Thursday, February 2, 2012

Lost in translation...

Santa brought me a new iPhone for you Santa!  As I walked into the small phone store in our neighborhood to get a Russian phone number, it became apparent that the three, very nice employees, spoke no Angliski.  This was expected and par for the course.  And so the full force effort to communicate began - from their side and my side - the charades, the nodding of heads, the shaking of heads, the shoulder shrugs that say “no remote idea what you’re trying to communicate”.  I mean really, how do you act out “I’d like a new mini SIM card for my new iPhone”?   General charade gestures typically don’t cover this kind of stuff.  

Finally, one of the employees walks me over to a new computer (which was for sale) and we stood there taking turns at the game of Google Translate.  Quite genius!  Now the Google Translate website is a "go to" for all American ex-pats everywhere in the world - we use it daily to try and understand what the heck is going on around us.  Thanks to the brilliance of this employee, this was the first time I used this method to actually “talk” to a Russian in a store.  Now why didn’t I think of this sooner??  Click a button, he’s typing in Russian - converting to English.  Click again,  I’m typing in English, converting to Russian.  Felt very much like playing competitive make a move, hit the clock, your opponent makes a move, hit the clock.   

So back and forth, back and forth, we lobbed phrases to each other in our typing ping pong match.  This went on for 40 minutes.  Now you would think a conversation about a mini SIM card would not take this long.  But it became quite comical as there were apparently lots of phrases completely lost in translation from both sides of the equation. Lots of sideways glances, like “??????”.   For example, if I typed “that’s not going to work...”, that could translate into Russian as “that’s not your office...”
 Here’s pretty much how it went down:
Me:         Good idea to communicate on the computer....I’m a bit lost in translation.
Employee:    You lost what?
Me:        No, nothing lost, I just didn’t know what you were saying...
Empl:      You didn’t say what?
Me:        No...I mean....ummm, let’s move on...
              I have a new iPhone
Empl:    Where did you buy it?
Me:        In the US
Empl:    In the UK?
Me:        No, in the United States
Empl:    I’m afraid I might break your phone
Me:        Oh no, that would be bad...why do you think that?
Empl:     Your hat looks like mud...
Me:               (sideways glance...)
Empl:        (retyping)
               Your phone won’t work in Russia
Me:       Well, actually, it should....this is an unlocked phone
Empl:      Don’t play stupid with me....
Me:            (sideways glance with cocked eyebrow...)
Empl:        (retyping)
               I see...then it should work
Me:         Da
Empl:     Is that your yowza?
Me:                 (wide eyes...quick head shake...)
Empl:         (retyping)
              Is that your phone cord?

And so it continued...  A small crowd actually gathered to cheer on the match - apparently curious about our communication technique.  
This was all quite liberating - I felt like I was having a complete conversation with a Russian, in Russian.  I wanted to go on and on and ask things like -   “Where can my husband find a good barber?  Where’s the best place to buy ripe avocados?”  Instead, I walked out with a working iPhone.  Yahtzee!

                 “Advantage, set, match.”