Saturday, December 6, 2014


In fifth grade, my teacher decided to have all of the non-native English-speakers come to the front of the class and teach the rest of us how to say “hello” in their languages. There were three Russian girls in my class, so that meant we all had to learn how to say “Здравствуйте.” She had them write it on the whiteboard, but even seeing “zdravstvuyte” in Latin letters wasn’t much help. We made a valiant effort, repeating it over and over until the classroom was awash with consonants.

“Is anyone saying it right?” asked our teacher.

The girls made us go around the classroom one-by-one until all 28 of us had thoroughly butchered their mother tongue. At the end, Anna turned to our teacher and said, “Jessie’s the only one who got it right.” I beamed with overachieving pride, unaware that this would be the last time I’d ever pronounce the Russian greeting properly.

A few months later, Anna and I were partnered up on a classroom task. She was wearing shiny, pointy-toed black shoes—the kind that Russian men are still partial to today. Apropos of nothing, I said, “Your shoes are stupid.”

“Yeah, well you need new jeans,” she fired back, pointing at the massive hole over my knee. And there it was, my first lesson in not messing with Russian females. They will always win and you will always feel inferior in your fashion choices. Now I wish Anna had taken me under her wing and taught me how to dress like a Russian girl back when I was 11—it would have saved me so much trouble now.

The mid-90s were bad for everyone (I’m in the middle)

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