It’s hard for me to believe that I’ve been living in this country for 23 years. For some time now, I’ve been thinking about commemorating this fact. Yet, so far, nothing original has come to my mind but publishing a brief chronicle of my years here. After all, Marco Polo wrote about his travels, Thoreau wrote about his pond, and I my (illustrated) diary. I hope you like it 🙂
July 19, 1990
Arrived in Columbia, Missouri. A group of people in shorts met us at the local airport — presumably, our sponsors. They don’t speak Russian and I don’t speak English, so it’s hard to know for sure.
July 4, 1990
Americans are celebrating their independence. I’ve never studied American history, so I’m not quite sure from whom. The temperature is 41 degrees Celsius. They measure everything in Fahrenheit, and my thermometer reads 105 – which makes me feel even worse.
August 18, 1990
A small tornado hit the town. Nobody got killed, but several houses lost their roofs. Some people say that we may have an earthquake here soon, too. Reconsidering my coming here. As bad as it was in Russia, we never had either one!
September 6, 1990
No Russian-speaking engineers needed. Had two choices: going to work for Merry Maids or a nursing home. Chose the latter. Now, I’m a nurse’s aide working the third shift. Which is good — the residents sleep and nobody speaks English.
October 31, 1990
A neighbor with two children dressed in black cloaks came to the door looking for candy. They didn’t look hungry, so I’m very suspicious. After they left, I looked outside – the street was full of children searching for sweets. Apparently, they have shortages in America, too.
November 22, 1990
Got invited to a Thanksgiving dinner. The food was baked turkey and red potatoes. Even in Russia, where red was very popular, potatoes were white! I skipped the potatoes and ate the turkey that was stuffed with bread. That way, I suppose, they can feed more people.
December 25, 1990
American Christmas comes before New Year’s. In Russia, it came after, and nobody celebrated it.
Learned some English phrases, quit the nursing home, and got a job at a public library shelving books – that way I do not have to talk to anybody, although one young woman did ask me where the restroom was. It was just around the corner, but I panicked and gestured towards the reference desk.
What a language! Half of the words have multiple meanings, while the other half sound the same but mean different things. Besides, no matter how I twist my tongue, I can’t roar the American “r,” or hiss their “the.” My “think” comes out as “sink,” and even when I say “Hi,” people ask where I’m from.
American expressions are weird, too. When did they ever see “raining cats and dogs”? And what about “give a leg up.” Why would I lift my leg if somebody needs a ride home? Also, “it costs an arm and a leg.” We never paid with our limbs! Yesterday somebody said, “I dropped the ball.” I looked. No ball. What did she drop? Where?
Got promoted to the Front Desk. Understand about 25%. Today, a patron asked about groundhogs. I knew “ground” and also “hogs,” so I sent him to a grocery store. Expect to be fired every day.
Started reading books in English. Also, made my first “Library will close in fifteen minutes” announcement. Everybody left immediately — including some staff. They said that it “sounded scary.”
Decided to go back to school and get a Library Science degree. Went to the local University and filled out an application. Spelled “Library” just fine but not “Sience.” Got a funny look from the admission staff.
Took the GRE. Scored 95% on Math and 15% on English — confused “hair” with “hare,” “tale” with “tail,” “wonder” with “wander,” “desert” with “dessert,” and “whipping” with “weeping.” Passed anyway — they counted the average.
Going to school part time, working at the library full-time – now at the reference desk. Yesterday, a nice-looking gray-haired lady asked me about whales. I took her to the animal section. Who knew she was going to Wales? No time to eat. Lost five pounds.
Became a naturalized American citizen. At work, a patron asked how to “dress” a deer. I said, “Do you mean clothes or stuffing?” Another patron wanted pictures of a stagecoach. I knew “stage” and “coach” (like coaches in sports) but couldn’t imagine them together and had to ask for help. Lost another five pounds.
Last semester. Preparing for the Comprehensive Exam and dating an American. Ran out of “I was sick” excuses and told my professor that my paper was late because I was getting married. He understood. Not sure what I’ll tell him next time. Maybe, “I’m getting divorced”? Lost five more pounds.
Got my Master’s degree! Voted for Clinton and he won. Also, received a marriage proposal. I don’t know about that, but it felt good.
Was promoted to a reference librarian – doubled the salary and the fear of being fired. Married the American, too! Now I speak English 24/7. Gained five pounds.
My husband does a great job of correcting my English — especially when we argue. Also, dreamt in English for the first time. Is that what happens when you marry an American citizen? Gained five more pounds.
A guy wearing a “lion” cloth tried to enter the library today. As soon as I got home, I described the event to my husband. He was very surprised — not with the guy, but with the cloth. Then he said, “Did you mean “loin?” Gained five more pounds.
We moved to a house by the edge of the woods [see a story about that later]. Now, I’m spending all my free time landscaping our yard. Lost five pounds.
Deer ate everything I planted. We voted for Al Gore, but he lost.
Summer 2001 Tried new plants, and so did the deer. The plants are gone; the deer are still around.
Found one kind of bush that the deer don’t like. Planted them everywhere.
Went bird watching with my husband. Saw 3 ducks, 5 geese, and one woodpecker – all of which live in our neighborhood, too. Put up a bird feeder in the back yard, so we don’t have to drive anywhere.
No bird feeder survives. We keep losing them to the deer, raccoons, and squirrels. Voted for John Kerry and he lost, too.
Deer destroyed everything, again, so no landscaping is needed. Used my free time to write about the deer eating my “lushes” plants and sent it to the local newspaper. The story got published, although they replaced “lushes” with “lush.”
Now, we are having moles and “aunts” problems. Wrote about that, too. My husband read my story and said, “I think you meant ‘ants.’”
Continue writing. This time, I wrote how my husband and I “tied the nut” eleven years ago, and how “exiting” that was. Showed it to my husband. After he stopped laughing, he suggested replacing “nut” with “knot” and “exiting” with “exciting.”
Wrote an essay about what life was like in Russia, especially for Jews. The essay got published in The Christian Science Monitor, and I got my first fan letter. Opened it with shaking hands … and read that the only thing missing in my life now was “converting to Christianity.”
Spend all my free time writing. No time for working in the yard, watching movies, and even weighing myself. Is that what it means to be a writer? Here you have it: twenty-three years in 1250 words 🙂
©Svetlana Grobman. All Rights Reserved
When to the sessions of sweet silent thought
I summon up remembrance of things past,
I sigh the lack of many a thing I sought,
And with old woes new wail my dear time’s waste:
Then can I drown an eye, unused to flow,
For precious friends hid in death’s dateless night,
And weep afresh love’s long since cancell’d woe,
And moan the expense of many a vanish’d sight:
Then can I grieve at grievances foregone,
And heavily from woe to woe tell o’er
The sad account of fore-bemoaned moan,
Which I new pay as if not paid before.
But if the while I think on thee, dear friend,
All losses are restored and sorrows end.
This is such a fascinating timeline. I had no idea about some of these events! Great stuff. 🙂
THANK YOU, Seth!
This is such a fascinating timeline. I had no idea . . . Keep up the great writing!
October 1992 made me LOL in the office. 😉 I can just hear it!
Are you familiar with P.G. Wodehouse and Bertie Wooster? Bertie would think that your Spring 2007 piece was correct as written. 😉
Yes, I’m a fan of Bertie and Jeeves :). Thank you, Amanda!
I loved the diary. I’m not sure I would be capable of moving to a new country and learning a new language, plus adapting to the culture. I have a lot of admiration and respect for your accomplishments.
Having worked at the reference desk for a few years now, I would not be too surprised if someone really wanted to know how to dress a deer in clothing. We sometimes get the most unexpected questions.
Thank you very much! (I don’t know who you are, but I really appreciate your response :))
Happy 23rd anniversary!
This was fun to read! I love your sense of humor. I can identify with your misunderstanding at the Reference desk. Even those of us who should know our own language get confused at times. I was an innocent (ignorant) country girl when I first was hired. A patron asked if we had a book on Kamasutra and I asked if that was a new form of martial arts.
Thank you, Carolyn! Kamasutra as a martial art is hilarious! Did you know how to dress a deer when you first started? 🙂
Of course! I did say I was a country girl. didn’t I? I was a deer hunter long before I started at the library. I knew some things, but the gaps in my education were big enough to fall through.
Well, nobody is perfect 🙂
Well, as they say, “Nobody is perfect” 🙂
Loved your little diary Svetlana – I’m sure there’s much more to your story than the snippets, which are funny and endearing! Laughed heartily at your fan letter’s message!! Your English is superb – can’t imagine I’d be as good at Russian after any amount of time although I do love language and majored in French and Spanish for my college degree. Anyway, looking forward to more stories.
Thank you, Tina! As for English, I do have a good editor — mu husband :). By the way, I followed your instructions on how to take pictures of the moon, and they did turn out much better. (Not as good as yours, but definitely better :)). Thanks again!
i had to giggle a lot, when i read your post, because the situations reminded me of my own family and experiences 🙂 i’m glad i stumbled upon this 😀
Thank you very much! What country did your family come from?
i’m half russian, but always lived in germany and i remember some moments, when my mother misunderstood and said the most adorable things in german 😀 she got much better at it, though, and i don’t want to think about how funny my russian would be! 😀
Thank you for understanding 🙂
Good! I guess your diary has more everyday stories. It was fun to read.
Thank you, Sergei! If you have any funny examples on your own, pass them my way :).