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Steve talks about his recent trip to Russia, including the places he went, the people he met and the experience of traveling to Russia after learning Russian for four years.
Steve: I arrived in Moscow and it was very interesting, too.
I was met with all kinds of touts.
They’re saying taxi, taxi.
You want a taxi?
I said how much is 2,000 rubles?
Okay, whatever that is, $80.
Alex: You just mentioned it was 700.
Steve: Seven hundred from the airport.
Steve: You know you’re not very quick at converting the currency.
The only thing that stuck in my mind was I paid 700 rubles from the airport in St.
This is 10 minutes away.
Two thousand rubles I don’t think is the fare.
So I said no, I’m taking the subway.
Okay, 1,000 rubles.
I said no, I’m taking the subway and I did.
I went and I lined up.
There’s lots of people using the subway, lined up, lined up and I got my 10-ride electronic card and that’s all I needed.
So, yeah, I had to lug my heavy bag and that up and down the stairs, but so what, you know.
Two-hundred and fifty rubles looks after me for five days in Moscow.
And Moscow was pretty exciting, the Kremlin and all of the cathedrals inside the Kremlin and, of course, Red Square and the Bolshoi Theatre.
You sense that Moscow is the capital.
I mean it just strikes you as a little more sophisticated.
It’s got a bit more of a business atmosphere to it.
Steve: Lots of cars, lots of cars, lots of chauffeur-driven cars, black cars idling around.
Their owners are either government officials at meetings or businesspeople or the pampered wives of the wealthy out shopping at all the luxury shops that are there, so, yeah.
Then I met with our learners.
Alex: Yeah and you had another meetup in Moscow, right?
Steve: We had a wonderful meetup.
Some people came from as far as 100 kilometers away just to be at that meeting.
Steve: Very nice people.
Steve: The biggest impression in Russia is just how nice the average person is.
If you ask for any help, you know, how can I find this, or anything, people are very, very helpful.
For some reason people who work in the service industry are much less helpful, very strange.
You go into the train station or metro.
You’re buying a ticket.
They’re all da-da-da.
As a language learner I actually did quite well in conversations where I was part of the conversation.
I knew the background and you can almost anticipate what people are going to say.
Steve: But, when you go to a counter and you ask a question and something semi-muffled comes back at you.
You don’t know what they’re going to say and nothing can prepare you, not the little textbook at the train station.
You don’t know what they’re going to say and when you say I beg your pardon, they’re not very patient in explaining it the second time.
That was the most difficult thing, really, was dealing with those kinds of clerks at counters who were not very patient and you have no preparation and they’re not friends.
So when you’re with friends and you’re having a conversation it’s easier.
When you’re confronted with this person it was tough.
Steve: But, on the other hand, people in the streets were tremendous, tremendous.
I felt very at home.
Alex: Oh, that’s good to hear.
Steve: Yeah, very at home; absolutely. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Alex: And you had mentioned that while you were here in Vancouver in your car you would listen to various podcasts.
Alex: Ekho Moskvy, you continued to listen to that, read newspaper articles and just immerse yourself as much as possible.
Alex: So, what was it like in Russia where then everything around you was in Russian?
Steve: Well, I mean, this again, it becomes less artificial. It’s real now.
It’s a real world.
Plus, in Ekho Moskvy I hear them talk about this square and that square and that street and that subway station and now I know what those places look like.
Steve: And they talk about the traffic jams in Moscow.
I understand that now.
One of the big issues in Moscow is that a lot of officials, not only very senior, but less than senior officials or other important or self-important officials put these little, whatever you call them, strobe lights on the top of their cars so that they can get around in the traffic, right?
Alex: Oh, really. Okay.
Steve: So this becomes a bit of a controversy when people who shouldn’t have them have them.
Steve: There are a lot of cars with these.
I understand the issue now because they’re all over the place.
People with these little blue lights on the car hoping they can kind of skirt around the traffic.
Steve: So, yeah.
I mean, I feel that my Russian took a big step forward and my motivation is greater than it ever was.
But, it was nice to go there and to be able to operate, like I felt comfortable.
Other than the odd surly clerk at the train station, most people were very friendly and I could communicate and to them it’s only natural that I speak Russian.
Steve: They’re not expecting to speak English.
Steve: Although, I did find people if I was in a subway station and I didn’t know which train or stuff, some people who could speak English were very happy to speak English.
But, most people they speak to you in Russian, so I felt very good that I was able to operate.
I went to a theatre, able to order food in restaurants.
It just felt good.
So, yeah, it was very good.
And we had excellent weather, excellent weather, yeah.
Alex: So, what is the weather like around this time of year?
Steve: Well, I think it’s a bit like a place like Winnipeg or Edmonton.
It can vary from being very warm and sunny day after day and then it can go quite cool for a while.
They have had very warm weather, 22, 25 degrees, 28 degrees, sunny.
Alex: Oh, really.
Steve: And the concern in Moscow is that if they get a very hot summer then they have these peat bogs outside Moscow that burn…
Alex: Oh, really.
Steve: …and then the whole city gets covered in this smoke from the peat bogs.
And then they also in recent years have had problems with forest fires.
Alex: Oh, okay.
Steve: So these warm summers create problems for them.
But, it’s not like Montreal.
It’s not hot and muggy at night.
Alex: Yeah, I know.
Steve: So it cools right off at night, no trouble sleeping.
But, it was warm and pleasant every day. I enjoyed it.
Steve: And, in a way, I think for many of us when we learn a language, unless we’re learning for some exam, we learn it so that then we can go and interact with the people.
So, in a way, this is the reward.
That was my reward for the four years.
Although, I should say that when we do something like learn a language, we focus on the goal, which is to become proficient in the language and, in a way, the trip is a reward for that.
But, I have to say that the whole journey for the past four years has also been enjoyable.
Steve: So, I don’t think we should always just focus on the end result.
We also kind of have to enjoy the trip because…
Alex: …most of it is the trip.
Steve: Most of it is the trip, right.
Steve: Most of it is the trip.
I enjoyed the trip in the sense of my studies, but I really did enjoy my reward.
Steve: And I’m sure you felt the same way and do feel the same way when you go to Korea.
I don’t want to interrupt because this is primarily about Russia, but a lot of the things that you’re saying I relate very well to Korea.
Alex: And I felt the same things when I was there, so.
Alex: Yeah. I think it’s probably a universal experience when you dedicate so much of your time to something and then it becomes real to you.
Alex: It just takes on a whole new meaning.
Steve: Yeah and the benefits are not immediate in terms of your language skills.
In fact, when I flew back on the plane, there was a guy who was an English teacher in Spain and he worked for a program called something like “immersion en ingles” or something like that, where they get like five days of solid seven-and-a-half hours of drilling and grilling and talking and whatever.
I’m sure that some people will improve in that week, but for a lot of people those benefits won’t appear until quite a bit later on.
So, I feel the same way with my Russian.
I mean there’s only so much it’s going to improve in just those two weeks, but in the long run it will have a big impact.
So, I definitely do recommend those people who can afford to go to the country, really at any stage, but preferably when you’re past the intermediate stage in the language so you can really get in there and act.
Otherwise, if you’re just a beginner you’re still kind of like an observer.
Steve: You’re not really a participant, you’re just an observer.
Steve: So, anyway, that was my Russian escapade.
I will be putting photos when I get around to it and talking about a bit on my blog.
Alex: Cool. And your blog again is?
Steve: The Linguist on Language (http://thelinguist.blogs.com/).
Alex: All right.
Steve: All right. Okay.
Alex: Thank you for listening, everyone.
Steve: Thank you for listening. Bye for now.