Blog by Sumana Harihareswara, Changeset founder

28 Jul 2001, 8:37 a.m.

The Return of the Native Speaker

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 So it may be very out of date; the world, and I, have changed a lot since I wrote it!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.

First of all, this Modern Humorist story made me laugh a great deal, and I'm quite grateful.

Second of all, I saw a Britney Spears matryoshki doll today. No, not kidding. It was inevitable, I see now, but Greek tragedy isn't less tragic for its inevitability.

In today's first entry, I hope to cover My Second Boatride Through the Canals of St. Petersburg, My First Bar, My First Club, My First Beer, and lots of other observations from last night.

First, Galen, Katie's old friend from Reed, invited all the ACTRers on this boating excursion with a bunch of Russians who are trying to learn English. We had an excuse to speak ONLY ENGLISH and not feel guilty about it! A number of us (including John, who has new pictures up) jumped at this opportunity.

So last night was this boat tour through the Piter canals. No guide, thank goodness. Just free, awful (or so I'm told by people who know better than me) beer, really stilted conversation, and song. Yes, song. Some of our little exercises involved such classics as Shania Twain's "That Don't Impress Me Much." Of course, the first group song was "Yesterday" by the Beatles. That was hilarious. Oh, and sandwiched in the middle was this song that sounded too stupid even for kindergarteners (but then again, my standards are pre-Barney):

Hello, hello, it's nice to meet you
Goodbye, goodbye, it's time to go
Hello, hello, it's nice to meet you
Goodbye, goodbye, it's time to go
and continuing in that vein. Musta been for non-native speakers.

More conversation from the boatride, regarding a guy who looked like a stereotypical geek:

"He uses Windows." "To hell with him."

After the boat and an inordinate amount of photo-taking by Russians, a group of Americans ended up walking way too far to go to a Georgian cafe. Almost everything we wanted from the menu didn't really exist once we asked the waitress about it. "Oh, tonight we don't have that. No, none of that, either." I couldn't even get the canonical Georgian vegetarian bean dish, lobio. Two people ordered Cokes; one got The Last Coke in the cafe, and the other just drank from my liter-and-a-half of Blessed Spring Water. (The Last Coke reminds me of "Kto poslednii?", which means "Who's last [in line]?" and is the standard phrase when you enter a nebulous line situation in a store in Russia. I imagine that Kto poslednii...ymerit'?! would be the translation for "Who's die?!")

Conversation from the cafe:

"That's kind of judgmental of you." "I am judgmental. In fact, I'm Judgmental Judy."
[regarding the "iz" and "izn" convention in Ebonics, e.g., "house" --> "hizouse" or "hiznouse"] "Hey, the "izn" in Ebonics is kind of like diminuitives in Russian!"

It was around midnight (thanks to the slower-than-a-comatose-apparatchik service) when we got out of the cafe. Most people went home. I visited My First Bar, right next door, with Galen.

How do I explain this bar? It has character. Someone spent a LOT of time arranging the decor, what with papier-mache of sows and a "Titanik-2" and a Lenin and so on. It is also where middle-aged Russians evidently go to dance badly to "live" (synthesizer) music. And I danced. Goodness, I'm awful. I haven't tried to dance in any rhythmic/formal way since high school, three or four years ago. Maybe I should take a class.

Anyway, Galen and I then decided to visit a club. (Part of this was the "something to do until the metro opens again at 5:30 am" factor.) At first, it would have been Money Honey, but we decided on Club Havana instead, as it was closer. No difference to me. On the way to the club, we talked about our mutual friend Katie, Reed, and our respective experiences (or, in my case, lack of experience) with psychoactive substances.

The Havana Club. What's to say? It's a club. If you've been to clubs, you know, and if you haven't, you don't. It's impossible to hold a thoughtful conversation over the noise, it's hot and sweaty and everyone is more beautiful than you (especially since I was wearing my touristy "Moscow Metro Map" t-shirt and nonnice slacks), all drinks -- including bottled water -- are too small, the lighting tries to be psychedelic, the coat/bag check guy is gruff and won't break the language barrier first.

But there were lots of chairs, and I liked some of the music, and strobe lighting always inordinately pleases me. As well, there was pool. Galen and I watched a curious pair play a long match. One man danced -- even while shooting! -- to the reggae from the next room. ("This interpretation of 'Don't worry, be happy' is so angsty! As though he doesn't believe it! It's like he's quoting advice that someone else gave him, and that he shouldn't have followed!") He also seemed slightly off, in that mentally-impaired kind of way, and for some reason he got twice as many attempts at hitting a ball into a pocket as did the second guy, but at least you could tell what he was trying to do. He had a bit of strategy. The second, more gruff-looking fellow also danced a bit. He seemed a better player, but would alternate between very good shots and "what the hell was he trying to do there?" moments. He either had no strategy or some brilliant scheme that never quite jelled.

More about the rest of the evening later. I have to go grab dinner and then go to a birthday party. Happy dyen rozhdenia, Casey.

Originally published by Sumana Harihareswara at