Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

'Small Child' Is the Key To Unlock Every Heart

In all of my years of bickering with hotel clerks, train station officials, plumbers, shop attendants, nosy babushkas, and just about everyone else you have to argue with in Russia in order to get through the day, I have never mastered one useful phrase — that ace in the hole that gives you the upper hand in any manner of conflict.

But now, thanks to the birth of my daughter, I find myself batting around a sentence that gets results I had never even dreamed possible. U menya malenky rebyonok is one of those catch-all phrases that seems to melt the coldest of bureaucratic hearts.

Last weekend, for example, I was sitting at home while municipal workers sneg sbrasivali s kryshy — were throwing snow from the roof. Having lived on the top floor before, I know how important this procedure is once the temperature rises above freezing. There are not enough buckets to catch the melting snow dripping through the ceiling.

But I was not prepared for the huge block of ice that came crashing through my kitchen window, shattering four panes of glass. I raced for the phone to call my local dispetcher, the office that handles everything from leaky toilets to snow throwing.

Sbrasivayut sneg s nashoi kryshy i razbili okno na kukhne, I said, adding: U menya malenky rebyonok.

Admittedly, in my native tongue that very string of phrases would sound like a non sequitor to me: "They are throwing snow from our roof and broke a window in the kitchen. I have a small child."

But it seemed to do the trick. I could hear the dispetcher on the other end turning to her colleague: Razbili okno. U neyo malenky rebyonok.

Within seconds I had her answer: Perenesite rebyonka v druguyu komnatu. Plotnik seichas k vam idyot. Move the baby to another room. The carpenter is on his way.

Within an hour, the carpenters were at my door. Indeed, as I write this they are now smoking in my kitchen. At least I don't have to ask them to open a window.

If you think the rebyonok line works with the snow throwers, try it coming into Sheremetyevo Airport. Whenever I see that endless passport line I walk up to the nearest scowling customs official and say: Pomogitye, pozhaluista. U menya malenky rebyonok. Help me, please. I have a small child. In seconds I am escorted to the head of the line.

I have never uttered the rebyonok excuse at a produkti store, but I have seen others do so, only to watch the masses part for the shopper with young children. Razreshitye menya proiti vperyod, or allow me to go to the head of the line, the woman says to her fellow customers. U menya malenky rebyonok.

Do I feel guilty about using this handy phrase to expedite everything from replacing windows to buying bread? A little, but not enough to wait in line at Sheremetyevo.