I had not really been told much about Saturday except that I was supposed to make a presentation somewhere in Minsk around lunchtime. I figured that I would spend the morning exploring and the time after the talk shopping for gifts. But at 9am, Lucy called to say that the day's lecture had been cancelled, so I had the entire weekend to myself (Denis was given the day off, too).
So I looked over my (rudimentary) map of Minsk, and Googled a few spots, like the National Gallery of Art and a brewery that was highly recommended on the travel sites, and then set out on foot. This is when my Russian language skills <G> really began to build, because I was on my own to figure out the street names and such. Russian has a Cyrillic alphabet, and a radically different pronunciation, so it was a challenge at first, even though I had already spent five days exposed to it full time.
Here are two examples (using only letters common to both languages, which makes it easier). A place where you sit down and eat food is called a “restaurant” in English. In Russian, it is spelled “pectopah” but pronounced “restoran” since the English “p” is a Russian “r,” the “c” an “s” and the “h” an “n.” As I had previously learned with Dutch, once you make those simple alphabetic transpositions things start to fall in place. The second example (other direction) would be the American city of “Boston.” A Russian seeing this string of letters would pronounce it “Voshtoi” since the English “b” is a “v,” the “s” an “sh” and the “n” an “oi.” I may not have all this exactly right, but you can see the problems!
The key moment, driven in this case by hunger, was when I stopped thinking to myself “Ummm, pectopah…that means restaurant…let’s check it out”…and started saying “restoran” directly when I saw the sign. Obviously there is a long way to go after that, but it is a major breakthrough considering the effort of being in a place where you not only don’t speak the language, but can’t even decipher the alphabet. I was exhausted by evening, and did default to a place called “Saloon” that had a menu with at least some English on it.