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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Would You Be So Kind As to Say Please, Idiot?

It's a favorite Russian joke about the English that they are so awfully polite that when someone steps on your foot in England you immediately say "sorry." Of course it's quite the opposite in Russia: if you step on someone else's foot, you immediately shout at them: Kuda pryosh, dura! -- politely translated along the lines of "Watch where you're going, idiot."


Now that Vita has started mastering her thank you/spasibo and please/pozhalusta, our big dilemma is how polite do we teach her to be? Too much English-style grovelling would make her a laughing stock in Russia, whilst reducing her pleases and thank yous to the Russian level will have her taken for rude in her other homeland.


Coming back to Russia was the usual reverse culture shock: customs officials swearing casually as they processed the luggage, drivers cutting in without a wave of acknowledgement, compatriots pushing and shoving on the metro. Even at the dacha our crisp autumn barbecues are drowned by the sound of the neighbors addressing each other like mentally defective slaves.


But then again "would you be so kind as to pass the salt," as is said at my English in-laws' in Stratford-upon-Avon, sounds like an awful lot of unnecessary -- and insincere -- flannel to Russian ears: After all, it's not that big a favor.


But I know that we are not the only Anglo-Russian couple to have had marriage-threatening misunderstandings when I have failed to offer suitably British thanks for a proffered cup of tea, but been downright insulted by being thanked for doing a simple task around the home in a way that seems to me over-profusive but to Miranda completely natural.


I defend my country's rudeness as a manifestation of sincerity: we say thank you when we really mean it, and please if it's a lot to ask. We are open and have a lust for life, I persuade Miranda, which allows us to make demands, shout and swear and stomp and smash our glasses rather than insincerely apologizing for everything in advance and offering equally meaningless thanks for nothing at all.


But while Miranda adds a "please" to Vita's every demand and extracts a "thank you" for every favor obliged, I can hardly teach my daughter that the Russian equivalent is a stony silence.


Much as I abhor Western hypocrisy wrapped in a veneer of false politeness, I equally despise Russian rudeness clothed in the mantle of sincerity.


Does this mean that we have to teach Vita that she doesn't just speak different languages in each of her native lands, but must even use different words and different behaviors? Or can we devise a code that combines just enough politeness for English society with just enough honesty to satisfy her Russian roots?