How do you say “pizza” in Russian?


Posted by Bob on Sunday, January 29th, 2006

Russia has a certain vibe that we felt almost as soon as we boarded the Aeroflot plane in London. The Russian people, at first glance, appeared to be rather unfriendly and even a little gruff. The cab drivere who accosted us at the Moscow airport were downright aggressive as they got in our faces with offers of “Taxi, 80 dollars!” (We eventually got a ride for $20). You can’t really blame them for doing their capitalist thing.

Our hotel is in Samara, about 600 miles southeast of Moscow. This was a closed city up until the early 1990’s. It is the center of the Russian aerospace industry, which is symbolized by a large rocket on display a mile or two from our hotel that looks like it could blast off at any minute. The meeting rooms in our hotel are named Soyuz 1, Vostock 2, etc., in honor of the Russian space program. Samara was also the city chosen to be the alternative capital during World War II in the event that Moscow was destroyed. An elaborate bunker for Josef Stalin was built 37 meters underground near the center of the city. The story is that this massive construction project went on without the people of Samara even aware that it was happening. Perhaps, in the previous era, it was better for Russians not to ask questions.

Our interpreters, Luba and Darina, have been invaluable to us so far, not just with the language but also in helping us understand the customs. For instance, you don’t say good day to strangers you encounter on a walk. After getting the cold shoulder (and I mean that literally) from those I greeted, Luba clued me in on my faux pas. Although many of the younger Russians have some knowledge of English very few seem anxious to use it. We had a comical experience last night when the four of us went out to dinner sans interpreter. Our language barrier led to us ordering 5 large pizzas, when one or two would have done just fine. Our waitress had a hard time suppressing her laughter as she delivered pizza after pizza to our table.

My initial impression Russians have been softening as we get into meeting and talking with the people. Our first big interview was with four young students at a Russian Orthodox seminary. These young men were quite articulate and thoughtful and they had as many questions for us as we did for them. They were very curious about freedom of speech and religion in America. The priest wondered how it was possible that anyone could say or write almost anything they wanted to in America. Despite Russia’s shift from a dictatorship to more democratic society, the government still exerts a fair amount of control over what is printed or broadcast.

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