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What’s Russian for “Do you speak English?”

June 6, 2008

On May 27, we flew from Copenhagen to St. Petersburg, Russia.

The whole thing is a little intimidating. First of all, you have to have a visa to enter the country. It’s a circular reference (thanks Excel) kind of process. You must have a complete itinerary with confirmed flight and hotel reservations before you can apply for a visa. However, if your visa is denied you can’t enter the country. So, we sent in our applications and $300 and two weeks later, we had our tourist visas. On the flight, we were given a landing card to complete. There were two parts. One to give to passport control and one that we had to keep with us and give to passport control when we were leaving the country. I was so worried one of us was going to lose it and not be able to leave, but we both managed to keep it safe. Although no one seemed to speak English in the entire airport except for Josh and me, we retrieved our luggage and made it through passport control and customs with no problems.

After we safely made it into the country and to our hotel, conveniently located on Nevsky Prospekt where the action is, we had a nice dinner at an Indian restaurant. Then we went to the train station to buy tickets to Moscow. Disaster. Nothing in this country is in English and no person in this country speaks English. Now, I know that we are spoiled in general with everyone speaking English to us wherever we go, but this was just ridiculous. Russian is not even the same alphabet! At least in other countries, I can usually sound out some words and attempt to say them and probably figure out what they mean based on the root word. Not so much here. We go into the train station and wait in line at the Information desk to figure out what to do because the place is just complete chaos. It’s about 5:30pm. We wait in line for 30 minutes before we get to the information lady who, surprise, does not speak English. Thanks for the information.

So, we take our chances and just get in one of 20 lines of people waiting to buy train tickets. When we get in line about 5 people look at us and start talking. I say “I’m sorry but I don’t speak Russian, only English.” The lady in front of us at line looks back at the others and says something and they disapprovingly shake their heads and look down. Shame on us. After about 45 minutes, I’m getting tired of standing and decide to walk around and see if I can find someone who speaks English because I’m not convinced that we are in the correct line.

I scope the place out and find those I think look the most like English-speakers. Aha! I walk up to a man wearing a Paris t-shirt and ask him if he speaks English. I get a blank stare in response. I just stare back. “English?” I say again. Nothing. Ok, so I just walk away. Next, I see a man in a suit with a laptop bag. Surely this business man speaks English. I ask and at least get a response this time. No. Spasiba. (This means Thank You in Russian, one of maybe 5 words I know.) I go back to Josh who hasn’t moved in the line. It’s almost 7 pm and the place closes at 8 pm. Nice.

I’m just standing and observing the people when I notice that people are just getting in line in front of us. However, no one in front of us says anything and are completely fine with it. Finally, I realize that this is what everyone was trying to tell us when we got in line – that we weren’t joining the end of the line. There were 2 people in front of us sitting on the bench. Apparently, the wait is so long that people basically call their spot and then just go hang out somewhere else until the line moves. So, we’re even further back than we thought.

At about 7:50, we make it to the counter. My super smart husband has written down the train number, time of the train, date of the train and Moscow on a piece of paper to show the ticket lady (who, needless to say, does not speak English). She shows us the tickets which are in Russian to make sure they are right. I can’t even read if it says the correct names, but trust her and say da (yes). We confirm at our hotel that they are correct. I do have to say that the ticket lady was exceptionally nice and found it quite humorous that we didn’t speak Russian. If only they all felt that way.

St. Petersburg, to be continued…

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