Two Russian Guys Walk Into a Peet’s Coffee.

posted in: Day In The Life, School 12
The Steel Makers, by Mikhail Trufanov, 1956. Image: Wikipedia.
The Steel Makers, by Mikhail Trufanov, 1956. Image: Wikipedia.


I am at a Peet’s Coffee working on the titanic research project that is due Wednesday for my (amazing) class in the Fiber and Material Studies department. This thing needs to get done no later than tomorrow morning if I am going to retain my sanity.

But I have stopped working on my project to write this — I know, I know — because a) my brain is short-circuiting from so much information gathering and organizing and b) I presently have company.

Two Russian men came in a while ago and took a seat at the table to my right. One of them is dressed in business attire (it’s Sunday — maybe church attire?); one is in sneakers, jeans, and a puffy coat. One of the guys is wearing so much cologne, I am getting a headache. (It’s good cologne; there’s just way too much of it.)

I can for sure identify four words in their conversation, but only three actually count because one of the four words is a proper noun: Sascha. Otherwise, it’s just “iPhone,” “auto,” and “super,” but when the guys say it, it sounds like this: “zu-pear.”

What’s weird — and distracting! — is that there are other, Russian words vaguely familiar to me, not because I know what they mean but because my ex-husband was Croatian and my ex-boyfriend was Russian, and that means I’ve overheard a lot of conversations with parents, siblings and friends in Balkan and Russian tongues and the two languages share a number of similar sounds. Mostly clueless to the content of these conversations until I got the post-call or post-conversation de-brief, I still know these languages when I hear them. (Sometimes Serbian is hard to distinguish from Croatian, but don’t tell any Croatians I said that.)

Here are a few of the words I am picking up from the Russians. I’ll list the word first in Cyrillic, then give the phonetic spelling of at least one of the conjugations/versions in Russian, then a Croatian version of the word (in quotations), then the English equivalent. Don’t worry! It’s fun.

Anyone who speaks any of these languages is going to laugh and laugh at how wrong I am about the equivalencies, but you can at least see what I mean when I say there are similarities:

Добрый  — Dobriy — “dobro” — good
Не за что — Nyez-ashta — “Nije za ništa” — that’s all right
Большой vyelik — “velika” — too big
маленький — malen’kiy — “mali” — small
Помогите — Pomogite — “pomoć” — help
Извините — eez-veen-eete — “oprostite” — sorry 

What we have learned from this is that if I landed in Russia right now, I could possibly say “I’m sorry I am so small. Please help.” But it would sound more like Croatian. Perhaps what we have actually learned is that I am glad I am not in Russia right now — or Croatia, for that matter. I think I’d better just stay right here at this Peet’s Coffee.

By the way, this Sascha person they’re talking about is really in trouble. He did something bad. I don’t think he killed anyone (Russian Guy No. 1 and Russian Guy No. 2’s tones are not hushed in that “Sascha killed somebody way”) but they’re clearly annoyed at the guy.

Okay, it’s time for me to stop procrastinating and get back to work.

[Привет, Юрий.]

12 Responses

  1. Melody A.
    | Reply

    You are too funny. but that is the questioner in you trying to ascertain what they are talking about. Good luck on getting your project done. It is more important. Really!!! Take care and I hope you have time to sleep. from Iowa

  2. Jean
    | Reply

    Get your project done! But Mother Nature is about to spank Chicago. May buy you a little bit of time. But i love languages. My parents were German immigrants and I grew up hearing/speaking the language, and then the mix of German and English, which at times was hilarious. My ex-husband was Hispanic and it is amazing how much you can pick up the language by just listening. Stay safe and warm. Brew an extra cup of tea and spend a few minutes curling up on a chair by the window and watching the weather.

  3. Jeanann Montney
    | Reply

    I enjoy your ‘time-outs’ from your projects. Thank you. Be careful in the snowy streets.

  4. Janie H
    | Reply

    I think we can all relate to having paper and school (work) deadlines and needing to take a ‘right turn’ for a breath! Good luck in the class! And I agree with Melody A: you are really funny! You’ve become my diversion for writing process and direction documentation! Thanks for the diversion! 🙂

  5. Mary Lynn
    | Reply

    When I was in college, my next door neighbor took Russian for one semester. Our desks shared a wall so while I was studying (infrequently), I could hear her practicing through the electrical outlet. After 40 years, my pronunciation of До свидания (dasvidania – the formal version of “goodbye”) is still perfect. This fall I’ll be attempting completion of that unfinished degree and let’s hope my concentration and initiative is better than it was back then, when everything except what I should have been doing was fascinating. Good luck on your research project – I’m sure it will be wonderful!

  6. MrsB
    | Reply

    Mmmmm. Major Dickinson’so Blend.

    • Mary Lynn
      | Reply

      that’s my favorite, too!

  7. annie
    | Reply

    Mary, I know you are a fabric artist, but your blog title is a great opening sentence for a novel.

  8. Sarah
    | Reply

    Mary, I can SO relate to the need for a breath of “something else” during a major study struggle. Excelsior!
    Thank you for sharing the Russian painting — I’d never seen it and it is special. I can practically smell the sweat on those two men. Wow!

  9. Barbara
    | Reply

    My mom was Polish, dobronitz (goodnight), dubja (good), mommy nemyez domya (mommy isn’t home.) Some things ya just don’t forget. My father was from Italy – can’t go into those words! xoxo

  10. Scott
    | Reply

    That’s interesting because I lived in Croatia (Korcula) for 3 years from ’96 – ’99. I can still remember a lot of words/phrases, can understand better than I can speak it. I knew all the words you pointed out.

    hvala ti na uspomenama

  11. Jennifer
    | Reply

    When I was in college, I spent one Thanksgiving with a friend whose family is Turkish. Her parents and their guests were having a conversation in Turkish at one end of the table, while the “kids” chatted in English at our end. I listened to the grown ups for a bit, then asked what the work I kept hearing was. I thought it would be “the” or “and” or something like that. My friend burst out laughing and said the syllables I’d picked up on were the Turkish equivalent of “um”!

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