When we left our “home” city of Ulan-Ude in April, we were impressed with the newly remodeled areas of the airport. The clean floors and easy flow of people from place to place felt international. The unique features–like bare concrete walls in the basement bathroom and barely dripping faucets in the sinks with dim lights showing your reflection in wavy mirrors–have vanished in the face of marble tiles and automatic soap dispensers. But in the midst of all the generic modern-ness, we found one new and unique sign:
Although we laugh about the sign, we find plenty of perplexing moments when we feel like maybe we do fit the third category here. To help people better understand how we might be struggling to fit in, I have prepared the following (slightly tongue-in-cheek) bit of information. Please enjoy it and don’t hesitate to comment.
A FEW HELPFUL TIPS AS YOUR MISSIONARIES RE-ADJUST
TO NORTH AMERICAN CULTURE
On the outside, we may look like anyone else. On the inside, we’re not very different, either. But sometimes we might act in ways that you can’t understand. Don’t be afraid to ask. Usually we can explain what we are doing.
For example, if one of us is walking down the side walk with you and suddenly we shove you into the grass, there may be a manhole cover that we were trying to keep you from stepping on. Have you ever stepped on to one of those that only looks safe? I have. The world sort of tips out from under your feet. It’s painful.
Eric is a teenager. Feed him often, anything and lots of it. Wait 30 minutes. Repeat. Watch him grow.
More seriously, we long for fresh fruits and vegetables. Cooking for us isn’t hard—in fact, you don’t need to cook most of the vegetables. The boys are looking forward to eating fresh (raw) green beans, fresh (raw) green peas, fresh lettuce, fresh berries….you get the idea.
As proper young Russians, the boys love good bread. They will probably wonder what that fluffy white stuff in colored wrappers is. They would much rather eat a bowl of Aunt Ludmilla’s Ukrainian borscht (beet, potato and cabbage soup) than Aunt Wendy’s lasagna. They are ready to try American foods, but some of the things that are common from my childhood are unfamiliar to them.
LANGUAGE AND ETIQUETTE:
The boys may not be able to walk into your house without taking off their shoes. They would NEVER wear shoes in a Russian home unless strictly instructed to and even then it would feel wrong to them.
In Russian the word for “bathroom” is “too-a-let”. We’ve been practicing saying the English word instead of the Russian one so that we won’t sound rude.
Russian telephone conversations often begin with “Who’s this?” (demanding tone) and end with “OK.” (hang up, no good-bye). We probably come off on the phone as overly polite in Russian and just barely polite in English. Maybe by the end of summer we’ll have achieved normal phone behavior in the US and incredible, unbelievable politeness in Russian.
There are some words we use so often in Russian that they have crept in to our English. If you ask, we can probably come up with the terms in words that you understand. Also, our kids do not know a lot of the expressions and idioms you may use. They understand English fine, they just may not know exactly what you mean. (But they may use the Russian blanket phrase “I understood.”)
I don’t want to even mention the differences between what is considered safe and normal in Russia and what is safe and normal in North America. Please be patient and firm in helping us remember that not only are there more rules in the United States but that those rules are to be followed.
We are used to living in a high, dry, sandy hills. Humidity will be a big adjustment. Air conditioning is something we are also not used to. The boys look forward to having sand between their toes because they are actually going barefoot, not because they are wading through (glass strewn) sand everywhere they go.
Yes, sizing. We are used to buying things in small quantities. Milk by the liter, eggs by the 10, shampoo by the half liter…you get the idea. Fast food exists here, but not super sizing. People are smaller, too—in height as well as girth. While this may seem a rather insignificant thing to adjust to, it is an adjustment. Lest you think the adjustment is only to larger things, clothes and shoe sizes go the other direction. In Russia, Eric wears size 46 on his feet now, but in the US we are expecting nothing larger than 12.
We LOVE to be with you! The hardest part of home service is the intensity and pace with which we meet our friends. After years of being apart, the day comes. We greet, we laugh, we eat, we talk, we play…and suddenly we are apart again. Those days, hours, minutes together are cherished. We hold on to the memories for weeks, months and years. Yet in the midst of our busy summer, there are times when the most refreshing conversation is one about the little, everyday things of life and seeing someone twice in one week brings a feeling of familiarity and comfort that warms us with a steadier glow than the intense burst of joy at our short visits in various places.
If travel time and expenses were unlimited, we would visit each of you in your homes, invite you all for tea, and go play in Lake Michigan together. Since we can’t quite manage that, we will rejoice over each shared moment–whether in person, by phone, in writing or by some other method.