A Story About Teaching a Russian Class

A colleague once asked me to substitute him in his Intermediate Russian class. I don’t teach Russian, and the fact that it’s my first language doesn’t qualify me to teach it. The colleague really needed somebody to substitute for him, though, so I felt like I had to help him out. My colleague was not a native speaker of Russian, so he announced me to this class as “a real Russian person who will answer all of your questions about the Russian culture.”

“So what would you like me to talk to you about?” I asked the class.

“Do you eat bottles after drinking vodka?” a student asked eagerly.

“Yes, can you show us how you do that?” another student suggested.

“That’s like totally the best thing about the Russians!” the rest of the students chimed in.

“I’m sorry, guys, what are you even talking about?” I asked, dumbfounded.

“Well, isn’t it a tradition in your country that after you finish a bottle of vodka you eat the glass bottle? We saw a video here in class where people did that. It was way cool.”

“Yes! It was the best!” all of the students agreed enthusiastically.

“No, we don’t have any such tradition,” I tried to explain, making a mental note to kill my colleague. “The video was probably humorous.”

“Oh, you just say it because you don’t want to show us how you do it,” the students responded. “Of course, it’s what Russian people do all the time.”

25 thoughts on “A Story About Teaching a Russian Class

  1. I thought the same thing. You guys DON’T eat bottles? I had my trip to Russia planned out and everything… now there’s no reason to go!

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    1. As I always tell my husband whenever he wants to turn up the heating, “What kind of a Russian person are you? Remember Siberia!”

      To which he always replies, fuming, that he’s never been to Siberia. After that, he doesn’t need a hotter temperature in the house. πŸ™‚

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  2. bloggerclarissa :
    As I always tell my husband whenever he wants to turn up the heating, β€œWhat kind of a Russian person are you? Remember Siberia!”
    To which he always replies, fuming, that he’s never been to Siberia. After that, he doesn’t need a hotter temperature in the house.

    Is being sent to Siberia the same as being sent to Coventry, or is one better than the other?

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    1. To be honest, I’m so tired of starting each semester with a long explanation about what the word “Jew” means that now I teach this concept only if I get paid to do it. πŸ™‚

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  3. Sometimes I feel like you’re just pulling our legs with these stories lol

    By the way, how does it make you feel to be called Russian? I think it’s disrespectful of your colleague to call you Russian if he knows you are Ukrainian. I know I would be annoyed if someone called me Ecuadorian or Peruvian knowing I am Colombian.

    Also, from the little history I know about Ukraine and Russia, I know that Ukrainians had it pretty bad under the USSR and were systematically starved in the 1930s by Stalin. Isn’t there some animosity?

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    1. I hate being called Russian because I’m not and it sounds like we, the Slav people, are all the same to those who call us “Russian” indiscriminately.

      We don’t have any animosity towards the Russian people, but there is, of course, a lot of animosity towards Russia’s imperialist policies. We were a colony of the Russian Empire for over 300 years. They have subjected us to genocide and did all they could to destroy our language and culture. Of course, if you are from Colombia, I don’t think I need to tell you what a painful legacy colonialism leaves behind. And we only just gained independence a short 20 years ago.

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  4. I can imagine. A friend of mine who is from the Czech Republic also tells me they are not very fond of Russian imperialism.

    Your colleague is a complete ass. It’s fine if he calls you Russian if he does not know better, but to call you Russian to your face knowing full well you are Ukrainian is just rude.

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  5. I had similar experiences for many years.

    “Where are you from?’ people would ask me.

    “Zimbabwe.”

    “Oh! South Africa!”

    Well, no. That’s a different country altogether. It’s far more industrialized than Zimbabwe, has a rather different history and an altogether different set of ethnic groups in it.

    The tendency to assume Zimbabwe is part of a totally different state seems to have had to do with ideological warfare, which also had a psychological warfare component. Since South Africa was more prominent in the world media, during the 70s, for its apartheid ideology, those who fought the war against colonialism in Zimbabwe also altered their speech to make it seem as if this was part of the resistance to apartheid in South Africa. When asked who they were fighting, they said, “the Boers”. Except they weren’t fighting “the Boers” (Afrikaaaners, who live in the more southern State). They were fighting the English colonialists. Nonetheless, it made it almost impossible for those in Australia to differentiate between somewhat different states in Southern Africa. Also, the manipulation of image, so that ‘the Boers” appeared to be the most vicious colonialists, led to people subscribing to a kind of mythology rather than fact. There are, for instance, many very left wing “Boers” who resisted colonialism, but those in Australia who have a rather hackneyed and moralistic view of “identity” are likely to attack on sight — or upon hearing a particular accent.

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    1. This is very interesting. On my side of the world, the Boers were presented as the victims and the British colonizers as the horrible brutal aggressors. Of course, everybody chooses sides on the basis of what suits their own national identity at the moment.

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  6. bloggerclarissa :
    This is very interesting. On my side of the world, the Boers were presented as the victims and the British colonizers as the horrible brutal aggressors. Of course, everybody chooses sides on the basis of what suits their own national identity at the moment.

    Yes that relates to the Boer war of 1899–1902, when many of them were put into some kind of concentration camps by the British. I think that story is only starting to come out in the English speaking world.

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    1. I think the story has been out a long time. The papers of the time in Britain heralded the implementation of concentration camps and burning crops as a method for subjugation of an unruly populace.

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  7. llama :
    I think the story has been out a long time. The papers of the time in Britain heralded the implementation of concentration camps and burning crops as a method for subjugation of an unruly populace.

    I would be surprised if this information were common knowledge in English speaking countries.

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    1. Today, I will be teaching World War I in class and I know from experience that almost nobody will know what it was. For the most part, even people in graduate history programs often fail to identify who fought on whose side in that war.

      So the knowledge about the Boer war wold be too much to ask people for. 😦 😦

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  8. Theatre prop bottles can be obtained, made from sugar, which would make a yummy end to a vodka drinking session, but I’m pretty sure liquid couldn’t be stored in them for any length of time…

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