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Posts Tagged ‘Russians’

We’re Through, Toyota

March 10, 2010 4 comments

My love affair with Toyota was as old as this ad, but no more.

I’ve been a Toyota fangirl for as long as I can remember. My eco- and budget-aware parents always owned Toyotas; in fact, I learned to drive stick in a ’78 Corolla (that’s it in the picture). That was the start of my love affair with this brand: I graduated from the Corolla to a swank ’85 Cressida, snagged the Matrix the year it came out, succumbed to the suburban siren call of the SUV and picked up a 4Runner along the way, had two torrid affairs with Lexus (that counts) and finally saw the eco light of day with the Prius in which I currently trundle to work daily with fingers crossed that my floor mats won’t bite off my feet or otherwise cause me bodily harm.

I’ve only owned ten cars over the course of my adult life. SEVEN were made by Toyota. Please keep this in mind.

One recent Saturday the Russian tells me we’ve received a “VIP invitation” from our local Toyota dealer to thank us for our support during Toyota’s current difficulties (by “difficulties” they meant this) and offer a SPECIAL ONLY FOR US zero-percent down/zero-percent financing deal on the 2010 Prius.

The Russian has been known to fall prey to “too good to be true” offers before (though I probably would too if I were flooded with junk mail daily in a language not my own) – so to be on the safe side I scrutinize this letter within an inch of its life. I’m looking for the fine print and the disclaimers and I can’t find any so off we go to Toyota! We’re gonna buy a new Prius! And we’re gonna save LOTS OF MONEY!

Forget that we have to wait 30 minutes for our “VIP appointment” because our salesman (who we’ve known since my son was in diapers and from whom we’ve bought three cars) decided to meet with some walk-ins first. We finally sit down and with that VIP SPECIAL ONLY FOR US offer in my hand, I tell him we’re keen to get our mitts on that sparkly new 2010 Prius.

Will you be surprised to learn there were strings attached to this deal? Will you be shocked to hear the VIP SPECIAL ONLY FOR US offer was only good if the dealer deemed our current car worthy of trade-in? Will you be amazed to know the salesman from whom we’ve bought three cars delivered this news casually and without apology? And despite the “I want to buy a new Prius let’s talk” tattoo on my forehead, that he made no effort to engage us in any kind of negotiation?

The Russian was mute through all this, probably hoping that if he got very quiet it would offset whatever rage I was about to vomit all over this salesguy.  I knew we were about to truck out of there in the same car we’d come in with no VIP SPECIAL OFFER FOR US and no sparkly new Prius, so why not let ‘er rip?

What I wanted to say:

Really, Toyota Salesguy? REALLY? Do you think this is a good time to be hoodwinking loyal customers with bogus offers? Do you think at a time when NO ONE wants to buy your death trap Prius that maybe you’d want to treat those who do with a little more courtesy and consideration? Do you think maybe, just maybe, you should get your manager down here to your cubicle and make him apologize for inconveniencing us with his slimy sales tactics and taking up the better part of our Saturday morning with this goose chase? I am a trained public relations professional, Toyota salesguy, and I know a communications crisis when I see it and believe you me, you guys are in the MOTHER of all crisis situations and companies in crisis should not PISS OFF THEIR LOYAL CUSTOMERS.

What I actually said:

Gosh, Toyota Salesguy, this is really disappointing. I guess there’s nothing to talk about so we’ll be going now.

 Because I’m tough like that.

Look,  I realize the boneheaded sales ploy of a manager desperate to drive showroom traffic is not the fault of the corporate overlords – after all, they’re too busy cranking out all those TV spots that “put a face” on the hardworking technicians of Toyota who believe in these cars and “drive them too!” – what do they know about what happens on the front lines?  But the combination of seemingly endless recalls with false advertising/crappy service at the local level – well, there are plenty of auto makers who’d be thrilled to take my money (and my loyalty) right about now. (Oh, and whose cars don’t accelerate uncontrollably and kill families in fiery crashes.)

We had a good run, Toyota. 26 years and seven cars, to be specific. But no more. A girl can only take so much heartbreak.

Image via.

The Day I Lost my Pet Name

March 6, 2010 1 comment
From the cartoon: Mama Bear and Baby Umka

 

My husband’s pet name for me used to be “Umka.”  If you’re Russian, you know that Umka is a cartoon polar bear cub popular in the early 70s.

Let’s ask the Russian what the similarities are between his wife and a cartoon polar bear:

“You are white and you like the cold when you sleep.”

(ed. note: White as in blonde, not honkey. If you were wondering.)

Let’s ask him if there’s anything else about the cartoon bear that reminds him of his wife, say, being cute and cuddly:

 “Sure. You are cute and cuddly.”

OK.

But here’s the thing.  This stopped after our son was born because really, he was Baby Umka now. I was now Umka’s mother. And that’s fine. I think mother bears are awesome — they’re fiercely protective and loving and strong. And polar bear mothers are just amazing. I love their black eyes and lovely long noses and beautiful fur. One of the first pieces of art I bought when we were getting the nursery ready was an illustration of a mama and baby polar bear gazing at the moon together.

Can you believe after ten years of marriage and having this Umka be a part of our lives, I only just now watched one of the cartoons? It’s on YouTube (of course) and even comes in a subtitled version. Please take a few minutes to watch it — it’s beautifully drawn and utterly charming. And totally makes me want to talk like the mama bear, who for a bear has a very sexy voice. (Is that wrong?)  Also, check out the lullabye she sings to baby Umka. You will want to rush out and learn Russian immediately so you can sing it to your little ones.

How about you? Any pet names you care to reveal? And like me, did your pet name mysteriously disappear or change after your children came along?
 

Categories: Family, Parenting, Russians Tags: , , ,

And the Snow Glows Blue

February 28, 2010 7 comments

We drive up to the country house Friday afternoon in the midst of yet another late-winter snow storm. Mother Nature has dumped about 18 inches on New Jersey but when you’re married to a Russian, this is not an obstacle. Our road hasn’t even been plowed thanks to a downed power line, but no big deal. The Russian powers through in the SUV and charges ahead towards a nearly-deserted NY State Thruway, lecturing me loudly about sissy Americans and our fear of snow.

In Russia we have snow every fricking day, okeh? And no food in the stores. My pop and me, we was walking thirty minutes each way to market and when we get there? Is nothing. No meat, maybe just potato, maybe sunflower seeds. Sometimes not meat there. We take the bucket, we fill with potato, we pull back home on children’s — what is this, sleigh? No? Sled. We pull home on sled. But here! Ooooooo, it’s snowing. Oooooo, better run to grocery store. In Russia, what is snow? You have to just go! You just go to survive! I got the huge, made-of-wool veil, you put on your head and wrap around your body because it is so cold. JUST TO GET THE POTATO.

It’s like this pretty much all the way to Kingston.

We finally arrive at the house and even the Russian has to admit — this is serious snow. About four feet, judging from the tips of fence I see poking up through the sea of white that is our backyard.

You know what else? It glows blue.

We jab holes in the snow to see how deep it is and an unearthly blue light glows back. It’s eerie and lovely, a light created by some weird alchemy as light particles bounce from ice crystal to ice crystal — smarter people than me explain it here, it only happens in icebergs or when snow is very clean and very deep. It’s as beautiful and mysterious as I imagine the aurora borealis to be. We ski the next day and see blue everywhere, emanating from the tracks made by skiiers who’ve left ghostly trails in the ungroomed snow beneath the lifts.

Upon our arrival...

...I had to climb through the snow to find the shovel. Which btw a certain Russian had left under the porch (and four feet of snow.)

...I had to climb thru snow to find the shovel. Good times.

Not your ordinary shoveling job.

Even the Russian was impressed.

Categories: Family, Russians Tags: ,

In Praise of Mouthy Housewives

February 12, 2010 1 comment

How come when I’m asked to post at someone else’s blog the words flow freely from my fingers? It’s kind of like how I don’t mind doing the Thanksgiving dishes when it’s someone else’s house. Everyday tasks are more enjoyable when I’m doing them on someone else’s turf.

The Mouthy Housewives hang out on pretty awesome turf. Their advice site is hilarious and smart and kind of like having your best (funniest) girlfriend sitting on your shoulder 24/7 whispering encouragement and wisdom in your ear. I first encountered Wendi and Kelcey, two of the four Mouthy Housewives, at the BlogHer Humor panel last year. I was struck dumb by their brilliance, or maybe by the sauna-like heat in the panel room. I’m not sure which. It’s a quick hop and a skip from Wendi and Kelcey to Marinka who not only is wicked funny but is Russian. As any regular reader of this blog knows, I have a soft spot for Russians. Though Russian women scare the s*** out of me so maybe Marinka was sent my way to help me sort through my issues.  As for Heather, I have not yet connected with her personally but she quotes Nietzche and Jung on her home page. And says bad words. Which makes her a well-read badass, so naturally I want to be her best friend. 

You can imagine my delight The Mouthy Housewives invited me to guest advise because while I am not a housewife I am seriously mouthy. And I have been known to wear curlers though mine are velcro not foam because I’m quite modern that way. Here’s the post. I enjoyed doing it though I’m still afraid of lady bloggers who quote Nietzche, Russian women and people who appear on fancy BlogHer panels. I think the Housewives owe it to me to let me hang out with them more so I can sort out these issues, don’t you?

Categories: Blogging, Russians Tags: , , , ,

My Mea Culpa New Year’s Post

January 7, 2010 Leave a comment

Ugh, I am the world’s laziest blogger. I didn’t manage to hit any of the usual bloggy post milestones — no “Happy holidays to my readers,” no “Year in Review,” no “Predictions for the Year Ahead…” I’ve been too busy this holiday season shredding my carpal tunnels playing Guitar Hero and poisoning the Russian with turkey tetrazzini I made with, uh, slightly aged turkey leftovers. 

HOWEVER. I do want to take this occasion to wish you a very heartfelt and belated Happy New Year. I can also say to all my Russian friends (and those who love them) — Merry Russian Christmas. I wish everyone who comes in contact with this blog all the best for a healthy and happy 2010. Thank you for reading my scribbles. It means a lot to me, it really does.

To make myself feel a little less slackerific and prove that I have actually thought recently about this industry of mine (not just turkey salmonella and Guitar Hero), I am sharing a video interview I did before Christmas with the one and only Owen J.J. Stone a.k.a. “OhDoctah.” For those of you who don’t know, Owen is a brilliant vlogger and social media consultant who actually knows his stuff and doesn’t spout jargon at you all day. No snake oil, just smarts and a WHOLE lotta charisma. To know him is to love him, which I learned the moment I met him at the 140 Character Conference in LA last fall. You can find him here and here on Twitter or at his company website (IQMZ).

Anyhowdy, we sat down to jaw about public relations and social media; check out our conversation here.

Image via.

No More Kissing at Work

November 5, 2009 2 comments

I found this tweet from my colleague @TorontoLouise this morning:

 

 

Yes, @TorontoLouise, a thousand times yes. What better time to practice good hygiene than the onset of flu season. Especially since H1N1 vaccines are so hard to find, at least in the U.S. (I bet they have loads of them in Canada, they probably even come with a little quilted bag for your hand sanitizer and chapstick.)

 

Then I got to thinking, let’s go one step further. Let’s just do away with kissing in the workplace altogether. (Kissing as in air kissing clients, not getting busy on the xerox machine with hot co-worker.) Because you know what? KISSING AT WORK IS AWKWARD.

 

 

 kiss1

 

 

 

 

 

Awkward. (image via)

 

Kiss 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Canadian and awkward. (image via)

 

kiss3

 

 

 

 

Middle Eastern and awkward. (image via)

 

I hate kissing at work.  My mom always said etiquette was created so people know how to behave and can feel comfortable in any setting. The problem is – there is no etiquette for work kissing. There is neither rhyme nor reason to it –do you pull an air kiss or do you make lip-to-skin contact?  If you kiss one person in the meeting, do you have to kiss all of them? What if you’re in town seeing clients and it’s your second day of meetings? Kiss on the second day?

 And the cultural differences, oy. One cheek? Two cheeks? The Swiss do it three times for chrissake, what if you forget the third kiss? Ever pull away from a Swiss colleague after only two cheeks? Not pretty. They’re leaning in all puckered up and you’ve moved on, any attempt to complete the transaction at that point will probably result in injury. And the Swiss may be neutral but they can be grudge-y if you embarrass them. (People of the Russian Orthodox faith do the triple-kiss too. I’m married to one, it makes kissing very confusing.) 

Oh, I’ve heard nightmare stories. One of my colleagues tells of a work kiss gone horribly wrong, with a male client no less. She’s greeting him at an event, she initiates the Single Cheek Manouver, he turns his head ever so slightly and whammo. LIP KISS.

 

People, he had a mustache. The humanity.

 

I have my own inappropriate work kiss story. I was kissed by a colleague on the top of my head once. I realize I am not the most presidential of agency presidents but nevertheless – the top of my head? A little respect here, people. I kiss my 6 year old son on the top of his head for crying out loud. It was a year ago, and as you might have guessed, I still haven’t recovered.

 

Did you know there’s a WikiHow entry on how to air kiss? We shouldn’t need wikis to tell us how to kiss. Clearly the world’s gone mad. Look, I’ve got enough stress in my life. Oprah and @marielhemingway are telling me to simplify so here’s one thing I am forthwith no longer doing. 

I’m done kissing at work. I realize this might leave colleagues and clients bereft for the moment but I am quite sure they will thank me one day. And so will you.

Posted via email from Stephanie Smirnov’s Posterous

E-Mail from the Russian

October 1, 2009 12 comments

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.

Categories: Family, Russians Tags: ,

How I Met the Russian

September 17, 2009 17 comments

I was a dancer for much of my youth. Good enough that as a teenager I started charting a course toward Julliard and beyond to what I thought could be a professional career. Then two things happened:  Got tall. Got boobs.  That might have led to a promising career as a Vegas showgirl but I had Balanchine aspirations. Somewhere around 1983, I gave up the dancing dream.

Fifteen years later, I got it back.

It’s Manhattan. I’m single. Me and the girls are tired of flirting our way past velvet ropes into tediously hip clubs which for some reason in the mid-90s all have one-word names: Jet, Wax, Chaos.  One night Doris (the creative one) plans an evening of Latin dance lessons followed by dinner at Cuba de Asia. (It was a theme, see.)

We descend upon the dance studio in a silly, cosmo-fuelled gaggle. While my friends laugh and stumble their way around the mambo lesson, I feel something flutter to life inside me.

I am dancing. I haven’t set foot in a studio in two decades but here I am. There is a gazelle of a girl inside this 30-something body and she’s ready to move.

I go back for private lessons.  I casually mention that I’d appreciate a tall instructor. No problem, I am told. We have just the teacher for you.

I hand over the registration forms, am led to the dance floor and there he is.

The Russian.

It’s not exactly love at first sight, though he’s certainly easy on the eyes. It’s not the looks or the accent or the sexy baritone. What strikes me is his kindness. This is a sweet man. He will be gentle with me as I fumble my way around the dance floor.

In his hesitant English the Russian reads to me from a questionnaire: “What are your goals for these dance lessons?” Without blinking I respond that I want to learn to surrender to my partner, to follow a lead, to move with another person as one.  

I could have said – oh, I don’t know – lose weight, meet people, learn how to swing dance like that cool Gap commercial…but I go straight for the metaphorical stuff and I do it without hesitating.

He looks at me intently. “You are susceptible.”

I learn later he means sensitive. He is groping for the words to say he understands how dancing touches me. What he doesn’t realize yet is how deeply-felt my answer really is. I am 33 at the time, not over the hill but badly worn down by the Manhattan dating scene. I’ve been in serious relationships, co-habitated, longed for wedding proposals that never came. I have pretty much given up on finding The One. Until the Russian asks a simple question that unlocks the truth. I am ready to move as one with a partner, for real and for good.

The first time my mother sees us together she says, “You will marry this man.” It’s performance night at the studio and she says this after watching us dance a rhumba together.  I wear a flame-red dress, he is sleek in head-to-toe black. Mom tells me that together we give off light.

That was September 17, 1998. The day we became a couple. We were married exactly one year later. Somewhere along the way Mom introduced us to Leonard Cohen’s “Dance Me to the End of Love.”  She’s no longer with us, but this song — like her premonition all those years ago — stays with us like a gift and a reminder.

 Happy 10th anniversary, my darling.

Dance me to the wedding now, dance me on and on wedding 1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dance me very tenderly and dance me very longwedding 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We’re both of us beneath our love, we’re both of us above

wedding 3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dance me to the end of love.

wedding 4

 

 

 

 

Categories: Family, Russians Tags: , ,

Russians Bearing Gifts

August 24, 2009 8 comments

russian7a.large

Observing my husband-to-be and me in the first flush of romance, my mother observed that “you haven’t been loved until you’ve been loved by a Russian.”  She wasn’t speaking from first-hand experience (as far as I know) but she saw what I had been feeling for weeks — the depths of the Russian heart laid bare.

(Caution: sweeping generalization follows.)

Russians feel deeply and express it lavishly. Passion, anger, melancholy, joy — there are no half measures. I saw it the moment my husband danced into my life 11 years ago (yes — danced — but that’s a whole other post). And not just romantic love — it’s there in the bonds of friendship and family, too. When my husband and small son made our first family trip to Russia, we were welcomed warmly into homes in every city we visited. From Moscow to St. Petersburg to the relative wilds of Chelyabinsk, we were fed and fussed over, transported to and from airports at ungodly hours by friends who wouldn’t let us take taxis. Our son was cared for so my husband and I could wander the Hermitage freely. Tables were set with special china, soups and blinis and meat patties were made by hand and served with love.

The hospitality was like nothing I’d ever experienced. Russians are wonderful hosts — but as houseguests, they are spectacular. Remember those lessons your mother taught you about how to behave in someone else’s home? Never come empty-handed. Offer to help in the kitchen. Tidy up after yourself.  Russians elevate these basic courtesies to an art form.

They bring their own bed linens and towels. It does not matter how many times you assure them this isn’t necessary. They don’t want to trouble you with their laundry.

They clean your house. Seriously. (If this is a commentary on my housekeeping, so be it. I’ll take the implied criticism in exchange for a clean bathroom any day.)

They bring food. No… they really bring food. I’m not talking about some fancy-pants box of store-bought pastries. They cross your doorstep laden with sweet wine and vodka and enough food to feed an army, most of it made from scratch.

We just had Russian friends up to the house for a country weekend, and this is what they brought:

  • Six pounds of pork, three pounds of short ribs, six pounds of chicken wings — all perfectly marinated and grill-ready
  • Fifty or so home-made cream puffs (who makes cream puffs, and who makes 50??)
  • Two and half pounds of homemade oliv’e, also known as salade russie, also known as the most unbelievable potato salad you’ve ever had
  • A pound and a half of homemade Georgian bean salad (Russian, not southern U.S. Georgian, a cuisine I’d love if not for the evil omnipresence of cilantro)
  • Too many tomatoes and cucumbers to count
  • Four varieties of smoked kielbasa and three different cheeses
  • Many quarts of mixed olives (lost count)
  • Loaves of fresh-baked Russian brown bread, warm and steamy in their bags
  • One whole watermelon, the size of a large toddler

(By the way, this was to feed five adults and two children. And the kids only picked.)

And yes — they brought their own linens.

Russians may not have the world monopoly on good manners and warmth, but the ones I know have certainly taught me a thing or two about selflessness and generosity.

Especially the one I married, which I’d probably do well to remember a bit more frequently.

image via

Categories: Family, Russians Tags: ,