Posted by & filed under Benefits of multilingualism, Multilingual identity.

Obama and Medvedev Russian (matroshkis) stacking dolls

In between words and worlds: Perhaps I'm the young woman on the doll in between Obama and Medvedev. Photo taken by Susanna Zaraysky, Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan

When I lived in Argentina, a Spaniard told me about a friend of his whose parents were from Spain but grew up in Portugal. When the Spanish man visited Spain from Portugal, he couldn’t always follow conversations with contemporary Spanish slang or that referenced Spanish pop culture or current Spanish events because he wasn’t in the flow of Spanish life while in Portugal. Jokingly, his friends in Spain called him “Spaceman” because he seemed to be from outer space!

I feel like Spaceman sometimes when traveling in Russian speaking countries because I don’t always pick up the cultural references, jokes, slang, bad words or details about daily life. When I was working in Ukraine, the electricity turned off in my apartment. I called the landlord (who was also my driver) to ask what to do to restore power. I didn’t know the Russian words for circuit breaker, electric outlet and other household words to describe the situation. Here I was, looking silly wearing my colleagues’ headlamp on my forehead, guessing what the words meant that the landlord was telling me and walking around the apartment in the dark looking for the circuit breaker!

Neither here, nor there

The late Facundo Cabral sang a gorgeous song, Ni soy de aquí, ni soy de alla, about being in between worlds as an Argentine political exile in Mexico called. The song goes into much deeper emotional conflicts that exiles, refugees and immigrants face than just the awkward linguistic ones I feel. However, as I am a major proponent of music as a means to learning language and expressing oneself, I end my blog post with the video of his singing his signature song. My Russian is neither here nor there, it’s somewhere in between.

Below is the refrain of the song. You can read the full lyrics in Spanish to understand the rest of the song.

No soy de aquí, ni soy de allá
no tengo edad, ni porvenir
y ser feliz es mi color
de identidad

I am not from here, nor I am from there
I have no age, nor future
Being happy is the color of my identity.