could very well be easier, as you have more abilities to focus on the task at hand, and you know more what to listen for. I learn languages by pattern-matching, seeing what looks familiar and building from there.

As an adult, when I was learning Swedish in Sweden, I found using the telephone to be the most difficult. You want to see the words coming out of someone's mouth, so you can line up the sentences and read them in the air. I'm finding my Swedish is becoming much too passive of late. Need to practice. It's much, much easier to keep up with a language when you're up to your veritables in it every day, and nobody will speak English to you. I'm a big fan of total immersion -- sink or swim!

Posted by: firsttimeblogger | July 19, 2006 11:14 AM | Report abuse

Loomis, that reminds me of a joke I heard in high school (proabaly in Spanish class):

What do you call a person who speaks three languages?

What do you call a person who speaks two languages?

What do you call a person who speaks one language?

In retrospect, nothing to laugh about.

Posted by: GyppedOne | July 19, 2006 11:15 AM | Report abuse

Wrote an e-mail to two folks on opposite coasts yesterday, made a phone call to New Mexico, hoping two phone calls I made to California get returned this week. I'd rather not birth the baby until it's ready.

Life is getting a little complicated right now.

On Sunday, my sister called and left a message: "Mom is fine. I am fine. We are all fine. How is your eye? You wrote about your problems in a letter tucked into your Mother's Day card to Mom.

"By the way, Aunt Connie is getting very thin and frail. She says she wants to die. She wants the family stories. What can you send?"

Aunt Connie and my sister are much closer, since my sister went to UC Irvine and settled there after she married. Connie had bought very early into the Turtle Rock subdivision after the Irvine Ranch opened some properties for development back in the 1960s.

How can I refuse my aunt's request? When a Loomis says he or she wants to die, it pretty much happens. My aunt is six months younger than my mother, and both will turn 92 this year.

How can I refuse Aunt Connie? Her first name is my middle name (Constance is her middle name). It was Connie who sent oversized boxes of Cousin Sherri's hand-me-down clothes to us as kids. She, who bought me a silver locket engraved with my full name, so that I'd have ID on my body in case anything happened when I went to Europe for a year.

It was Connie who gave the O.K. for my former Swedish boyfriend and his two companions to stay several days at their modern home in Orange County when they came to America. The Swedish trio stayed overnight in Bakersfield (where one developed a severe allergic reaction after eating tiny, chopped-up walnuts in my mother's two-tiered jello fruit salad), but our family's run-down, broken-down bungalow, with its threadbare carpet, always gave me such a deep source of shame and embarrassment when I brought friends home.

It was Aunt Connie who ran out and bought cake and champagne after I phoned her house to tell the family that I had run off and gotten married the day before in an apple orchard in Washington state. She helped to calm my parents after I broke the marriage news to them later that Sunday afternoon. My uncle, the photographer, took pictures of my mother and father receiving my call and the expressions and body language showed they were in deep shock. They had missed my early Sunday morning call because they had been out that morning trying to help my sister buy her first car.

Apparently, Aunt Connie, Loomis-born, wants what only I can give her--the Loomis family stories. So I'll be doing lots of writing in the near term--with one good eye, and less Boodling, for an audience of one.

Posted by: Loomis | July 19, 2006 11:18 AM | Report abuse

I DID, mo, I DID!!!!


And my almost-bilingual daughter could immediately comprehend her relatives in Germany while visiting them this summer. The issue was getting her outgoing speech center realigned to all-German, all the time. Upon first meeting her cousins this time, she told me, they were asking her if she was going to talk to them or just stand there. *L*

Posted by: Scottynuke | July 19, 2006 11:19 AM | Report abuse

Your trivia for the day:

Serbians and Croatians speak the same language (a relative of Russian), with only minor differences. However, the Serbs use the cyrillic alphabet, and the Croats the latin alphabet.

Posted by: SonofCarl | July 19, 2006 11:22 AM | Report abuse

Very nice, L.A. Lurker. I can't speak Russian, and can't read Cyrillic, but if it is transliterated into English I can sing it. It is a lovely language, surprisingly easy to pronounce, and very melodic. The consonants are very easy, not harsh as, say, German consonants can be. There is a lot of great Russian vocal music, and it really should be sung in Russian.

My first college roommate was Russian. She and her family had emigrated to the U.S. when she was about 13, and she learned her English from television. She didn't say much about the USSR (as it was then), but her knowledge of situation comedies from the 1950s on was encyclopedic. I also learned how to drink vodka from watching her, but couldn't possibly keep up.

Posted by: Ivansmom | July 19, 2006 11:33 AM | Report abuse

Let us not forget Mr. Shaw:

"America and England are two countries separated by a common language."


Posted by: Scottynuke | July 19, 2006 11:41 AM | Report abuse

Our local art museum runs foreign film courses. This year, some Irish movies were run with subtitles or closed-caption. Then, a while back, there was "Last Orders" set in east London, that might as well have been in a foreign language. I should have guessed that Michael Caine and Bob Hoskins had it in them. Later on, I found an early Caine movie, the original "Italian Job" in which his London crook is utterly understandable for the American audience and doesn't say any wirty dirds (G rating).

My late major professor was a lower-class Charlestonian. The German professor down the hall who picked up English while in Hawaii was easier to understand. I'm grateful that both survived the World War.

Although my Spanish is lousy, I occasionally wander into a movie on TV, and it takes a little while to realize it's not in English. That feels odd.

Posted by: Dave of the Coonties | July 19, 2006 11:41 AM | Report abuse

My sister had a friend from high school who had some major in college (I forget what, exactly) that involved a lot of languages -- she was continuing in French and Spanish, from high school, and learning German, Romanian, and (I think) Albanian. At the time, this was a perfect recipe to became a CIA or State Department analyst, which is pretty much what she had in mind. She noted that in German, you could say the most caring, loving, sweet and tender things, and it sounded like vulgarity and using mouthwash. Whereas in French, you could say the most harsh, cruel, horrendous things, and they sound like poetry. She didn't have much to say about the sound of Romanian.

She attended a Catholic women's college with the most perfect acronym -- aptoacronym? -- of which I have ever heard: the College of Notre Dame of Maryland. CoNDoM.

Posted by: ScienceTim | July 19, 2006 11:42 AM | Report abuse


well, let me guess, your CCCP roomie liked to say: "To da moon Alice!", "Elizabeth, it's the big one, here I come!!", and "Whatchoo talkin' 'bout, Willis!?"

Posted by: nottamember | July 19, 2006 11:46 AM | Report abuse

dmd, my sisters know Pitou. All I ever did was have really lame conversations with some guy whose 'stage' name was Jean.
I should also note that any non crappy language book french I do know is strangely watered down by the Saskatchewan prairie french of my last teacher, a whole different flavour of french.

Posted by: dr | July 19, 2006 11:47 AM | Report abuse

dr, ha! My first (and best) French teacher spoke with a thick Scottish brogue, my second to last was the Cat Lady who did all her marking during our class, and my last was a Chilean with poor English. So hopefully the gendarme de la grammaire will keep that in mind in exercising his/her discretion.

Posted by: SonofCarl | July 19, 2006 11:55 AM | Report abuse

dr, have faith my oldest has started French now and it is much better, they actually learn words, the language. Seemed all we did was grammar but never learned to speak.

Posted by: dmd | July 19, 2006 11:59 AM | Report abuse

When I started learning German in highschool my jaw hurt for a week.

Posted by: RD Padouk | July 19, 2006 12:03 PM | Report abuse

When I was in college, I took a course in Russian and one in IBM's Assembler language during the same quarter. I failed miserably at both.

Posted by: pj | July 19, 2006 12:11 PM | Report abuse

Three semi-random headlines from --

Sex close to due date may cause labor, study finds (DUH!)

Dozens injured when cruise ship tips (paging 'Mudge!)

Dobbs: Mideast makes U.S. look dumb

That last one is the latest in a series of headlines that really vexes me -- why would anyone really care what Lou thinks? I'm entertaining the possibility he got a clause written into his latest contract that guarantees him a headline with his name in it so many times a quarter. Anderson Cooper doesn't get that, neither does Soledad O'Brien or Christiane Amanpour.

Posted by: Scottynuke | July 19, 2006 12:12 PM | Report abuse

Good kit, Lurkster. I took two semesters of Russian (Pah-roo-ski) my freshman year of college, and did miserably. This was back in the day when I was a Harrison Salisbury wannabe/foreign correspoindent Kremlinologist wannabe. I just now learned more about the Russian alphabet from your second paragraph than I did from the idiot teaching my class, because the Cyrillic alphabet was just presented to us as a glob, including the seven or eight silent accent marks you didn't mention.

Even worse is the Cyrillic alphabet in cursive. My handwriting is worse than a doctor's to begin with, but Cyrillic cursive is 10 times worse. In cursive basically the entire alphabet is what would be the English equivalent of writing "inhiiinhiminimnihiuiumnihi" with a few almost-invisible accent marks hanging off the letters like lamprays. It's like a 4-year-old child's drawing of ocean waves, just humps and spikes.

The trouble is, many Russian words are just such fun to say, with gutturals and coughs and clashing syllables run together and that one single letter which is the equivalent of "zhch" (it's the first letter of the name we know as "Zhivago" in the book/movie "Dr. Zhivago"). I think my favorite word is the name of one of the accent marks, which IIRC correctly is pronounced as "mmyak-eez-nahk." I just love the sound of that, mmyak-eez-nahk.

A few years after my dismal performance with Pa-roo-ski, I took what was by far the toughest class in my entire college career, a two-semester course called "Modern Russian History" (or might have been "Modern Soviet History," I forget, probably due to post-traumatic stress syndrome) taught by a guy named Erik Hoffman, who later went to SUNY and became poli. sci. dept. chairman there, so I understand. Hoffman was even then a legendary teacher, known for how tough his class was. Even so, kids lined up early to take that class, because it was THE premier poli. sci. dept. class at the time, and if you had any academic cohones whatsoever, you took Hoffman. First, he allowed only TWO cuts for the entire semester--AND he took attendence. You know how crazy that was. He was tall and thin, mid-30s, looked a bit like Liam Neeson, gestured a lot with his hands in front of him, leaned over the rostrum, and bounced on his toes. The classes were 50 minutes, and he talked non-stop for 49.75 of those minutes, and sometimes another five minutes. He gave quizzes, tests, mid-terms and finals, all of which were killers. He was worse than Kingsfield on "The Paper Chase." But by god, if you made it through Hoffman's class, you knew your Plekhanov from your Zinoviev, the Duma from the Cheka, the Decembrists from the Mensheviki, Yevtushenko's and Vosneshenski's poetry, and what Lenin ate for breakfast on the train ride to the Finland Station.

Worked my a-- off, got a "C." But darned glad I took it. To this day, college friends of mine and I still reminisce once in a while, "Remember Hoffman's class?" And we'd do imitations of his lecture mannerisms and speech patterns. The man was amazing.

(And pretty much most of it just as useless today as being able to decline poeta and agricola, which I can still do, too, along with reciting the opening of the Aeneid from memory, "Arma virumque cano, Troiae qui primus ab oris Italiam fato profugus Laviniaque venit litora..."

Jeez, the things they stuff in our heads.

Posted by: Curmudgeon | July 19, 2006 12:21 PM | Report abuse

This is a great kit. Well done, LAL.

I learned English at my mother's knee, French while living in Quebec, German (both High and Swiss) as a kid when my Dad was working out of Switzerland, and a smattering of Italian and Spanish through work.

All it means, in my case, is I've ended up speaking none of them well; whenever I want a French noun the German will present itself, and then I translate through all the tongues I know to get the right grammar and vocabulary.

I may have to relearn English!

Posted by: Stampede | July 19, 2006 12:25 PM | Report abuse


Mmyak-eez-nahk sounds a little like someone who's had too much fun at the karaoke bar, trying to sing Bobby Darin...


Posted by: Scottynuke | July 19, 2006 12:28 PM | Report abuse

Stampede - you point out something I have experienced myself. I used to be able to speak survival German, then I started learning Spanish. Suddenly, whenever I tried to recall a German word, a pushy Spanish one would show up instead.

Posted by: RD Padouk | July 19, 2006 12:31 PM | Report abuse

My wife was a Spanish & French teacher. She spent time in the Pittsburgh area teaching until the high school budget became a bit "tight". The decision came down to--keeping the language teacher, or buying new helmets for the football team. Guess which one got the axe. She eventually moved down to P.G. County to take teaching job, but got physically assualted by a 14-year old creep in school. The school system basically did nothing for her, so bye-bye teaching career.

Posted by: ebtnut | July 19, 2006 12:33 PM | Report abuse

That was me with Spanish and French. I took six and a half years of Spanish, then a year and a half of French, and consequently can speak neither. I can manage a menu in Europe, but not much else.

Posted by: slyness | July 19, 2006 12:35 PM | Report abuse

Somewhere along the line I also took a semester of French, which helps me order anytime I'm in Paris (which so far has "Cheeseburger Royal, pommes-frites, un Coke diet, s'il vous plait. Merci." (And if it hadn't been for Pulp Fiction I couldn't even have gotten THAT far.)

Posted by: Curmudgeon | July 19, 2006 12:41 PM | Report abuse

Mudge writes, "Somewhere along the line I also took a semester of French,"

Sounds like they should ask for it back.


Posted by: bc | July 19, 2006 12:46 PM | Report abuse

Great Kit, LA Lurker!

I'm convinced I got into Georgetown U because I wanted to be a Russian major. Russian novels, classical musical, probably a bit of James Bond and Le Carre had seduced me. The first day of class our assignment was to learn the Russian alphabet overnight. The professor did not use the fun language learning methods of today - he used terror tactics. Memorization, fear, humiliation. I've forgotten most of it - but have been told my accent is pretty good (that's what humiliation will do for you).

I studied Japanese a few years ago. It made Russian look like a breeze. Easy phonetics, no cases or verb conjugations to speak of - but 3 different writing systems, adjectives that have tenses - sometimes I could feel my brain spinning.

And yeah, now I get Spanish, Russian, and Japanese words when I try to remember any of the various languages I've half-learned.

Posted by: mostlylurking | July 19, 2006 12:47 PM | Report abuse

Linda Loo,
Your Aunt Connie sounds wonderful. Send her lots of stories (and tell us some when you have a chance). Hope your eye is getting better.

And for all the boodlers out there that have been having hard times - we're thinking of you. Don from I-270, slats, jack - anyone else I've missed.

Posted by: mostlylurking | July 19, 2006 12:50 PM | Report abuse

LA, it sounds like you studied the language in college, yes? no?

I have to wonder if motivation and as someone else noted previously, being forced to use a language without access to your first langauge make a real difference in how well one speaks.

My sister's kids went to french immersion schools. Of her two older kids, one speaks it, one has lost it. Its too early to know about her younger kids, but I know her daughter speaks it well.

Posted by: dr | July 19, 2006 12:52 PM | Report abuse

>"Cheeseburger Royal, pommes-frites, un Coke diet, s'il vous plait. Merci."

Cut to Paris, where Joel has just told a French journalist that has a blog.

French journalist: Oh really? we'll let's look it up right now and see what they're doing today.

Posted by: SonofCarl | July 19, 2006 12:54 PM | Report abuse

Mudge, it's Coke Lite. Trust me on this one.

Posted by: slyness | July 19, 2006 12:57 PM | Report abuse

Oh, and when you go to Europe, take your Coke Lite with you. It's more expensive than wine or beer. I drank a lot of wasser.

Posted by: slyness | July 19, 2006 12:59 PM | Report abuse

Mudge, don't order those fries.

They might have mayo on 'em.


Posted by: bc | July 19, 2006 1:00 PM | Report abuse

"Coke Lite" - Caribbean vernacular, too, eh, mon.

Posted by: Lurk Jerk | July 19, 2006 1:46 PM | Report abuse

"Coke Lite" - Caribbean vernacular, too, eh, mon.

Posted by: Lurk | July 19, 2006 1:48 PM | Report abuse

hi everyone. thanks for all the kind words. still reading through the boodle. the kit's last sentence had some russian letters, but due to font problems, we went with closest english approximations. if anyone's interested, the word for vodka would have a greek delta in the place of the "D," and the word for bar starts with a funky letter that looks like an "b" with a greek gamma hat on. ok, back in a few.

Posted by: L.A. lurker | July 19, 2006 1:49 PM | Report abuse

Serenity Base here, the Achenblog has landed.

I know a bunch of you out there were about to turn blue during the communication blackout phase back there.


Posted by: bc | July 19, 2006 1:51 PM | Report abuse

I got savagely attacked by the AchenHOG when I tried to post on my personal experience with Russian airport
PECTOPAH at Sheremetyvo, and how I can definitely testify that it works better than Kaopectate.

I guess the AchenHOG didn't like certain PECTOPAH foods I described. But the truth has to come out sooner or later. So I defy thee, AchenHOG! I shall post!


AchenSYSTEM ERROR: No such thing as "sausage soup with extra grease" allowed. VOIDING MESSAGE...

Posted by: Wilbrod | July 19, 2006 1:51 PM | Report abuse

I think the posting blackout might have been my fault--- who knew just reading PECTOPAH recipes would work like kaopectate on Achenhog?

Posted by: Wilbrod | July 19, 2006 1:53 PM | Report abuse

No, no, it's definitely the b.l.o.g.a.l.u.m.p.h.a.g.u.s, the creature whose name cannot be boodled. Just try, I dare ya.

Posted by: ScienceTim | July 19, 2006 1:56 PM | Report abuse

Contrary to rumor, Florida's AchenHOGs mostly aren't huge, fierce wild boars descended from survivors of Spanish shipwrecks that swam ashore and established themselves on the hostile shores of an unhogged continent.

And unlike certain feral horses, the HOGs aren't loveable, noble, or good-looking enough to be protected so tourists can hope to get a look at them. Who wants to see an animal rooting around? Much better to go visit the AchenMANATEES. They're far more impressive, not to mention exotic.

For some reason, HOGs have proliferated nationwide during Achen's tenure at the Post.

Posted by: Dave of the Coonties | July 19, 2006 2:01 PM | Report abuse

Science Tim, you're right! Even its latin name cannot be boodled.

Posted by: Wilbrod | July 19, 2006 2:01 PM | Report abuse

still catching up. i'm doing this in installments because i keep losing the server or having stuff eaten by the bot-man.

bc: where's the bathroom? = gdye tualyet?

CCCP: Soyuz sovyetskykh sotsialisticheskykh respublik
(try saying that 10 times in a row quickly)

Achenblog: Golbnecha (definitely)
(vlad from grad, your theory must right...)

loomis: "does the devil wear pravda?"
hmmm....very philosophical question...probably a matter of perspective
re: your 11:06 - gov't funding has always been high for languages of strategic interest. in the former soviet block, they're especially interested in people learning uzbek and other languaes spoken in the coutries ending with "-stan." russian was a much higher funding priority during the cold war. ahhhh the good old days. (just kidding, of course)

SofC: yeah pravda, thesis, and all that...
so far no one has chastised me for kitting instead of dissertating. y'all are too nice.

btw, there are now 3 official languages in former yugoslavia: croatian, serbian and bosnian. don't get me started.

Posted by: L.A. lurker | July 19, 2006 2:03 PM | Report abuse

Dave, Achen's tenure at the WaPo is chronologically coincidental with an overall increase in internet blog garbage to root through, therefore nourishing those swines to become successful swains and litter even more with new HOGlets.

Here we only have one AchenHOG because while our garbage is high-volume, it's also high-quality and thus picked off first by lurking vultures, looting raccoons, rabid dogs, and whalers, leaving very little for more than one AchenHOG to feast upon. But the one we do have, is very large indeed.

Posted by: Wilbrod | July 19, 2006 2:07 PM | Report abuse

I'm not much good at languages. Three years of French and all I remember is "bon jour/soir" and how to count to five. I was lost then and I didn't even have to deal with a new alphabet.

My neighbors are straight off the boat/plane from Russia, though. I thought they were Polish at first from overhearing them yelling at their kids to stay in the yard -- many of the words were similar to those my Grandma used on us kids (a first-generation American-Pollack).

Scotty ( The kit has an RSS feed you can subscribe to that makes it easier to see when a new kit is posted. Each new kit shows up in your "live bookmarks" if you're using FireFox -- not sure how M$ Explorer handles it -- a very useful little tool. Instead of refreshing the page, I go to the live bookmarks and reload the kit from there. Not as quick as right-click-refresh, but I see the new kits right away.

Posted by: martooni | July 19, 2006 2:10 PM | Report abuse

Oh yeah...a dim light flickers in my brain. "Agricola" was word one, page one in first year Latin...then second year we read Caesar. "Omnes Gallia tres partes divisa est..."

Posted by: Gunde | July 19, 2006 2:10 PM | Report abuse

Gunde, that was the case for my Latin class too.

Ah, Agricola, the female male farmer.

Personally I continue to be amazed I remember ANYTHING from Latin class, so I'm not too fussed with what I have forgotten. Which is a lot.

Posted by: Wilbrod | July 19, 2006 2:15 PM | Report abuse

there are 2 letters Russian that resemble a 3. One is a vowel, pronounced like a short "e". The other is a "z" sound (it looks more like a "3" than the other one). I'm cheating - looking at my Russian textbooks which, of course, I still have.

Mudge, your breadth of knowledge amazes me! The "myaki znak" - the soft sign - is a wonderful thing! It makes the consonant sound "soft", with a "ya" sound - one of those things that gets your non-native tongue all twisted up. Peter Ustinov had a very funny bit on 60 Minutes years ago, where he talked about the Russian language.

I think some people have more innate ability to pick up languages than others. I find it relatively easy, just as English spelling and grammar is somewhat easy for me. I've watched other people struggle, either with prounciation or vocabulary or grammar. Getting native pronunciation when you're older is tough, because you have to learn how to make sounds again. Weird - I couldn't say "r" sounds in English correctly till I was 10 or so...

Posted by: mostlylurking | July 19, 2006 2:20 PM | Report abuse

And L.A. Lurker, may I say, Molodyets!

(And the boodle was on the fritz, again).

It's probably my fault, boodling during a weekday. I'm at home, natch - going to a Doc Watson concert tonight at the zoo. Should be a hoot...

Posted by: mostlylurking | July 19, 2006 2:23 PM | Report abuse

Wilbrod, It would be great to return to the quality trash Florida had 300 years ago when vultures picnicked at the beach on whale (right, gray, etc.)as well as seals and the occasional manatee. Earlier on, about 12,000 years ago, they and the bigger California condors could also count on finding some nice mastodon or ground sloth. Today, they have to settle for road kill. It's demeaning. Once in a while, I kinda like the idea of introducing big Pleistocene-sized animals to the USA. Maybe stray elephants could ruin backyard gardens and strip fruit trees as terrified squirrels flee.

In California, things were a bit better--the gray whales are still there, plus all those sea lions and seals. But not quite enough to keep the California condors from nearly going extinct.

Posted by: Dave of the Coonties | July 19, 2006 2:29 PM | Report abuse

One of my favorite parts of "Dr. Zhivago" was when Yuri/Omar went to Varykino in the winter, and began to write the famous "Lara" poems, the first of which looked about like this (in his cursive) on the page:


Inhiiinhi minimnihi uiumnihi linmihuiuinhiuii
Pinihini hinmin mini ninni iinnuini
Minimnihi uiumnihi hinmin mini ninni hinmin mini ninni
Cimininimin opininminci

Hiniminuininni nhiiinhi minimnihi uiumnihi
Mini ninni uiumnihi hinmin mini ninni hinmin mini ninni
Cimininimin opini inihini hinmin mini ninni iinnuini
Pinihini hinmin mini ninni iinnuini

Of course, when you pronounce it, it sounds nothing like it looks (thank goodness).

(Still one of the great movies, though--and horrible book to try to read.)

Posted by: Curmudgeon | July 19, 2006 2:34 PM | Report abuse

By the way, Alta California is divided into two parts: cismontane and transmontane. At least for vegetation ecologists and such.

Posted by: Dave of the Coonties | July 19, 2006 2:34 PM | Report abuse

rd padouk and dr -
i'm in grad school now, still in slavic. my experience includes teaching first-year russian as a grad student.

here's a fun link where you can sort of teach yourself the russian alphabet:

mudge, your posts always make me laugh. your pronunciation of myakee-znahk is beautiful. the penmanship thing is totally true. my first russian teacher went on and on about "dots" - the little dots you place at the beginning of cursive letters to show where one letter ends and the next begins. every day in a thick russian accent she would say "you mahst reemembahr yuhr dohts!"

wilbrod: would love to hear about your kaopectate stories from sheremetyvo. don't know why the achenhog is so finicky. i mean we're talking here about some of the best grease on the planet.

p.s. what does agricola mean? is that like an ecologically friendly soft drink?

Posted by: L.A. lurker | July 19, 2006 2:45 PM | Report abuse

You're so right, mostlylurking. I remember that it drove my dad nuts that I said "git" instead of "get." He corrected me for years.

My brother and sister-in-law adopted twins from Russia several years ago. They were 28 months when they got them, so they already knew Russian and had to learn English in the home. The first six months were rough. My niece has done fine, but my nephew has been in speech therapy for his pronunciation.

Posted by: slyness | July 19, 2006 2:45 PM | Report abuse

It's the catalog of the National Agricultural Library.

Slyness, I had quite a lot of speech therapy during a childhood stint in upper Lower Peninsula Michigan. I still sound like I'm from there.

Posted by: Dave of the Coonties | July 19, 2006 2:52 PM | Report abuse

lol re: dr zhivago in cursive ... too funny!

mostlylurking et al: it's hard to keep up languages. russian is the only one i can still speak with competence, mainly because i lived in moscow 4 years between undergrad and grad school. the others, french, german, czech & serbo-croation, are reading knowlege only at this point, if that.

Posted by: L.A. lurker | July 19, 2006 2:53 PM | Report abuse

Lurk, agricola means "farmer." For some dumb reason, all beginning Latin textbooks begin with agricola and puella (girl) as the first two nouns, and the first year is basically written as dumb as a Ted-and-Sally 2nd-grade reader: See the agricola. The agricola is big. The big agricola talks to the small puella.

Then, in second year, you are immediately launched into Caesar's Gallic Wars, which if you are a guy and into soldiers and military and such, is pretty cool. If you are a puella, I would imagine it's pretty horrific. (Unless Vercingetorix is played by Johnny Depp.)

The only good thing about first-year Latin is you are required by the International Law of Latin Teachers to do extra-credit stuff, which is (80% of the time) building a coliseum out of Domino sugar cubes. For the really free-thinking 20% who don't do coliseums, you build a catapult out of your little brother's Lincoln Logs parts (and thereby ruining his Lincoln Log set, but then, what are younger siblings for if not to torture them cruelly and thoughtlessly?). If you are unfortunate enough to be a puella, then you build a diorama of the average Roman villa, focusing on the kitchen where the puellae make raviolae out of threshed wheat.

(In first-year German, they made us invade the first-year Polish class. I think it's just a cultural thing.)

Posted by: Curmudgeon | July 19, 2006 3:02 PM | Report abuse

Mudge, surely they don't do that invasion of Poland thing in the fall semseter, do they?

Thank goodness that they don't have French classes try to invade Russian classes in the Fall and Winter semesters. Only one student out of 40 would pass that class.


Posted by: bc | July 19, 2006 3:06 PM | Report abuse

This afternoon I haven't had my usual coffee, this is a good thing as I would have spit it out on my screen reading Mudge's last line in the 3:02 post.

Posted by: dmd | July 19, 2006 3:06 PM | Report abuse


You mean the puellae wouldn't be making paellae??

Oh, wait... was that Home Eck?? Spanish?

And bc, wouldn't the French class practice giving up to the German class?

Posted by: Scottynuke | July 19, 2006 3:11 PM | Report abuse

Calling Dr. Mudge.

You've got mail.

Though I've just given myself a terrible tune cootie from Kiss' "Alive II" or "Rock and Roll Over" (take your pick).

I'll be over here gouging my ears out.


Posted by: bc | July 19, 2006 3:15 PM | Report abuse

We're talkin' bout PRACTICE?

AI don't need it, neither do they.


Posted by: bc | July 19, 2006 3:19 PM | Report abuse

Mudge, I wish I'd gone to your school. We didn't have a Polish class, so our German class could have invaded the French class -- and launched things at all the English classes.

L.A. Lurker, you mean this kit isn't part of your dissertation? Shocked, I am. I recommend at least putting it in as a footnote, if only to test your advisers (did they REALLY read the whole thing?).

Posted by: Ivansmom | July 19, 2006 3:19 PM | Report abuse

The first thing I remember when I read Agricola is Gnaeus Julius Agricola, who is considered to be the Roman conqueror of Britian. And I must say Mudge, what no Tacitus?

Posted by: dr | July 19, 2006 3:25 PM | Report abuse

I'd do some first-year Greek jokes (and you know ZACKLY what I'm talkin' about) except TBG would beat the crap out of me. (Rightfully so.)

So...anybody take first-year Italian? There's dozens of punch lines and setups, slurs, sterotypes, etc., we haven't explored yet.

Posted by: Curmudgeon | July 19, 2006 3:27 PM | Report abuse


The most multicultural event I remember was when the Spanish V and French V classes went to a Greek restaurant to eat Italian food. That's how life is in the South, the Greeks run the Italian restaurants.

We got out of class, so it was a good thing.

Posted by: slyness | July 19, 2006 3:27 PM | Report abuse

I've tried to learn spanish french german and portuguese. all because a friend could speak spanish but he became a pot head and forgot everything, a girlfriend who was simply after a greencard, a girlfriend who turned out to be a crazy bat, and a best friend. But because of my high frequency hearing loss I don't hear consonants to well. So words just seem a blur of vowels to me most of the time. That's my excuse and I'm sticking to it. But oddly enough I do believe in the immersion principle. Went to Rio to vist friends once and learned more in one evening talking to a couple in a bar (they spoke no english) passing my little P/E dictionary back and forth, than I did in a six session course at G-town.

Posted by: omni | July 19, 2006 3:29 PM | Report abuse

One of my all-time favorite lines (and the intro tag line to one of the books I'm writing) is from Tacitus: "The role of the historian is to rescue merit from oblivion."

I love that line.

ivansmom, when the German class invades the French class, do they divide the French class in half, and one part goes in the coat closet and hides, occasionally emerging to throw spitballs, while the other half collaborates with the German class during "health and hygiene" (wink wink) class?

Posted by: Curmudgeon | July 19, 2006 3:33 PM | Report abuse

Actually, that Russian cursive looks suspiciously like my English cursive.

Posted by: RD Padouk | July 19, 2006 3:34 PM | Report abuse

Gotta go run an errand; back later.

Posted by: Curmudgeon | July 19, 2006 3:35 PM | Report abuse

HAHAHA mudge! my first year of latin, the latin teacher had a baby in the second month, so we had a substitute for the rest of the year - who didn't know latin - so we did what everyone else does when there's a sub - the whole class cheated through the rest of the year (oh, i'm sure there were some weenies who actually didn't cheat - we picked on them) so second year came around and yes, evil latin teacher was back... that year was he$$...

Posted by: mo | July 19, 2006 3:36 PM | Report abuse

'mudge - last time you ran an "errand" you ended up on the radio - whatcha doin today?? mmmm?????

Posted by: mo | July 19, 2006 3:37 PM | Report abuse

great kit!

I took Russian my 1st year in college, mostly b/c I was bored with the Spanish I had already studied for 6 years and my mother would have been very disappointed in me (to say the least) if I had taken German. I found my biggest problem was keeping the bits and pieces of other languages straight in my mind. When we were learning the Cyrillic alphabet and the basics in the first semester, I remember after returning one quiz at the end of class, my professor stopped me to ask me exactly what the words were that I had written - she had never seen them before.

I had written the Hebrew and Spanish (interchangeably) words for # 1-10 in Cyrillic. And read them to her at first without realizing the problem.

Posted by: axe | July 19, 2006 3:37 PM | Report abuse

The rude thing to say in English Canada is that you support French immersion, but think they should be kept under longer.

Agricola? What? No mention of the only thing poor agricola ever did?

Agricola arat, of course.

PS I loved the bit in The Gallic Wars where the standard bearer jumps off the boat.

Posted by: SonofCarl | July 19, 2006 3:38 PM | Report abuse

Huh. I was wondering why Mudge dropped French after one semester, but I bet it was because he was allergic to the feather duster.

The one that went with his Maid's outfit, that is.

If anyone can make a set of fishnet stockings with the line up the back (ALL the way up the back, not that I would notice or anything) look good, it's Our Man Mudge.


Posted by: bc | July 19, 2006 3:38 PM | Report abuse

This is because L.A. Lurker asked...

I was stranded at Sheremetyvo twice. The first time, we had over 12 hour layover and pretty much nowhere to lounge, and no visas. So we walked around the transit zone endlessly looking at all the shops like 10 times, and trying to find anything to buy with American money, and inhaling dry air full of stale (and fresh) smoke. I grew to memorize every single detail I hated about the airport.

Vodka, I could have bought by the truckload, ditto for furs, parfum, etc. But water? No
It took me hours to find a place that would accept US money AND had anything resembling water to sell--fizzy mineral water. .

The food on the airplane had been good. I was going to find out that Sheremetyvo has its own logic. First--lunch vouchers that was accepted at only one PECTOPAH.

An unsmiling woman dropped our meals in front of us, with a "take it or leave it" attitude. We ate sausage soup with a touch of cabbage, hot tea in glass, cold cole slaw, and a roll. (My cotraveller started cursing sausage soup and complaining of acute constipation by the time we got on the plane.)

Later, after an dramatic near riot quelled by security hitting people, we got dinner vouchers. The woman again was ready to hand us the exact same meal, but we spotted a vegetarian meal being served--rice with cranberries and we insisted we get the same thing too. It was actually tasty.

The second time, we were stranded for 3 days because our flight had come in late and we missed our connection, and by strange Russian logic, we could not fly for 3 days. But they couldn't just let us just wander around the airport until we resorted to savagery and brigandry, slashing throats for rubles to water and feed ourselves, or directly feeding on people.

So...Hotel Gulag! We were confined to the zone for transit passengers only. We were under armed guard, and we could only see a little outdoors from a corridor window. We also could see into the atrium of the hotel and see people dining and chatting and being cheery. We could not visit there. The snack stand available to us only accepted rubles. Because after all, why make it easy for us?

We could not leave this transit zone except to be marched down into a windowless ballroom where we were served the same meal 4 times running by a contractor. (breakfast, lunch, dinner). The meal was some kind of breaded chicken roll, tasting of fetid mushrooms, rolls, ice-cold cole slaw (bean sprouts and cabbage), and hot tea. We were given approximately 30 minutes to eat before they began taking it all away and then marched out by armed guard.

The hotel rooms were very nice, very barren. Due to the guard and the fact we didn't want to torture ourselves watching people eat scrambled eggs, bacon, and other scrumptious food in the atrium below, we stayed in most of the time, trying to decipher European TV and being surprised by the male nudity and groping standards for commercials. And being sick from the food. That's all the walking down memory lane that I want to do.

Posted by: Wilbrod | July 19, 2006 3:45 PM | Report abuse


We'll make sure the BPH menus are appropriately adjusted in the future. I take it vodka would not be appreciated, unless it's Scandanavian, perhaps?


Posted by: Scottynuke | July 19, 2006 3:57 PM | Report abuse

All I ask is that the hospitality person not carry a rifle and I actually have a menu to choose from. The smell of gunpowder spoils the appetite ;).

I did hear that my experience was atypical of Russia as a whole, although that airport doesn't have a sterling reputation for service.

Posted by: Wilbrod | July 19, 2006 4:06 PM | Report abuse

It's possible the AchenWaitress was packin', but it might have been the way she wore her apron.

Posted by: Scottynuke | July 19, 2006 4:09 PM | Report abuse

Great kit, LA.

Alas, the my (kind of) second language is french. at least, from fifth grade until my first semester in college. Our HS french teacher was quite short, a bit on the heavy side, wore glasses, had a beehive, and Bugs Bunny teeth. It was hard to focus. As such we (myself, and two classmates) found ourselves, more often than not, picking the plastic molding off the edge of the table top, mailing it through the grate on the ventilator and listening for the telltale clatter as it tumbled against the squirrel cage. This would keep up until the shards were reduced to small pieces. As the year progressed a mail drop would stir up the entire mess in ever the cacophonous manner. Fait accompli, poo trough water son of a silly English person. I blow my nose at you. I fart in your general direction. Your mother is a hamster and your father smells of elderberries. Humph!

Posted by: jack | July 19, 2006 4:17 PM | Report abuse

(Confused by end of your message).

Jack, are you sure you weren't busy tuning out Shakespeare for 5-year-olds instead of French?

Posted by: Wilbrod | July 19, 2006 4:34 PM | Report abuse

Wilbrod, Jack refers to the immortal Monty Python scenes in "Holy Grail" where the French heap insults on Arthur and the Englishmen from the battlements of the castle where the Grail may reside. Or some other castle.

Posted by: Ivansmom | July 19, 2006 5:09 PM | Report abuse

wilbrod - please to be renting forthwith Monty Python and the holy grail - all answers will be then answered!

now - WHAT is your favorite colour?

Posted by: mo | July 19, 2006 5:14 PM | Report abuse

Jack, I'm sure there are many of us silently (or not so silently) quoting from Holy Grail as I write.

Red - no blue! Aaarggggh!

Posted by: SonofCarl | July 19, 2006 5:14 PM | Report abuse

Greetings from Down East Maine, Boodle-istas.

Great Kit, LA-L. I also took a semester of Russian my freshman year and was doing pretty well, but ultimately decided not to continue. I loved it that our Soviet-era textbook vocabulary included such gems as "Mama rabotayet na zavodye" (Mother works in a factory) (as far as I recall from 20+ years ago...)

We had a Russian waitress at a restaurant on the Eastern (MD) shore a couple of weeks ago and when she brought the beer I said thank you in Russian (spaciba) and she looked surprised and answered with Pazhshalsta and a smile. Later that week at Whole Foods, I had the opportunity to have this same "conversation", but this time, the check-out lady answered with a whole sentence, none of which I understood, so I just turned red and said spaciba again and ran away :-)

I like to know how to say "please", "thank-you", "beer" and "bathroom" in the local language when traveling. Everything else is pantomimable.

Posted by: Pixel-on-Vacation | July 19, 2006 5:16 PM | Report abuse

Ah. Monty Python IS Shakespare for the 5 year-old in us.

I watched that movie, actually-- for some reason that scene has vanished from my memory. I retain the Knights who say Ni and the Killer Rabbit scenes, at least.

It is actually rather difficult to find a captioned version of Monty Python and the Holy Grail to rent. They just didn't have any made until recently.

Definition of frustration: Trying to decipher Monty Python based on visual cues alone. It's just impossible to guess the jokes or fully grasp the humor of being attacked by a dead rabbit.

Although the silly walks do translate. (It helps that there's a sign called "The Ministry of Silly Walks" visible onscreen.

My favorite TV stuff is catching up on M*A*S*H reruns and the stuff that everybody else was laughing at and I was clueless about.

I still have never seen Gilligan's Island captioned but I think I'm not missing out on much there.

Posted by: Wilbrod | July 19, 2006 5:48 PM | Report abuse

So, Pixel,
In Maine that would be:
Thank Ya

Just kidding! I love Maine - it was my favorite state till I got to Montana and Washington. And where is LP, anyway?

Posted by: mostlylurking | July 19, 2006 5:53 PM | Report abuse

Wilbrod, do you find that the shift to DVD has helped with getting subtitled movies? It seems like it is quite often a feature of DVDs now.

Posted by: SonofCarl | July 19, 2006 5:53 PM | Report abuse

Tune cootie cure: Words to Amazing Grace, sung to tune of Gilligan's Island theme song.

Don't say I never gave you anything.

Posted by: Ivansmom | July 19, 2006 5:56 PM | Report abuse

mo, I'm back from my "errand"; no, I'm not on the radio. But I DID meet bc at McCormick's for a confab. We're co-writing a guest kit, and needed to do some planning. Don't expect to see it for at least a week, I'd guess. At the moment it looks like a three-part series. Topic: superduper top secret. But I do suspect it will be somewhat...shall we say...whimsical? Not that bc and I don't have our serious, deep, thoughtful contemplative sides, of course.

I'm back at the orifice; bc's driving home; he'll probably be checking in later on.

Posted by: Curmudgeon | July 19, 2006 5:56 PM | Report abuse

Wilbrod in my experience you have not missed anything by not having subtitles for Gilligan's Island.

Posted by: dmd | July 19, 2006 5:56 PM | Report abuse

After textiles were mentioned ( only obliquely) by SciTim the other day, I had a strong feeling that it was time to check out the used books over at the Sally Ann store. I picked up some great books on the history of textiles, and needlework, but I also found a never opened volume with writings of Plato, and Marcus Aurelius.

Posted by: dr | July 19, 2006 5:57 PM | Report abuse

Alrighty then, I'd write an ode to an unfinished thought, but first I have that thought to finish.

I know the volume was never opened, because the edges of the pages were not separated. Its not a fancy book, just a one of those Harvard Classics volumes, the '5 Foot Shelf of Books Volume II. But for a buck, its a real find.

I also found a copy of Candide which seems to have lived its life in a library. For a book published in 1933, it's almost pristine, which gives me great sorrow. Surely someone read it more than once? Libraries should not be giving books away like this. I will hope that the libary has a newer better copy.

Posted by: dr | July 19, 2006 6:09 PM | Report abuse

bc, Mudge, I'd wait with bated breath, but if I wait till next week, I'll turn blue. No disrespect inteneded, but I am just going to breath normal while I wait for your kit, if that's ok with you guys.

Posted by: dr | July 19, 2006 6:21 PM | Report abuse

By all means, dr, please inhale and exhale on a regular basis. I wouldn't want anticipatory asphyxia on my conscience.

Running for the bus now.

Posted by: curmudgeon | July 19, 2006 6:39 PM | Report abuse

ivansmom, i've already gotten more than one suggestion to put this on my cv under publications. ha ha. i like the footnote idea though.

wilbrod, hotel gulag ... wow ... that's pretty crazy russian "hospitality," which is normally generous and gracious. but it's probably not so unusual on the institutional food front (also depending on whether this was pre or post 1991, and if post, by how many years). anyway, hope you can actually have a nice visit there someday - to russia, that is, not the airport or the transit hotel.

re: monty python and latin. a friend who skimmed the boodle today said the latin discussion reminded her of this scene from life of brian:

Posted by: L.A. lurker | July 19, 2006 7:01 PM | Report abuse

Oh what the heck, I'm waiting with bated breath anyway.

Posted by: dr | July 19, 2006 7:04 PM | Report abuse

Mudge, I wish you hadn't told us that. Now I've got bated breath myself. It's a tough state to be in for an entire week or week and a half.

We're counting on you to come through for us!

Posted by: Slyness | July 19, 2006 7:19 PM | Report abuse

jack, I forgive everything except that silly English bent-kneed running about!

I tried to bait my breath once, but nothing bit.

Posted by: Stampede | July 19, 2006 9:03 PM | Report abuse

dr, I went to our local library sale several years ago without high hopes (not being particularly interested in Barbara Cartland), and found a pristine copy of the first published edition of Man and Superman. It still had the old pocket-and-card system on the back cover, and it had never even been checked out. When I looked under the immediate card, I saw that it had been donated by a local collector who had retained the bill of sale from 1907. I have since donated the copy to the Shaw library in Niagara on the Lake.

Posted by: Stampede | July 19, 2006 9:11 PM | Report abuse

When we're at the dog shows, many of the handlers keep bait in their mouths for their dogs, whip it out when the pair reach the judge, then put let the dog (or b!tch, as the case may be) take a nibble in order that the dog shows expresssion. Then the bait goes back in the handlers mouth. I mean Red Man sized chunks of bait. Baited breath, indeed. I get the willies just posting about it.

Mudge and bc: I, also look forward to your co-authored kit.

Wilbrod: I seek the subtitled version of the Grail. What is the capital of Assyria?

Posted by: jack | July 19, 2006 9:35 PM | Report abuse

Whoa! I mean, Eureka! I've discovered that b!tch will get your post retained by the owner. Our three kids are quite aware that the word is one that we don't use. So, when we took the kids along to their first show, they heard the word bandyed about. On the ride home our middle daughter, then 9, queried as to whether we heard the word. "Oh, you mean b!tch?" was the reply. Daaaaad!!!! (childlike umbrage). You can't say that! It's a bad word! Our five year old pipes in: "What? Benches is a bad word???"

Posted by: jack | July 19, 2006 9:44 PM | Report abuse


Which breed do you show?

Posted by: Stampede | July 19, 2006 9:52 PM | Report abuse

Havanese, and a great breed it is. We have a champeen: El Morro San Pedro de Trier. Pete in these parts. We also have two females. I handle the older of the two. This entire experience is one of the more bizarre things I've ever done.

Posted by: jack | July 19, 2006 10:42 PM | Report abuse

i'm home now, and with electricity. had no power or online access 9pm last night until ~10am this morning, so that's why i never got back yesterday re: merkel, etc. linda, a friend sent me maureen dowd's "animal house" article as well. loved it - and it's so true.

so mudge and bc are conspiring? totally look forward to seeing what comes out of that.

Posted by: L.A. lurker | July 19, 2006 11:26 PM | Report abuse

LAL: I used to live in LA. First residence on Flower St. across the street from a freeway ramp. Second residence on 28th St. Final residence in an apartment complex on the Coast Highway in Hermosa. Totally cool. I love LA.

Posted by: jack | July 19, 2006 11:56 PM | Report abuse

Jack-- Nineveh? (Now it's Mosul aka Al Mawsil, Iraq) Although once when Shamshi-Adad was king and conquered the city of Ashur, he chose a new capital Shubat-Enlil) This was around 1800 BC.

Then Babylon in Hammaburi's time (Yup he of the code) conquered and broke up Assyria.

Later on, in 1300 BC Shalmaneser I snubbed the Babylonians and made Calah (Now Nimrud) his capital and expanded at the expense of the hittites. His son deposed the Babylonian king, which didn't last.

So the question is which period of Assyria are you talking about?

Interesting note: an archaeological find called the Nimrud lens indicates the Assyrians MIGHT have had telescopes, which would explain why they were no mean shakes at astronomy.

To this day the Assyrians are still a distinct ethnic group in Iraq, although they no longer worship winged bulls and are mostly Christian and speak a dialect of Aramaic.

"The Assyrian came down like the wolf on the fold,
And his cohorts were gleaming in purple and gold,
And the sheen of their spears was like stars on the sea,
When the blue wave rolls nightly on deep Galilee. " --Lord Bryon, The Destruction of Sennacherib

Posted by: Wilbrod | July 20, 2006 12:00 AM | Report abuse

I'm enlightened, thanks to you, Wilbrod. I took a course in the history of mathematics in grad school. The scientific, medicial, and mathematic contributions of the peoples and culture of Assyria, Egypt, the Middle East in general, and Africa are vastly understated in the history texts. In the movie alluded to some hours earlier, one of Arthur's knights sought to cross the Bridge of Death that was guarded by a troll skillfully played by Terry Gilliam. The first two questions posed by the troll were easy: name, favourite colour. The third question, expected by the unsuspecting knight, I think Sir Robin (Eric Idyll) to be equally simple to answer was the query regarding the capital of Assyria. No sooner had the words "I don't know that..." rolled off the knight's lips and the knight was cast into the Pit of Eternal Peril, or something like that. Regardless, the Assyrians,, have been short sheeted.

Posted by: jack | July 20, 2006 12:26 AM | Report abuse

Havanese, jack? Do they like mojitos? (Hahahahaha!) I'll go look them up, since I don't know what a Havanese is, despite watching the Westminster show. Uh oh, is it a toy breed? I usually skip that part, sorry. Anyway, I bet it is bizarre, especially after the brilliant Best in Show. A cousin of mine in PA shows Chesapeake Bay Retrievers.

Posted by: mostlylurking | July 20, 2006 2:07 AM | Report abuse

Great kit, L.A.Lurker. I went on a river cruise several years ago from St Petersburg to Moscow and took a course(?) in Russian on the boat. Hard language to learn but picked up a few useful words and phrases which I've now forgotten except for crossword puzzle use - nyet. Learning the alphabet helped one to recognize some letters on signs so could figure out what store was selling or which direction to go on subway - up or down. I named my cat after the waiter on the boat since it was a Russian blue cat. Great trip and discovered that potatoes, cabbage, and carrots can be made into many tasty dishes.

Took fours years of French and have had six years of Latin. All knowing Latin helps with is translating sayings engraved on buildings. I tried to use French on a trip to France. It is okay until you have to try to reply to the French response to your original query. Reading is easier than speaking but one needs to keep using the language. Practice should make perfect, as they say.

Mudge, if you need an accountant to help with your many lettered association, I will be glad to give you a quote. Like gratis.

Re: topic from a prior kit & boodle - tree removal.
My daughter who lives in Alexandria needs to have a huge tree taken down so it won't fall on her house. Anyone know the going rate for that kind of thing? The quotes she has been getting seem astronomical to me.
The midwest rates seem more reasonable.

Use ethanol. It keeps the corn farmers in our area happy.


Posted by: boondocklurker | July 20, 2006 2:19 AM | Report abuse

I think Russian is difficult,maybe you can try to study chinese,that's wonderful and cool.

Posted by: YingCheng | July 20, 2006 5:40 AM | Report abuse

boondocklurker, in 1999 we had a mature willow oak hit by lightning and the estimate for removal was $1985. Fortunately, it was on the right of way and the City took it down. Nowadays, I expect the same work would cost closer to $3000. Hope that gives you a useful datapoint for comparison.

Posted by: slyness | July 20, 2006 7:10 AM | Report abuse

Good morning, friends. Stampede, I walk early in the morning when it's not so hot, but pretty warm. Need the exercise for the blood pressure.

Error, that's one of the nicest compliments I've had, and I thank you for it.

Lurker, your kit is very good, and I think interesting too. Not good with languages, took French in school, and nearly lost my mind. I have trouble with English, as you can see in my first post. It's me, not you.

Another hot day it looks to be, had a real bad storm yesterday. As usual I'm running late this morning. Just wanted to stop in and say hello, and wish everyone a great day. Loomis, hope the eye is coming along good. Nani, we're waiting for that kit, and to hear from you. I do hope everything is okay with you, Nani. I miss you, and I believe the folks here do too. We love you much, Nani, and we miss that loveable spirit and good writing of yours.

Please remember that God loves you more than you can imagine through Him that died for all, Jesus Christ.

Posted by: Cassandra S | July 20, 2006 7:38 AM | Report abuse

What a fascinating, well-written look at Russian!

Posted by: surlychick | July 20, 2006 9:09 AM | Report abuse

jack - my cousins husband lets their dog drink beer out of his mouth - he thinks it's a hoot... that grosses me out more than the bait... people do stranggggeeee things with their dogs!

Posted by: mo | July 20, 2006 10:06 AM | Report abuse

Very interesting post! I think i learnt a bit of Russian today. Thanx to you!!

Posted by: Shaun Krislock | July 28, 2006 6:56 AM | Report abuse

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