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.]