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Cristina’s travels TAC 2015 Team Pushkin

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Solfrid Cristin
Winner TAC 2011 & 2012
Senior Member
Joined 3736 days ago

4143 posts - 8863 votes 
Speaks: Norwegian*, Spanish, Swedish, French, English, German, Italian
Studies: Russian

 Message 49 of 297
12 August 2014 at 10:08pm | IP Logged 

Boy. My life spins so fast at the moment, I am almost getting motion sickness, and it is really unpredictable
which situations a language interest may bring you into. Right now I am stuck in an apartment with no
working toilet and where there were riots with burning tires just 100 meters away 48 hours ago.

After Norway having been under threat from Islamist terrorist for the last week, and the unprecedented sight
of armed police on Norwegian streets, I left the country. For Ukraine. I'll be in Kyiv for a month. And for all
those who wonder: No, I do not have a death wish, but I am counting on things being a lot calmer than they
appear in the media. I have even brought my daughter this time. And I am not going anywhere near Eastern
Ukraine. Just in case though, I have brought an extra passport, train tickets for all neighbor countries towards
the west in case my plane will not take off, I will alert my friends in Romania and Poland that I am here , and I
carry two extra credit cards and a lot more cash than I normally do, in both euro, dollars, Norwegian kroner
and Ukrainian griven, so I should be ok.

I have been meaning to write an entry in my log about coming here, but between a lovely visit from Richard
Simcott (Torbyrne), a wonderful visit from Tarvos and those of my Russian friends who were not on vacation,
the heaviest heat wave in the history, my cat getting severely wounded and needing special care and several
visits to the vet, helping a friend who was about to lose her Norwegian citizenship, a two week visit from an
American teenager with ADHD and taking as many Russian classes I could squeeze in while working full time
at the office while my colleagues were on vacation and trying to read and listen to as much Russian as my
brain would allow plus producing staggering amounts of rose jelly - I have been a tad busy...

The visit from Richard Simcott was, as always, an honor and a pleasure. He is not only one of my favorite
polyglots, he is one of my favorite people in the whole wide world. We laughed and discussed life, languages,
kids, polyglots and he talked me into going to Novi Sad (I was a total pushover). So I hope more of you are
going! At the moment the only one I know of is Iversen, so I am contemplating just how big of a bear hug he
is going to get when we finally meet :-) I have gotten hold of Pimsleur Croatian and am amazed at how much
I understand just through my Russian, my forgotten Polish and my 11 lessons of Ukrainian. I have listened to
the first 5 lessons, and I think I heard altogether 6-7 words I did not understand. I am not foolish enough to
attempt any active learning, I am aiming for passive knowledge only, but it would be great to understand a
little when I get there.

I have been really, really active with Russian practice lately. I have had between 4-8 private lessons every
week, trying to speak as much as possible. My tutors always want me to do grammar, which I know is a total
exercise in futility, so I get them to speak with me. My Russian is still highly incorrect, but at least I manage to
produce something.

I arrived in Kyiv a week ago, and it feels like my head will explode. I am an A2 plus, so they put me in what
was supposedly an A2/B1 group which included one Norwegian guy who is a high B2, an Italian who is B2 in
speaking (if you do not count grammar, where he is as bad as I am) an amazing German guy of Polish origin
who cannot read or write Russian but who is a C2 in speaking, which he simply picked up on on the streets
from Russian friends, and a French woman who is probably a B2 in grammar and writing, but a low A2 in

There are a lot less people here this year, understandably, which is why they have lumped together in one
group all those who are beyond an A2 level. We learn so much vocabulary each day, that I have no chance
to absorb it all, and the grammar goes way over my head. I also have individual classes in the afternoon,
where I thankfully can get help with the grammar I do not understand. I feel I have learned quite a lot in just
this one week though, so I cannot wait to see how much I will have learned in a month.

Our teacher is a tough nail, but she is really, really good, as all the teachers here. When I am willing to walk
into a country which for all practical purposes is at war, bringing my daughter - that speaks volumes about
the service level and quality of teaching at this school. They are beyond amazing.

Otherwise when you are in a foreign country, it is always the little things that amazes you. Yoghurt with mojito
taste, the fact that when you cross the street you can see exactly how many seconds you have left before it
changes to red, and the fabulous feeling when you manage to figure out the menu and order the right things
when the menu is in Ukrainian only. Which I do not speak...

I was not quite prepared for riots though. I live 100 meters from Maidan square, but although the pictures in
the news scared my family to death, and the video of burning tires, and brick stones being thrown at the
police looks scary to me, we have not seen, heard or smelled a thing. According to the news the smell could
be felt all over Kyiv, but I found no one who had felt that, even though the school is also just a few hundred
meters from Maidan.

My teachers are quite vociferous on their lack of support for the people who are still at Maidan, and say that
they should go home now, and on a daily basis there are just 3-4 old people left. It is said that they are there
because they have nowhere else to go, which I suspect is quite close to the truth. We have been to Maidan
every day except the day of the riots though, and it has been a 100% peaceful.

If I am to pinpoint one major change in Kyiv since I was here last, it is that people smile more. On the metro
people used to look into the emptiness with blank faces, but now they speak and laugh more. I have no idea
whether that has anything to the change in the political conditions or is just a coincidence, but it is quite

One thing that has not changed though, is their willingness to engage to defend others. We were bothered by
a guy at a restaurant the other day, and as soon as the others understood what was going on, they yelled at
him to leave as alone, and one guy was even ready to fight him to help us.

This willingness to engage is something I admire about Ukrainians and Russians alike. I have never figured
out why people have the misconception that Russians are cold. Once you get to know them they are the
warmest, kindest most helpful people you can imagine. Where Norwegians will keep their distance for fear of
intruding, Russians and Ukrainians engage and help you. I really love that about them. Not that there still is
not a fair share of unhelpful people, but most are really kind when you ask for help - or even when you do not
ask for help.

I have used mostly Russian when ordering at restaurants. 90% of the menus are in Russian, and in Kyiv most
people I meet are Russian speakers. There are more and more who use Ukrainian though, so in 10 years
time that might change, but I have only found a couple of places with Ukrainian menus. On the streets the
signs are about half and half I would guess. There was also one restaurant where the waitress spoke to us in
fluent English once we accepted an English menu, so it felt wrong to use Russian with her, but otherwise it is
all in Russian.

I have not quite decided whether to go to Russia or Ukraine if I get the opportunity to go again. On the one
hand I am really, really happy with the school, and I love Ukraine, on the other hand it would of course be
easier if everything around me was in Russian, and I would love to get to know Moscow and its surroundings
better. I also adore St. Petersburg, and would love going back there too. I just wish there was not the visa
hassles. Though as things stand now, I guess it is unlikely to get any easier any time soon.

If I can find a few extra free days sometime during the Autumn I would love to go to Moscow. Seeing one of
Chekov's play on the Bolshoi theatre would be a dream.

I also got hold of some Russian literature yesterday. I finally managed to locate both War and Peace, Anna
Karenina, The Master and Margerita, Lermontov's 'Heroes of our times' and three volumes of Chekov's short
stories. We are doing Chekov's short stories for our Russian classes, and I discovered that I really love them.
Our teacher also teaches Russian language and civilization at the university here, so she adds a little literary
analysis which I find absolutely great.

Oh, and my daughter who has just had her first 5 days of Russian bought '50 Shades of Grey' which she
insists that she will read in Russian. If that is not a hairy goal, I do not know what is. I suspect that I will pinch
them and read them first, but as long as she is motivated to learn to read Russian, she could read Marquis de
Sade for all I care.

I also bought an Agatha Christie in Ukrainian. I know no Ukrainian at the moment, but when my Russian gets
stronger I will try to finish the Pimsleur Ukrainian course and a few lessons in Assimil, and I should be good to

We had breakfast at McDonald's today, courtesy of our non functioning toilet, and I made the following
observations: They have the best milkshake and the best McFlurry I have ever tasted in any McDonald's, and
I have been to a lot since I collect going to McDonald's in different countries. They are also the only ones I
know where you can have oat meal porridge for breakfast. And they have an (intended) hole in their toilet
doors which half the Ukrainian army could have crawled through quite comfortably. Not quite as comfortable
for the occupant, though. I am old fashioned enough to appreciate a bit of privacy. Well, well, at least here I
manage to find the ladies' room, and don't go to the men's room by mistake all the time like I did in Russia.

Ps. If you feel like making conflicting political remarks, you are welcome to. But not here. You are welcome
to write a PM to me or whatever you want in your own log, but I am not going to discuss politics here. I love
Russians, I love Ukrainians. No past, current or future political systems or leaders will change that. And that
is my last word on that subject matter.

3 persons have voted this message useful

Solfrid Cristin
Winner TAC 2011 & 2012
Senior Member
Joined 3736 days ago

4143 posts - 8863 votes 
Speaks: Norwegian*, Spanish, Swedish, French, English, German, Italian
Studies: Russian

 Message 50 of 297
21 August 2014 at 7:18pm | IP Logged 

I think my Russian teacher thought I had had too much to drink and was slightly mad on Monday morning,
when I started our class (which consisted of her and yours truly) by telling her that she was a witch. She went
from lips pressed tightly together to a broad smile when I explained why I thought she was a witch. I told her
that on Friday evening I watched "Letters to Juliet" for the third time, and that the two previous times I had
understood very little of the dialogue, but that on Friday I was suddenly understanding more than half the
dialogue - possibly a little more.

We got off to a bit of a rough start, since the level of the group was a bit high for me, and she wanted me to
dive into advanced B1 level grammar questions, unprepared, when I had already told her that I was more of a
low A2 in grammar, even if I was leaning towards a B1 in speaking. I consequently totally blew up. But she is
an amazing teacher, and I have had great results so far. She says that she speaks to me at a normal speed,
and even if I do not understand everything she says, and I have to ask her about words I do not understand, I
am still happy that I can understand half the thing she says at that level.

Her English is wobbly, which is absolutely brilliant, because that means that with the exception of the
occasional word, I do not rely on English anymore, and have to find a way to say it or get it explained in
Russian. Today we started telling stories of our lives and of those of women around us, and we could
squarely agree on the fact that regardless of political and economic conditions, the condition of women is
very similar from one country to another, and you never know what goes on behind closed doors.

And I had an absolutely amazing experience in my other class. My teacher got me talking on the subject of
my ex-husband's bat-shit crazy family, and when I stopped, she said: "You do realize that you have been
speaking for an hour straight, during which I have had to correct you five times, and I have given you five
words you did not know?"

I was amazed. I knew, of course that I had spoken for a long time (anything to get out of doing grammar
exercises), but I had not thought much about the fact that she had made very few corrections. I assumed that
she just did not want to break my flow, but she swore she had corrected all the mistakes that I had made.

Unfortunately that was a one off. When people speak to me in the street I often do not understand the
simplest thing they ask me (of course, sometimes they speak Ukrainian to me, which does not make it easier)
so I guess being comfortable, and knowing the topic and the person you speak to well, makes a huge

Yesterday she asked me how my cat was doing, and since we both adore cats, and are good friends, I did
not find that odd, and went in to a long rambling about how it had been attacked by a cat who bit a big chunk
of it's butt off. My teacher at this point was looking more and more perplexed, until she asked me "You got
attacked by a cat"?

Turns out she had not asked me about how my cat was doing. Se had asked "So how are you doing, kitten".
No wonder she was perplexed at my vivid description of the attack wounds. Me getting into an actual cat
fight was not on her short list of my usual activities.

I have talked her into doing songs with me, so over the last days I have done some Russian traditional songs.
None of us have a singing voice anymore, so we just sing along at the top of our voice anyhow, and if the
place was not empty by the time we start, it sure is by the time we finish.

One thing I absolutely love about being here, is that I blend in so well. The one thing that bothered me in
Spain was that I stuck out like a sore thumb. Everybody here asks me for directions in Ukrainian and
Russian, so my Slovenian taxi driver who said I had a Slavic face may have a point there. Not that I
understand how anyone in their right mind would think I am Ukrainian based on the way I dress though.
Ukrainian women my age fall into two neat categories: Babushkas and models. The babushkas wear old
fashioned clothing, cover their hair with head scarves and are generally fairly plump. The models are often
thin, elegantly dressed in expensive outfits with matching high heeled shoes and handbags and look like they
just came from the hair dresser to have their 6-week cut. Me with my long hair, shorts, T-shirt, sandals,
unshaven legs, generous waist line and backpack do not fall into any conceivable category of Ukrainian
women my age.

Nevertheless, they all think I am Ukrainian. I think my great great great grandfather from Sweden, who
according to the family legend was the son of a king, must have been the son of one of the Russian tsars. I
simply must have some Russian or Ukrainian blood in me, and he is the only family member that I do not
know the family lineage of back to the time of the Black Death.

I have tried out some of the Ukrainian/Russian/Krimean dishes/drinks, and so far I have loved them all.
Pillemini, cheburek, kvas, lemonade, vareniki, shashlik, plov - I like them all. Ok. I may not be a big fan of
kvas yet, but I am assuming it is an acquired taste. Blini, which are not small and thick, like American
pancakes, but just regular pancakes, are a favorite. I never thought you could put so many strange things in a
pancake though. The banana split pancake is great, but I have not yet managed to wrap my brain (or my
tongue) around the concept of pancakes with mashed potatoes.

My environment is also interesting. I live in an upmarket neighborhood next to the Maidan Square,
nevertheless my immediate surroundings consist of a tattoo shop, a biker club, a Thai massage place and a
beauty parlor. I will visit one of them before I leave, but I have not quite figured out which one yet :-)

There is also a local mini market across the street called "produkti" in Russian, which has one -1- jar of jam,
4 bottles of milk, apples every three days, quail's eggs and 900 bottles of alcohol.

I am looking forward to Ukrainian Independence Day on Sunday. I expect to see masses of regional
costumes, and since I am an absolute sucker for those, that should be interesting. I also heard a band
rehearse today, so I am looking forward to some good marching band music.

Another thing I find puzzling in Kiev is that on every street you have: 1. A "produkti" 2. A pharmacy 3. A
notary (Notarius Publicus) . In my street there are two produkti and three notaries. Since the latter category is
virtually unknown in Norway, I asked them what they needed so many notaries for. They looked at me like I
was some special kind of stupid, and answered "For everything"! Apparently they function as lawyers, real
estate brokers and public functionaries for a thousand things we in Norway do not even know about, and
have a reputation as clean as an American lawyer or a Brussels taxi driver.

Ok. That's it for this time. I'll write more soon.

4 persons have voted this message useful

Senior Member
Russian FederationRegistered users can see my Skype Name
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Studies: Kazakh, Korean, Norwegian, Turkish

 Message 51 of 297
21 August 2014 at 7:40pm | IP Logged 
I guess kvass really is an acquired taste. I didn't like it as a kid, but now I can't imagine summer in Russia without it. If you haven't already, I think you should definitely try okroshka, the perfect soup for a hot summer afternoon. Maybe you'll see kvas in a new light thanks to it. It can also be made with kefir instead of kvass and sour cream, but I don't think I'm personally familiar with anyone who actually prefers the kefir version.

And yeah, there's definitely an awful lot of notaries in former Soviet states. I've had the reverse of your experience the first time I spent a long holiday in the UK. "Why are there law firms and real estate agencies all over the place, but not a single notary's office in sight?!"
1 person has voted this message useful

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United Kingdom
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 Message 52 of 297
21 August 2014 at 9:40pm | IP Logged 
Your log really makes me want to go on holiday to Kiev again! I completely agree about
Ukrainian women; when I was in Kiev it was so hot that I was constantly in a state of
sweaty dishevelment and for some reason whenever I walked the streets I attracted dust
and dirt like a magnet. But most of the Ukrainian women I saw were dressed more
elaborately than I would manage for a wedding and somehow succeeded in looking completely
cool and impeccably neat, regardless of whether they'd just spent an hour bumping along
in a crowded marshrutka. I was so jealous ;)
1 person has voted this message useful

Solfrid Cristin
Winner TAC 2011 & 2012
Senior Member
Joined 3736 days ago

4143 posts - 8863 votes 
Speaks: Norwegian*, Spanish, Swedish, French, English, German, Italian
Studies: Russian

 Message 53 of 297
21 August 2014 at 10:34pm | IP Logged 
@Von Peterhof: Thanks, I'll have to try that:-)

@Radioclare: I know. It is totally unfair.

Edited by Solfrid Cristin on 21 August 2014 at 10:37pm

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Super Polyglot
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 Message 54 of 297
21 August 2014 at 10:55pm | IP Logged 
I tried kvass once. Definitely an acquired taste, and definitely a taste I have passed up
on acquiring. :(

I am guessing you will visit one of the last two places you mentioned :D
1 person has voted this message useful

Solfrid Cristin
Winner TAC 2011 & 2012
Senior Member
Joined 3736 days ago

4143 posts - 8863 votes 
Speaks: Norwegian*, Spanish, Swedish, French, English, German, Italian
Studies: Russian

 Message 55 of 297
21 August 2014 at 10:58pm | IP Logged 
Tarvos: I know what you mean about the kvas :-) The last two places?
1 person has voted this message useful

Super Polyglot
Winner TAC 2012
Senior Member
Joined 3109 days ago

5310 posts - 9398 votes 
Speaks: Dutch*, English, Swedish, French, Russian, German, Italian, Norwegian, Mandarin, Romanian, Afrikaans
Studies: Greek, Modern Hebrew, Spanish, Portuguese, Czech, Korean, Esperanto, Finnish

 Message 56 of 297
21 August 2014 at 11:00pm | IP Logged 
Solfrid Cristin wrote:
Tarvos: I know what you mean about the kvas :-) The last two

Out of the four you mentioned; between the tattoo place, the biker shop, a Thai massage
parlour and a beauty parlour somehow I believe you can narrow down the options
quite fast!

Edited by tarvos on 21 August 2014 at 11:01pm

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