09 March 2010

Pretty good English for a Russian

It's 1994 and I am doing fieldwork in Utah. Based out of the town of Green River, population 973, famous for water melons, uranium mining and being home to a cold war missile base. It’s a one street town which is 70 miles from any other town, in any direction. It has some plus points, there is Ray’s Tavern a truck stop and a few ok diners. It sits in front of the Book Cliffs and as such is a gateway to some of the best geology in the World and it is my home from 3 months.

Its hard to believe but this is in the days before the internet, mobile phones or email. To communicate with the folks back home you wrote letters (how quaint) and every couple of days you went to the Post Office and collected your mail that was sent “general delivery”.

So one day I walk into the post office and see the smiling old lady. I buy some stamps and hand her my cards before asking for my mail.

Out of the blue she asks “Is the Ukraine still apart of Russia?”
Now that’s a curved ball question! But this is the time of the break up of the Soviet Union, so I figure that maybe she doesn’t know who else to ask.
I reply “Yes, I believe it is”
“You speak pretty good English for a Russian”
Getting more random by the minute...
“I am not Russian” I reply
“Oh” She looks confused but not put off she comes back with “Well you sure send a lot of cards and letters to Russia”
At this point I am totally lost and trying to work out if some cold war task force is going to appear and arrest me.
“I have no idea what you are talking about” I reply
“Look!” She exclaims. “All these cards going to the Ukraine”
She points at the UK at the bottom of the address and all is clear…
“No, that’s UK - United Kingdom, Britain, England…”
“Nope its definitely Ukraine” she insists and I give up arguing.

I leave hoping that a) the person in the main sorting office is more geographically aware and b) she didn’t see fit to add “raine” to all my UKs so a confused postman in the Ukraine is looking for a town called Llanwrst.

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