In a previous piece, I mentioned that while studying for my Ph.D., I undertook course work in ‘scientific Russian’ and ‘scientific German’ to give me a limited knowledge of both languages so that I could translate research papers I needed to understand, for my own research. I also noted that the scientific Russian allowed me to not blankly stare at someone asking me something in Russian, when I visited Russia. Despite this, it was a hard slog spending nine weeks in Russia with only limited Russian. Fortunately, the two people with whom I worked were almost fluent in English. However, recollecting my time in Russia, reminded me of a funny instance.
I was on the Metro travelling back to the Academy of Science Hotel from the Palaeontological Institute. The carriage I was in was very crowded and people were cheek by jowl. Suddenly, a voice from right behind me said something in Russian I couldn’t understand, so I brought out the most useful Russian phrase I had: “я не говорю по-русски” [I don’t speak Russian]. He replied with “Sprechen sie Deutsch?” [Do you speak German?]. I answered that with “Nein” [No]. He then asked “Do you speak English?”. I responded with “Yes”. He then said “Excuse me, I need to get past. This is my stop”. He was a natty, tall bloke and he smiled as he squeezed past me.
Those Russian and German classes weren’t completely lost on me.