Friday, September 21, 2012

Am I From a Sarcastic Wonderland? (and pics!!)

Hey everyone,

So, first of all, I want to share a couple of the pictures I took from our trip to Pscof - which was really fun and beautiful and awesome - they are below.

Before I forget though, I want to pose a question to anyone reading to this. Err.... any American. So there is a Russian word: молодец (molodyets), which literally means "a person who does a good job" but is used in many situations when, in english, people would just say "good job." It is a a little strange, however, because molodyets is a noun, so the grammatical structure is a little different. For instance, if someone does something good or impressive, in English we would say "good job" and in Russian they would say "molodyets." The other day I was talking to a friend, who will remain unnamed (although you know who you are out there) and the issue of translating "molodyets" came up.

After talking and thinking about it for a little bit, I came to the conclusion that we, as in Americans.... err, the Americans I know and interact with, don't really say "good job" to anything. If we do, it is to some feat ot huge accomplishment. On a day to day basis, as much as I can remember, we don't really tell each other "good job." Furthermore, when trying to think of an instance where I would readily say "good job"... I come up with, IM sports in college, when someone made a good play in football, I would high-five them and say, "nice, good job." Other than that... in almost every situation I would rather say "nice" or even "cool" rather than telling someone "good job." Ok so this might seem really small and semantic but, after I thought about it for a while, I realized that if someone told me "good job," not even expressing that they thought I did something well, but using the actual words 'good' and 'job,' I would take it sarcastic if it were said in response to something mundane or small or insignificant. That being said, the following situation arose: we were in the kitchen and I was helping her make salad, all the vegetables were cut up and the only thing left to do was add some olive oil. She handed me the olive oil and told me to pour some in the bowl, I asked how much because I didnt want to do too much, and she said just a little bit. I opened the bottle and poured a little bit and she said "molodyets." Since we had been talking about it earlier, I told her that that was an example of when, in english, it would be weird to say it. Had I just poured some olive oil into a bowl to make salad and she said, "good job"... I would take it to be sarcastic: "WOW, you did it!? incredible!!! I never thought you would be able to manage to pour olive oil into a bowl - youre a genius!" Which then made me realize that, perhaps, the phrase "good job," to me, implies a certain level of unexpectedness, meaning, the person saying it did not think the other person would be able to accomplish what they did: "You just finished running a half-marathon, good job!" "Damn Derek, you actually did eat those 3 and a half pounds of pasta, good job!" -- both real examples from my life.

My question to you is the following, because I need your help - under what circumstances can you say "good job," will it ever, innately, be taken sarcastically, in what situations, if any, can you not say "good job?" Is it just me who has some weird relationship to that phrase? Am I living in some sarcastic parallel universe??

Maybe even "nice job"... yeah that sounds pretty normal to me. It's really just... man I don't even know how to describe it, it just feels weird to me "good job" BLECH! Someone please help me out here, clearly I am a little bit lost!

On a completely unrelated note, there is an international film festival happening in St P. over the next 5 days. We picked up a program today and I narrowed down the list to about 7 movies I wouldn't mind seeing. I am going to try and get out as much as I can this next week (even though we have a presentation due on monday and then a test later in the week) to see as many of them as I can.

I have some more things on my list to talk about but I am going to head to bed now so they will have to wait till later this weekend. I just really wanted to get that whole "good job" thing off my chest, oh yeah, and add the pics :)

Talk to yall later

Monday, September 3, 2012

A Country with Technology Smiles (or does it??)

Hey everyone,

ok so I have a little list here of things I want to talk about so this post may go on for a while. I am also smack dab in that weird period of time where no one in the US is really up yet but I am already in my apartment and tired enough that I don't really wanna move or think or do anything but sit here and ramble on my computer.

Ok, the first thing:

1) The Dacha, good what a wonderful thing. Any of you that read my last blog are probably relatively familiar with the idea or at least the existence of dachas in Russia but for those of you who aren't - its basically a summer house. My new revelations about dachas really stems around the fact that they teach people skills that are otherwise lost in modern society. For instance, I have heard in multiple places the argument against GPS devices in cars and on phones because it makes people, if you grow up always having access to a GPS, less adroit at following directions, navigating themselves, and knowing what to do when they get lost. I think the claim in pretty valid in pretty much exclusively a post-apocalyptic situation. Ok, that's not true, those skills are useful at other times and are valuable, at times. Along the same lines as society's increasing dependence on technology, however, comes up the topic of a dacha. Dacha's, to this day, are only built by the residents. There are not construction companies and contractors who go out into the suburbs or to Karelia (in the case of my family) and build rows and rows of dachas. The "summer homes" that essentially every Russian family moves two for a few months out of the year and then frequently visits to tend to their crops for another several months, are built completely and entirely by the men in the family. Thinking about the united states and the culture I grew up in and hypothesizing what the result would be of taking an average young man and being like, "ok johnny, I need you to build this 3 story house (yeah... my family's dacha is THREE STORIES) with plumbing and electricity. Also, when you are done with that, how about you throw in a pool and a sauna in the backyard... GO" does not bring particularly fruitful thoughts to mind.

In Russia, thats what happens, with every family. The boys and young men of the family, as part of spending time on their Dacha, is learning how to actually build a structure that will safely house their family, will keep them safe from the elements, and be overall suitable to live in for weeks at a time. Now, to give credit where credit is due, I think a lot of the friends I had in school who were in the boy scouts would be pretty well equipped for this task, but outside of them, I wouldnt have too much faith in most people, or even myself for that matter. Its an opportunity to acquire so much knowledge, passively, that we in the US, for a large part, miss out on and that here is, "Did I build this?... of course I built it, who else would have done it if I didnt?"Yeah maybe being able to find out which direction is north without your iPhone or starting a fire with just two sticks and no flamethrower or building your own sauna are skills that the average Westerner would only need during an apocalyptic zombie attack (thats for you sammy), but maybe not. Maybe our society, as a whole, would benefit in some larger way if we were forced to get back in touch with how much work it takes an actual man to hammer some 4x4's together and erect a house.

Ok, second thing:

2) I know I have talked about the technology awareness here in the past but it is just so omnipresent that I cannot get over it. The other day in class, we were asked to say our first impersonations of St Petersburg and one guy said, "It's unbelievable how everyone here is always reading." While standing on a bus or on a metro car, it really is pretty fantastic how many people are reading. Yeah, some of them are reading newspapers or magazines, but the majority of them are reading kindles, iPads, android tablets, or smartphones. I know the same thing happens in the US and I also recognize that I dont ride public transport particularly much but it feels like its way more prevalent here. That and the just average knowledge of technology and computers is way higher per capita here. For staters, everyone texts, and I mean everyone. In the US, you cant even be guaranteed that someone you meet in a bar has texting (thats for you tina and alyona!) let alone that they know how to use it - granted, if its someone young in the US, you can be rest assured they know how to text. Youngans, however, always make jokes about how bad their parents are at texting or the common and "stupid" mistakes their parents always make when texting and it's really like this big long running joke between the youth of the entire country about the generation before us. Here, you dont have to preface anything with "oh can I text you?" its implied that a) they have texting and b) that they use it, partially because its cheaper than calling, even though they only get 70 characters per message because of the formatting of the message! Also, and I know this may have been different a few or several months ago, but Apple's official presence here can definitely be felt, iPads and iPhones are rampant, even though they cost about $1000 USD off the shelf here. They are officially carried by cellphone providers and are sold in authorized Apple reseller stores. You can still see a little bit of fear in some peoples eyes as they use an Apple product in public or on the metro, turning away from people as if to hide some precious treasure, but more and more people are accepting how common they are and simply holding out their iPad on the metro and reading it or even flaunting their iPhone 4S and they dance down the street with the white apple headphones in their ears.

3) The next point I wanted to bring up was about the whole smiling thing. Yeah, its true, no one really smiles on the street or on public transportation in Russia but that is changing. I have definitely noticed more and more people smiling, although it is usually when they are in groups or at least pairs and it does have some nuances. For instance, a young guy and young girl will often be smiling when they are together on the metro or getting on or off the metro because they are incessantly kissing, and I mean incessantly. However, in that kind of situation, the moment the two stop kissing, or stop flirting, and look away from each other... both of their faces become the most horrifying blank stares the world has ever seen. It's almost comical, watching two teenagers just making out and making out or pushing each other, calling each other names, smiling and laughing with one another, and then a pause in the conversation comes and then happen to look away and, instantaneously, the smiles vanish into thin air... and whats left - the face of an robot, turned off centuries ago because it scared children with its stoic gaze. Also, I know its because they are not having fun because... well.... yeah, its not!

ok well I had two other things to talk about but I dont want to make this post too long and I kind of need to go take a shower and get ready for dinner/bed and stuff. My host mother brought home a watermelon... it was like 2 feet in diameter and the three of us literally just sat around the table watching tv and carving it up until it was all gone. SO GOOD!

ok, more to come, prolly tomorrow or the next day.

also, sorry there havent been more pictures, I havent been doing too much picture-worthy lately but ill start to try to :)

later everyone