E-Mail from the Russian
Being married to a Russian is like riding in the front seat of a communication rollercoaster. Woman is from Venus, Man is from Chelyabinsk. After 12 years in this country, my husband’s English is still somewhat fractured. This is alternately a source of considerable charm and tremendous frustration. Some of our most explosive arguments have stemmed from the misunderstanding of a simple idiom. (Apparently “Fish or cut bait” is offensive to some people, I really had no idea.)
I’ve been married to the Russian for ten years but I wonder sometimes if I really know the man behind the fumbling malaprops. If words are how we define ourselves, what’s it like when the words at your disposal are broken? My husband’s entire demeanor changes when he speaks Russian with his friends — he is louder and more expansive. He is the alpha male in his circle, the center of the action, the go-to guy when someone needs help or support. He is fully empowered in his native tongue; in English, he is cautious.
I know this man loves language and literature. He recited Pushkin from memory when we first met and scolded me for not knowing a particular O. Henry story. I love language, too. I would die just a little bit every day if I couldn’t express myself as freely in a second language as I do in English. But the Russian is resilient. He perseveres, pushing through his discomfort in conversations with harried elementary school teachers and fast-talking north Jersey repairmen. He maintains composure navigating the rings of customer service hell with heavily-accented telecomm representatives. He even keeps pace when I come home from work ranting in hyper-speed PR-speak about some imagined client indignity.
Last night I learned my guys had made an IKEA run without remembering to bring me home some gingersnaps. This is a forgivable sin and I was over it in seconds. Today the Russian sent me this email. I’ve tidied up the spelling, but only a little.
Yesterday suddenly I started to feel guilty for the fact I didn’t buy anything for you at Ikea (ginger cookies and etc.) and shared my feeling with our 6 year old who was having a dinner in the kitchen and showing his back to me. Unpredictably “mal’chisch” jumped off his stool and walked to me, took my hand, kissed it and he looked at me with the most beautiful face in the world with obvious “Smirnov” sigh in his eyes and very calmly with kinda lower tembro said: “You’re forgiven Daddy.” (I saw, it is not the baby face anymore.) “Don’t worry, you will do it next time.” So forgive me too, I’ll fix my mistake next time…
I believe you have a gift for language or you don’t. Vocabulary can be taught, eloquence can’t. The Russian is eloquent. I’m thinking if I listen a bit more carefully, I’ll hear it ringing clear through the tangle of his English.
P.S. Mal’chisch is a sweet name for little boys inspired by a fairy tale character from Soviet days. Or so I’m told.