Friday, February 13, 2009

Moscow notes:

- A middle-aged, nondescript man with an ancient laptop was sitting at the table next to mine at a coffee place today. The laptop had an antenna kind of thing sticking out on the left-hand side - a built-in modem contraption or something, I guess. He was checking his email account. Marta was being noisy, and at one point I told her to take pity on this man - what if he had ten kids at home and escaped to a cafe to get some work done, in a comparatively quiet environment? When he stood up to leave, I noticed that he placed his laptop into a plastic bag. Then he lay it on the table. While he was putting his jacket on, I noticed that the plastic bag had a logo of the Party of Regions/Партія Регіонів on it. Then I think I noticed something even weirder: I'm 99.9 percent sure it said "Партия Регионив" on the bag - a Russian transliteration from Ukrainian. As I said, I'm not 100 percent sure, but I did look very hard - so hard that Marta managed to run off to the other end of the cafe - and I also noticed that either "Donetsk" or "Donbass/Donbas" was written over the map of Ukraine, which probably means that he got this bag from the party's regional office. So now I'm wondering if I was hallucinating, or if it's indeed true. Hilarious if it's true, and could also serve as an example of linguistic "accommodation/non-accomodation" that my friend, Laada Bilaniuk, had written a paper on. Or not, I don't know. Either way, if any of you have ever seen this strange bag, too, please let me know :)

- Sometimes we get phone calls from opinion pollsters here. I usually tell them I'm too busy, apologize and hang up. But today Marta was giving me a hard time, and I thought it'd be nice to talk to a real human. The guy had an accent (who doesn't), and when I asked him what company he represented, he said simply: "A public opinion research company." I asked him to specify, and he sounded surprised for a moment, but then gave me some abbreviation, which I then googled but didn't get any results. Anyway, we moved through the local and national elections questions pretty fast, because all my answers were negative (except for the one about my voting preferences if the nationwide election were to be held now - he named the options, and I picked the now-dissolved SPS, just for the hell of it). He then moved on to the household income questions - and the first two options he gave me were quite wild: (a) You can barely afford to buy food; (b) You can afford food, but that's about it. I should've listened to the rest of the options, but I didn't. He also asked for my name, and I said, "Please."

- Marta is now posing this question to all cab drivers: "Where are you from? Hey, where are you from?" It made an Azeri cab driver laugh the other day - but it definitely freaked out the two Slavic-looking ones we had today. She learned it from me, of course: my favorite question, it allows me to determine in which language I should thank the driver who doesn't look local.


  1. Are non-Slavic cabdrivers ever weirded out by you, a Slavic-looking woman, asking them where they're from?

    I get "where are you from" all the time because of my accent, and I usually throw the question right back and we have a nice conversation about it.

  2. Some do pause before answering, and it's hard to say if it's because they are surprised or uneasy about the question.

  3. Партия Регионив? Lol! Weird language indeed. I've never seen such bags.

    In any case, we should keep in mind that the Party of Regions largely relies on American spin doctors/copywriters

    That bag could have been from some messed-up issue that they ordered from abroad, like they did in this case.

  4. I'm pretty sure Marta got that question from walking the streets of Sultanahmet since before she was born!

    Kelly :)