mercredi, janvier 25, 2006

06.01.25: Ukrainian Roulette

The Russians are coming, the Russians are coming.Well, actually, the Ukrainians are here. Really.

So, here we have it. Six Ukrainians here for six working days, and they work for six hours a day (I am a little anxious about this six repetition, especially since I just took the DaVinci Code walking tour last weekend).
At any rate, if two languages being spoken in the same room (français et anglais) can cause confusion, three languages (en plus, russian) is approaching a level of entropy that may require a corollary to an existing law of thermodynamics. The official language for this week's activities is english. I am the only person in the room who speaks english (er, well, at least american) as a natural language. Most of the french have a pretty good command of english, and two of the six Ukrainians speak english (not bad, actually) and they have to translate everything into Russian. Everything. And the chief Ukrainian does not speak english or french. Needless to say, progress is slow. Having said that, we are making progress.

[As a side note: If I understand it correctly, Ukrainian is actually the official language of the Ukraine, but since the Russian language was required for the past few generations, there is a general re-learning of the native language taking place currently. In the meantime, for basic communication, the folks with us this week are speaking Russian (not that I can tell).]

Lunchtime, we get to have a little lighter conversation. At least, I try.

On Monday, I asked the frenchies if they had read the recently released report from the University of California-Davis that states that it is not a good idea to have wine and cheese together. At first, they asked if this was referring to Kraft American Pasteurized Process Cheese Food. In which case, they agreed. Anything not fit for human consumption is not improved with any type of wine. I explained that this was a rigorous study, conducted to the highest oenological and fromogological standards that demonstrated that elements in the cheese inhibit the ability to taste some characteristics of the wine. Their question: "But does that mean the experience is not enjoyable, or just different than expected?" Maybe it helps to start with the right question. At the time, we were having a very nice Bordeaux with some Bleu d'Auvergne and Brillat Savarin. I didn't mind it a bit.

Today at lunch I explained the story of the current film, 'Goodnight and Good Luck', to the group of french and ukrainians. Gouvernement intrusion into private lives, un-American activities, banishment from the film industry, champion of civil liberties from the media, relationship between two current Georges (Clooney and fourth-last-letter-of-the-alphabet), and parallels with current events in the US. Wow, this guy had to translate the whole thing for his Ukrainian buddies (and still eat lunch.)

At the end, the chief Ukrainian said something to his translator in a relatively serious tone of voice, which then got translated to us as follows:
"Da, we know of such practices from our experience with Soviet Union. Maybe just a little more severe for us. You should take care with current situation."

Everybody laughed. Me, a little nervously.
It's not everyday I get advice about protecting civil liberties from someone from the former Soviet Union.
Maybe he's got a point.