On Being Grateful – Plus, Great New Words…

February 2, 2012

OK, so my week and half of sun has ended – but it was wonderful while it lasted. And since it’s been replaced with snow, I won’t really complain. (That is, as long as we’re back to sun and cold this weekend).

One of the arguments I heard in favor of going abroad for an entire year, was that during the first semester you’re adjusting and figuring everything out, but during the second you can really just live. Whether it’s a question of adjustment, confidence, or just improved language skills, I definitely feel like I’m leading a pretty normal life in Moscow, instead of that of a foreign student abroad.

This week, I have been grateful for my access to education and the academic privileges I’ve enjoyed by virtue of growing up in the United States and by being able to attend a college like Middlebury. At Middlebury, every book or article assigned for class reading is either available online or in the college library. Always. Here in Russia? You might have to go to the main state library to find a book, a process which can take an entire day. The library and book-lending system in the U.S. is definitely something I’ve always taken for granted – of course I can waltz through the stacks of books, pulling out any that might be of interest, and of course I can take them home with me to read at my leisure. Libraries in Russia construct barriers between people and their access to information – you cannot just wander through the stacks of libraries here, and can certainly not take books home with you, let alone out of the reading hall. At the main state library (formerly Библиотека им. Ленина), you arrive, go through a long and arduous process of checking your coat and all belongings before entering the main library. You cannot bring your own books or newspapers in with you, although a laptop is allowed. Notebooks seem to be an iffy question. You then flip through a card catalogue (yes, even I remember those from elementary school) to find the book you need, and then proceed to hand a book request in to one of the librarians. You then have to wait between an hour and two hours for them to go to another building of the library, where the books are housed, and bring that book back to you. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that is not an incredibly efficient system, both for the librarians and for students and academics who want to use the materials. The Higher School of Economics, where I’m taking the classes on corruption and social reforms, follows a western library model, and they make a point of explaining how a зал открытого доступа[1] removes that barrier between students and access to information and materials. I will never sit in the Middlebury library, sipping my travel mug of coffee and comfortably taking notes in my own notebook again, without stopping to thoroughly appreciate that I can do that. The nature of Russian libraries makes studying a rather expensive process – there’s only so much time I can spend studying in the kitchen of my apartment (especially since it’s too tempting to take snack breaks every twenty minutes) and my room doesn’t have a desk, so that leaves cafes. And since most waitresses will start looking askance at you if you are still sitting at a table several hours later with the same coffee, that basically leaves Starbucks, where you can sit as long as you want with the same cup of coffee.

I’m thoroughly enjoying my corruption readings, and I have to laugh every so often at the words I’m looking up. But hey, it’s a good sign if the only words I’m looking up are this specific.

Great new corruption words:

  • Крышевание – protection racket (kryshevanie)
  • Вымогательство – extortion (vymogatelstvo)
  • Разоблачение – exposure, unmasking (razoblachenie)
  • Клевета – slander (kleveta’)
  • Мошениичество – fraud (moshenichestvo)
  • Оговорка – loophole (ogovorka)
  • Отмывание денег – money laundering (otmyvanie deneg)

Обеспечить is clearly the go-to word for any and all academics writing about corruption – guarantee, secure, and assure every goal… (obespechit’)

I’ve also come across all sorts of other lovely political science and current events-y phrases:

  • Социальное потрясение – social unrest
  • Процесс сбора средств партий – (essentially) party financing (protsess sbora sredstv partii)
  • Срок давности – statute of limitations (srok davnosti)
  • Сустема сдержек и противовесов – and at last! This a true milestone in my ability to use Russian in combination with that other major… system of checks and balances (sistema sderzhek i protivovesov)
  • Учреждение – institution (uchrezhdenie)

Other fun fact – I saw a commercial last night with a familiar bald man in a white T-shirt, selling some sort of cleaning product. The American Mr. Clean in Russia is Мистер Пропер – Mr. Proper. Apparently Proper sounds better than Clean to the Russian ear, although it is still Americanized.

Until the sun returns (hopefully that will be soon!),


[1] Zal otkrytovo dostupa – open access hall (i.e. you can walk through the stacks of books)


One Response to “On Being Grateful – Plus, Great New Words…”

  1. Ben said

    Translation for “protection racket” into English please?

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