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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Language Barrier Ripe For Telephone Tricks

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My friend Daniil Kheis once told me a story, prefacing it with an apology. I accepted the apology, although I didn't understand what for. However, I asked him to tell me what injustice he had done me.

Daniil -- a leading specialist at one of Moscow's institute's -- had a work-related trip to make to Tashkent, but all tickets for the next flight were sold out. The best available option -- which he took -- was a Moscow-Delhi ticket with stop-over in Tashkent.

His neighbor on the plane was Indian, and Daniil decided he would practice his English on him. As a researcher at a Soviet institute, he was running certain risks by conversing with a foreigner; prior to the trip they had been warned about the impermissibility of contacts with foreigners.

However, throwing caution to the wind Daniil started chatting to Singh -- as his neighbor was called -- who, it turned out, frequently visited Moscow on business, and was a communist who owned houses in Delhi and Calcutta. Singh gave Daniil his business card, with an open invitation to stay with him if he should ever find himself in Delhi or Calcutta.

The Indian asked Daniil what he did and where he lived. Daniil was embarrassed to admit that although he was well-known in his field, he and his wife were crammed into a small room in a communal apartment; instead, he said that he had his own apartment. Singh promised to call Daniil on his next visit, and at this moment Daniil recalled the warning issued at his institute. To get himself out of the hole he had dug himself, he decided to give Singh my home phone number instead of his own.

I have to admit, I was none too pleased to hear this, but -- as I said -- I had already forgiven my friend.

A week went by, and I decided to call my friend and play a practical joke on him.

"Hello? Daniel?" I began -- and introducing myself as Singh, I proceeded to ask him in English how he was? So, for five minutes I wound him up and then burst into laughter!

Daniil's wife later recounted how he blanched, standing by the telephone and trying to find the English words for the conversation.

I had almost forgotten about this incident, when the telephone rang and a gentleman introducing himself as Singh requested to speak to Mr. Kheis. I obliged, giving out my friend's home number.

As it transpired, Singh went on to call him. Daniil answered the phone and convinced I was playing another trick on him, vented his spleen on Singh, finally dispatching me -- that is Singh -- in no uncertain terms.

Recalling the story recently, Daniil said that today he would be happy to meet Singh, and maybe even to visit him in Calcutta or Delhi -- even though he is a communist.

Vladislav Schnitzer is a journalist and pensioner living in Moscow.