Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Russian Spelling

“What I hear is what I write” is a very nice and easy to learn spelling principle but unfortunately not so many languages use it. Spelling in the Russian language, as well as in English and German, considers not only sounds, but the underlying structure of the word. This means that morphemes – parts of the word – should be spelled similarly in every word, it doesn’t matter what sounds you hear. In addition to that, the spelling of some words in Russian is based on tradition, so you have to remember them all by heart or have a good dictionary near you.

When exactly do sounds and letters do not correspond each other in Russian? For vowels А [a] and О [o], Е [e] and И [i] this is when a vowel sound is not stressed. Normally, when О is not stressed in the word, it sounds more like [a]. Say, you hear Da svidania, but the spelling of this phrase is “До свидания” (formal way to say goodbye), with O after D. When Е is not stressed, it sounds similar to [I]. For example, the word птенец (baby bird) is pronounced [ptin`ets]; both vowel letters are Е, but the first, not stressed, is pronounced like [I].

In the Russian language, consonant sounds are divided into voiced and voiceless and often form pairs: Б [b] – П[p], В[v]– Ф[f], С[c] – З[z], К[k] – Г[g] and so on. А voiced consonant at the end of the word or before another consonant sounds different. Example: the word глаз, an eye, has a voiced [z] in the end, but it is pronounced [glas], however, the plural for this word is глаза, glaza, the sound [z] is heard here very well.

Russian spelling is a big problem for kids. Actually, we learn spelling rules during the entire time we are in school and not everyone succeeds at that. I would suggest that people who learn Russian as their second (third, etc) language get the idea that the way you hear the word is not the way it is spelled. When you find the spelling of a word amusing, unnatural or funny do a little research and try to find out from which words your word is derived and which words are close relatives to it. At least, you’ll have some fun, and most likely, you’ll find a good explanation of the spelling.

Photo by Jasmic

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Business Lunch? No, Thanks

To many Russians who work with American companies, the business lunch is one of the most annoying things in American culture. Probably, American businessmen like the idea of saving time by having lunch and a business meeting at once, but each time I attend such business lunches I feel great discomfort. I discussed this with my Russian friends who have had similar experiences and they confess that they also get annoyed with the need to chew and talk at the same time.

Photo by Shawn Liu

I think one of the reasons why Russians feel discomfort when eating while being involved in the meeting is that since early childhood we were taught not to talk when chewing. We even have a saying for kids, “When I am eating, I am deaf-and-dumb”. In Russia, it is considered very bad manners to eat and talk.

Another reason is that Russians believe that you show great disrespect to a speaker when you eat during his presentation. You find the presentation so boring that you stop listening and start chewing instead. And you let everyone see that. An average Russian speaker also would find it insulting if the audience was chewing during his speech. More disgusting and disrespectful than that is only to stand up and leave the meeting room in the middle of the presentation.

I was very angry and nervous when I was invited to a business launch with one of the top managers of the company I work with. I was really hungry and all I wanted was to focus on the food. But I was listening to the manager while my hot, juicy, tasty steak got warm and then cold. I couldn’t force myself to eat while he was talking because I was afraid to show disrespect. I couldn’t take a piece of food from my plate because I had to participate in our discussion and I didn’t want everybody see partly chewed meat on my teeth. And also I couldn’t answer to his questions properly because I couldn’t think about the business. “Could you give me some privacy to finish with my lunch” I thought, but continued keeping a smiley face. Definitely, lunch should be about food, not about business.

However, it would be wrong to say that Russians do not mix business and food. In Russia, significant events and important contracts are celebrated with a lavish dinner. Traditional vodka, plenty of tasty dishes – Russian hosts do their best to amuse their guests with food, alcohol and entertainment. And when the guests are in the very good mood, maybe even experiencing sort of euphoria, Russian businessmen get back to contracts and business issues. As you may guess, it is much easier to get a positive answer from a full and happy person than from a hungry one.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Siberian Spacing And Mentality

Siberia has a lot of space. According to Wikipedia, the population density of Siberia is 3.9 inhabitants per sq.m. Living in a remote and unpopulated area has some effects on people’s mentality. Being a native Siberian, I didn’t notice them until my husband and I moved to the Russia’s enclave on the Baltic sea and then came back to Siberia after 5 years of living in the Kaliningrad region.

What do I mean by these effects? First, it is a very loose spacing. Roads in Siberia are, on average, wider than those in Europe (though the quality of Siberian roads leaves much to be desired). People keep more distance when talking or passing by. During my first month in Kaliningrad, I felt great discomfort in supermarkets because all the people there seemed to stay toо close to me. We Siberians think of space on a very large scale. I.e. Novosibirsk is 270 km to North from my hometown Barnaul. We used to think that Novosibirsk is very close to Barnaul. When I was a teenager, I often went to see my grandma who lived 380 km away from me – and it was quite an ordinary thing. European countries are much more compact, and traveling 380 km would most likely mean crossing the border of another country.

Another side effect of living remotely from the rest of the world is the feeling that history is happening somewhere else. Any political movements, social changes, even natural disasters are far away from here. In Europe, history is material – it is in every stone. In Siberia, history is intangible. We saw sad signs of World War II in the Kaliningrad region and only there, in Kaliningrad, we realized that the war was real. Until then the War was something from the realm of media – movie, propaganda advertising etc. When people here read news about swine flue, global warming, and earthquakes the first thing that comes in their minds is “we won’t be affected, it is too far from here”. There is a very popular local myth, rooted, I believe, in Nicholas Roerich’s philosophy, that the whole world will be swept away by global flooding soon, and the Altai region is the only place that will survive. This reflects perfectly the mentality of people here.

Red Claw

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Working Globally: Conference Call vs Email

Doing business globally means having a need to contact people who live on the opposite side of the globe many times while working on the project. Modern technologies allow us to have a group meeting with nearly zero expenses: no need to spend time and money on traveling when you can just do a conference call. Conference call is a cheap and convenient way to have a real time discussion with many people. It’s like having a real meeting, but in the virtual world. All you have to do is just select a telecommunication service provider or use your VoIP software. The only question you have to answer before to start organizing a conference call is: is a conference call the BEST way to interact with people in my case? In other words, do you really need a live talk or would old-fashioned emails fit the situation better?

A conference call is not a good solution if:

  • Your interlocutors are not very good in the language you’re going to speak with them. You may speak too fast or with an accent that your partners are not accustomed to. You may use words they do not know. Consider the quality of the line and … send them emails. Your partners will not miss a single word from your message and may look up the words they do not know in their dictionaries. Email means no information losses.
  • Time difference is significant. If you have an early morning and your interlocutors have a late night, it’s not a good idea to talk to them. You are fresh and just have had your morning coffee – and they have had a hard working day behind them. Psychologically speaking, you would hardly find a common mental wave to discuss your topic efficiently. You’d better send them email and let them read it when they have time.
  • You expect your partners to give you an answer on a serious question. Live talk is good for a fast exchange of ideas and minor details. But if you are about to have a serious talk – send an email. Your partners may need to have a think think about your questions.
  • You and your interlocutors may want to get back to things you were discussing during a call. Of course, you may record your call and replay it later to refresh your memory. But wouldn’t an email be better for this? You can easily find a piece of text you need in your email instead of listening the call from the beginning in order to listen to an exact moment.

Technologies should serve your needs, not you should serve to technologies. Choose tools that fit your needs best.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Spring Holidays in Russia

Every country has some holidays that boost sales and result in consumer orgies. A good example is Christmas sales in North America and Europe and New Year sales in Russia. “These days are the most important ones during the whole year, because about 25% of our annual revenue is made during the last two weeks of December,” a large retailer told me once. Being familiar with the calendar of every single country is the key to success for manufacturers and retailers who works globally.

In Russia, besides the New Year’s one, the most important sales time is the period from the last week of February to the first week of March. We jokingly call this time “Spring gender holidays”. On February 23rd, Russia celebrates the Defender of the Fatherland Day. In other words, this is a Men’s day, when men of all ages get some gifts from women – mothers, wives, girlfriends and colleagues. The holiday marks the date in 1918 when the first mass draft into the Red Army occurred in Russia. In the Soviet Union, the holiday was known as the Red Army Day, and initially expected to celebrate people who are serving or were serving the Soviet Military Forces. However, in practice, it comes to include the celebration of men as a whole. As a counterpart, the Women’s day is celebrated in March 8th. Though some may still remember the event that happened in New York in 1908, in Russia, the political or feminist flavor of the holiday is completely lost. March 8th is a day when men buy flowers for their women, say words of love to wives and girlfriends and make them some presents.

Photo by pizzodisevo

Russian retailers know how important it is to prepare inventories for the February 23rd and March 8th. Not meeting the surge in demand during these days would mean the serious loss in revenue. Though small gifts are more common for February 23rd and March 8th, some serious purchases are not rare at all. Besides trivial flowers, wines, chocolate and perfume, there is a surge in demand for handsets and smart phones, white goods, notebooks and other electronics during these two weeks. For manufacturers, this is definitely the best time to launch sales of any new products in Russia.