Wednesday, October 3, 2007


Getting Around Town In Russian: Situational Dialogs was published by Slavica in 1987. I had to get it in college, and by then the Soviet Union had dissolved but none of our texts had caught up (my big red language textbook immediately gave us the vocabulary "collective farm" and "samovar" and "little hedgehog," but did not contain the words "sad" or "angry" anywhere in its pages.) I like to return to Situational Dialogs, a slim white paperback with no ISBN or price on it, printed in a small and slightly corroded-looking Helvetica. On the left page is the Russian, on the right page is the English. Recurring themes are: waiting in lines, things not working, things being out of stock, and disapproval with one's conduct.

Here are some excerpts.
- Hey buddy, how 'bout getting a light off you?
-What's that? I don't understand.
- Got a match, got a light?
- No, I don't. I don't smoke.

- Could you tell me where the nearest restroom is?
- There's no restroom here.
- Well excuse me.
- Go into the nearest cafeteria, they always have a restroom.

(A policeman can address you with a megaphone.)
- Young woman in blue jeans, why are you going through a red light, are you tired of living?
- Young man in the raincoat, turn back, this is not a crosswalk.

- What are you doing coming into the snack bar wearing a wet jacket?
- Well where can I put it?
- Jackets and raincoats have to be checked in the cloakroom.
- Where's the cloakroom?
- Downstairs, in the basement. On the right as you enter.

- Young woman, why don't you have a coat tab? Here inside the collar there should be a little loop, it's called a
- In America, we don't hang things up by tabs.
- But we do. You have to sew one on, or else I won't take it next time.
- I'm sorry, I'll definitely sew one on.
The chapter of (thwarted) telephone conversations is also a treat. As are the black and white photos scattered throughout. Next time.

I think there ought to be a companion Situational Dialogs for Portland. A solid start might be the actual sign posted by the cash register at Crema.
- We will not make you a 16-ounce cappuccino. If you insist, we will make you an extra-foamy latte.

The chapters "Conversations Among Lesbians" and "At The Dog Park" will be extra rich.

Meanwhile, a visual accompaniment: A Soviet Poster A Day!

No comments: