“Just call them ‘gentlemen'”: An American expat’s advice to Obama

Mickey Berdy, an American living in Moscow where she works as a translator and interpreter, comments on the Obama visit:

“Putin” is easy to pronounce, but “Medvedev” is a mouthful for English speakers. Happily, you can avoid their last names and address them as господин президент (Mr. President) and господин премьер-министр (Mr. Prime Minister). If you’re not sure who’s in charge, don’t worry: No one here knows either. If you wind up in the same room with them, you might look in their general direction and address your comments to господа (gentlemen).

Here in Moscow, it’s hard to tell which official statements are: for internal consumption and can be ignored; for external consumption and should be noted; or blurted out on a bad hair day. So who knows what you’ll hear at the negotiating table. Heck, for all I know, you guys just crack open a couple of beers, kick back and get down to some good-natured horse-trading.

But you might hear the oft-repeated phrase, мы встали с колен (We’ve gotten up off our knees) as if Russians had crawled their way through the 1990s. I recall those years well, and I don’t remember anyone on their knees in humiliation. To the contrary, at the time, they were impressed by the aid we were giving them, especially considering that they still had all their nukes pointed at us. In any case, we gave billions to them so they could get on their feet, and now they say they are — so we’re copacetic, right? проехали (Moving right along … )

Another theme is: Нас окружают враги (We’re surrounded by enemies). This one’s easy. If it comes up, just ask: Есть у вас карта? (Have you got a map?) Then you show them that their country is one-seventh of the world’s land mass.

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Filed under Barack Obama, Russia, Russian-American relations

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