Okay, so now I do have a Ukrainian playground acquaintance: a babysitter from Mykolayiv. I figured out she was from Ukraine when I caught her staring at me a bit too intensely as I was telling something about Kyiv to someone else - and then we chatted, and her intonations were more Ukrainian than Russian, and then I told her I was from Kyiv, and she said she was from Ukraine as well.
Nothing interesting about this encounter, except for an insight into how some Ukrainians feel about the Ukrainian language.
We talked about travel in Ukraine, and I mentioned that I'd like to take Marta to Western Ukraine, for the beauty - and also for the language, for the beauty of the language there.
She said she was fluent in Ukrainian, but had never in her life spoken it to anyone. Studied it at school, and that's it. Found it awkward. Not beautiful.
I told her that perhaps she hadn't heard it spoken beautifully: there's a number of ways it can happen to you in Ukraine, and growing up in Mykolayiv is just one of them.
I also gave her a little lecture on how all languages are beautiful, but it sometimes takes some effort and time to realize it.
I am, for example, still totally grateful to my university professor - Olena Bekh - for giving us creative assignments that had no politics or ideology in them, and for singing those beautiful kolyadky during classes.
And I also told the babysitter about my experience with Turkish: how at first I didn't like the sound of it - was spoiled by all the exposure to the beautiful Armenian language that I'd had in the States, perhaps. But then Misha and I fell in love with the way the Istanbul tramway female announcer was saying the word Gülhane - and now, ten years later, I'm still in love with this word, and I've also realized that I love Turkish spoken by women much better than I love it spoken by men. A few years ago, the tramway route was extended to include a station called Fındıklı, and even though this word is spoken by the same female announcer, it is sort of like a quintessential male Turkish word for me: Gülhane vs. Fındıklı.
Anyway, I could've been speaking to myself, for all I know, because the babysitter's response was something like this:
- Well, you know, my sister lives in Kyiv, and she doesn't really understand Ukrainian, and she's often annoyed by the signs in Ukrainian: like, when a store sign says "Kylymy" - what is it, she asks, why can't it be just "Kovry"?
I tried to explain to her that there was nothing wrong with it - and that the sign could say "Carpets" just as well, if her sister lived in, say, London, not Kyiv. But I decided not to go too deep into it, because all of a sudden I recalled how much I dislike math, and how dumb I am when it comes to all things mathematical, and no matter how much you try to explain to me things beyond GRE math (which I survived back in 1996, but wouldn't survive now), I'll still remain an idiot that I am. Same with this babysitter and her sister - and the languages. No politics here whatsoever, really.
But I was still curious about something else.
I asked her: "Do you know that the word kylym came to us from Turkish? That it's a Turkish word for 'carpet' - kılım?"
And she said: "Oh yeah, really? No, I had no idea."