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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

The Final Driving Test: Learning to Speak GAI

"Excuse me, officer?!"


Minutes before, this man had pointed his insidious white stick at my vehicle, listened to me explain why I had turned right when I did, and pronounced:


Ya ne lyublyu, kogda mne veshayut lapshu na ushi, which translated loosely to something like "I don't like it when they hang a noodle on my ears," and earned him the response "Excuse me, officer?"


This little failure to communicate ended like it always does. The one with the better Russian won the spoils. But according to my wife's driver education teacher it's quite a normal thing for Russian speakers to have trouble understanding the ubiquitous men in gray.


"There is such a thing as Russian language, the language of drivers," he intoned at a recent class. "And then, there is the language of the GAI."


Come to think of it, traffic cops here do have a patois all their own. I'll never forget the time I was stopped for driving without headlights, something I was forced to do because the headlights on my now-defunct Ukrainian Tavria -- may she rust in peace -- had gone on the blink. After I explained this to the arresting officer, he nodded and stated in fluent GAIeese, Ustranit' neispravnost'.


I had to ask him to repeat it four times before I realized he was saying "get it fixed," not commenting on the deficiencies of the Russian judicial system.


The assurances of my wife's driving instructor made me take another look at the official GAI handbook. What I found convinced me that the GAI do not speak Russian, but an idiom of indecipherable hieroglyphic.


Take, for example, the way they define "road": Obustroyennaya ili prisposoblennaya i ispol'zuyemaya dlya dvizheniya transportnykh sredstv poloca zemli libo poverkhnost' isskustvennogo sooruzheniya (A strip of land or a surface of synthetic construction arranged or adapted for the movement of means of transport.)


Matchbox car owners who have built mini raceways in your homes: You are liable under the law, and they will enforce it.


After all, this is from the same crew whose definition of "driver" reads: Litso, upravlyayusheye kakim-libo transportnym sredstvom, a takzhe pogonshchik, vedushchy po doroge vyuchnykh verkhovykh zhivotnykh ili stado.


That little mouthful translates to "A person operating any means of transport, including a drover leading a pack of riding animals or a flock along a road."


Now, I've never seen a Russian traffic cop fining a shepherd for herding his sheep above the speed limit on someone's home mini raceway, but knowing these GAIs, I wouldn't rule it out.