A failure to communicate

So I’ve officially been living with my host family for four weeks (!) now, and I really have no complaints. They’ve all been super nice and helpful and reassuring when I started crying that one time because I remember how to say “well then I leave at 11:20 instead of 11:40” (for the record telling time in Russian is REALLY CONFUSING to me still. 11:20 is двадцать [минутов] двенадцатого, which is literally “twenty [minutes] of the twelfth.” But 11:40 is без двадцати двенадцать, which is “twelve without twenty.” So you can see why this was a difficult sentence for me.) But really my hosts here have been so patient with me and my incoherent Russian that they probably deserve some kind of award.

Yesterday, however, we had a little bit of a communication breakdown. It was Larisa’s birthday on Thursday and last night she was having a birthday party. For whatever reason, I somehow assumed that I wasn’t invited– mostly because no one had mentioned anything about it to me, aside from just the fact that it was happening. In retrospect, this was silly of me, but I’d heard horror stories from other students here of not being invited to family events and spending the night hanging out awkwardly in their room while everyone else partied, and I did not want that to be me.

So I called Larisa and told her I was going to go to a movie. And accidentally insulted her, because she thought I didn’t want to go to her birthday party. Two phone calls and me crying in a mall later, we figured out that we both wanted the same thing (i.e. me, at the party) and I took the metro home. In retrospect, this was an entirely avoidable problem, but there are still so many nuances and cultural norms that just go totally over my head. It feels like I’m back in middle school here sometimes, trying to figure out what people expect of me while avoiding asking them outright. The lesson I learned here is that I just need to get over myself and ask for help or clarification when I need it.

Ultimately, I’m glad I was able to make it to the party. There was a bunch of delicious food, I got to meet some of Larisa’s extended family (including a 14-year-old grandson who I had no idea existed until I was introduced to him last night) and there were a full seven different dessert options to accompany our after-dinner tea. (In case you are wondering: chocolate wafers, candied fruit, macaroons, chocolates, zefir (marshmallow things,) and two different chocolate and cream cakes.) And then we did it all over again tonight when the neighbors came over for a second birthday dinner.

Russia 003
“Tell your family this is how we eat every night” –my host dad


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