Blog by Sumana Harihareswara, Changeset founder

23 Apr 2001, 12:58 p.m.

Russkies and Injuns

Hi, reader. I wrote this in 2001 and it's now more than five years old. So it may be very out of date; the world, and I, have changed a lot since I wrote it! I'm keeping this up for historical archive purposes, but the me of today may 100% disagree with what I said then. I rarely edit posts after publishing them, but if I do, I usually leave a note in italics to mark the edit and the reason. If this post is particularly offensive or breaches someone's privacy, please contact me.

By request. My trip to San Francisco -- or perhaps I should say "Maya excursiyoo v San Francisco," since I went with my Russian class and the tour guide spoke in Russian and pointed out spots of Russian interest.

And: if you're Indian, and in Silicon Valley, please read this.

So I woke up at 7 or 8 or so this morning and dragged myself to Oxford and University to meet up with my Russian teacher, three of my classmates, and the teacher and two students from the fourth-semester Russian class. Introductions all around. Shivering. Students warming up their Russian in fits and starts.

The history graduate student, one of my classmates, drove up in a (borrowed) candy-apple-red Spider Veloce convertible -- top down, sunglasses on, ponytail flying in the wind. This provoked much comment, many laughs, and a number of jibes, including:

  • "Hey, I just got a bigger fellowship than you." -History grad student, to linguistics grad student
  • "So, can we take this car, you know, behind the regular van?" -History grad student
    "I'll go with you!" -Sociology grad student, my Russian teacher, and myself
    "Sorry, [the teacher] is the one who can give me extra credit." -History grad student to me

His car and arrival provoked much more comment than the fact that I was wearing a tie.

The tour bus picked us up, then, in San Francisco (alternately "SF" or "The City") a group of native Russians. After that was the rapid Russian, the Golden Gate Bridge, Chinatown, North Beach, the Palace of Fine Arts -- I fell asleep, it would seem, during the Castro -- and a lot of other stuff, mixed up with jokes and "Wow"s and broken and fluent Russian. We got back to Berkeley around 3:00 pm.

I warmed the Russians' hearts and inflated my own sense of fluency by almost completely using Russian to offer to take -- and to take -- photographs of them, all together, with their camera. Ah, international communication and cooperation, via the daguerrotype.

I noticed -- on Geary, I think, after the tour guide had pointed out (what I dub) Little Moscow, that a window across the street from an auto-body shop reflected the auto-body shop's sign perfectly. The name was "UNI-ROYAL," and I saw the backwards "N" and "R," which (in Cyrillic) one would pronounce "ee" and "ya," respectively. And this made me think that Russia reflects America back to us, backwards, as in a thought-experiment in Einstein's Dreams.

It was on Geary, in "Siberia In SanFran," less than a year ago -- gode nazad -- that I first used Russian with a native Russian. My first-semester Russian class went there. I collected some of the free Russian-language newspapers. In a Russian bakery, I was scanning the news racks for free papers I didn't have yet. A man said something to me and pointed to a paper in my hand.

I stuttered, in sentence fragments. "Nyet zdyes. Tam. Na ulitsa." ["Not here. There. On the street."]

He understood me! He did! I ran back to my classmates to tell them. They laughed, I remember -- maybe at my enthusiasm. It was my frist triumph. It certainly encouraged me to keep on with the Russian.

Other weekend news: My God, Leonard is too funny for his own good. And together, we're comedy dynamite! Exploding stereotypes, destroying myths, and provoking the founding of the Nobel Prizes!

More seriously, I went to the party, electing not to see the movie, do homework, or dance dance.

I did some ethnographic research today. Translation: talked to Indians in Silicon Valley about their citizenship status, which is basically my project. If anyone reading this fits that profile, please, contact me.

Poll: This weekend: hot or not?

  • Hot!
  • Not!
  • Snot!

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at