The Country Where the G.P.S. Scolds You: A Little Post on Cultural Differences

After about a month of being here, I am still finding it hard to adjust in certain ways. I am not yet used to what, through my cultural lens, appears to be unnecessary harshness and scolding. Although on the logical level, I understand that American and Russian communication styles differ greatly, I have still taken the seeming abrasiveness very seriously, avoiding or dreading situations that will involve being scolded. My knee-jerk reaction is to take it all very personally; for example, I still felt upset hours after a marshrutka driver yelled at me when I forgot to close the door to the bus. This was all until I experienced G.P.S a la Russe.

After a restful weekend in the city of Kazan (more about that in a later post), I ordered a charter taxi-van to bring me the 3 hours back to Elabuga. I was the first passenger, so the driver (who used so much slang I had no idea what he was saying) plugged other passengers’ addresses into his G.P.S., and off into the city we went.
So you know how in America, when we make a wrong turn, a robotic but decidedly female voice says, “recalculating”? Well, when the taxi driver decided he knew better than the G.P.S., a slightly less robotic male voice blurted out in an irritated tone, «Зачем отклонились от маршрута!?», “Why did you go off the route!? You must turn at the next left!”

I thought I had misheard; after all, in my mind, there was no possible reason for actually programming scolding into a G.P.S. system. As the driver wove through the city traffic, I listened closely, and heard it again and again. “Why did you go off the route!? Why did you go off the route!?” Just to make completely sure, I typed it into Google on my phone, and sure enough, it yielded lots of results for Russian G.P.S. systems. As the taxi gained more and more passengers, not one Russian seemed to think that the constant scolding was anything but normal. As for me though, I was trying my best not to burst into laughter, both at the absurdity of programming scolding into a GPS system and at the Russians’ non-reaction.

I am sure it will still take me quite a bit more time to get used to the Russian communication style, but at least I am starting to understand it more. My experience with the G.P.S. showed me that Americans and Russians perceive scolding in very different ways. I have yet to understand exactly why scolding plays such a prominent role in Russian communication or how exactly Russians perceive it differently than Americans, but I realize now that I shouldn’t take it personally. So the next time I am scolded and am tempted to hang my head in shame, I’ll remember the irritated voice of Mr. Russian G.P.S. and do my best to crack a wide American smile.

In the Land of Anne

The sand here is like cinnamon, and the quiet is vast and freeing.

The view from the beach by our cabin. Photo Credit: Blake Johnson. Check out his blog here.

The family has just settled in for the week at a little oceanside cabin in Prince Edward Island, the home of one of my favorite fictional characters, Anne of Green Gables.

I have always felt a special connection to the overly dramatic, hopelessly romantic, prone to misadventures redhead, and as I have grown up, my story has mirrored hers in many ways.

My family and closest friends will tell you that I share Anne’s penchant for dramatic, melancholy musings; I long ago adopted her phrases “the depths of despair,” “kindred spirit,” and “bosom friend” into my vocabulary. Sometimes when I feel that no one else understands, I comfort myself with the thought that Anne would. I am blessed to have a “bosom friend,” and our relationship reminds me a lot of Anne and Diana’s. Like Anne, I dream of becoming a published author and I am leaving home to become a teacher in a new place. If you haven’t seen the film, this short trailer will give you an idea of Anne’s character:

One of my favorite Anne moments is when she shatters her slate over Gilbert Blythe’s head.

I have never smashed a slate over a boy’s head, but I did do something similar. In seventh grade, I had quite the crush on my pastor’s son, and at youth group, he would not let me get a word in edgewise while I tried to tell a story. He kept guffawing, his husky twelve year-old voice drowning out my own. In a desperate attempt to both shut him up and get his attention, I smashed my Styrofoam bowl full of nacho cheesier Doritos hard on top of the boy’s head. From his reaction, I think it hurt. Unlike with Anne and Gilbert, that relationship never did work out…

I have also gotten injured because of my pride. After being dared, Anne tries to walk the ridge of a roof and sprains her ankle. In order to prove to a friend that I was “adventurous,” I tried to land an ice skating move that I had no business attempting. I spent that night with a scary Russian dentist name Konstantine who sewed up my chin. You can read about it here.

It is wonderful to finally experience the enchanting island that has captured me again and again every time I have popped in one of our old Anne VHSs. I am looking forward to seeing life as Anne saw it. Let’s just hope that this doesn’t happen: