Monday, July 31, 2006

Happy Mutual Birthday

I was walking home from church Sunday afternoon carrying two bouquets of flowers when a distinguished 50-something gentleman approached me on the sidewalk.

“Could you not tell me where is located the Black Sea Military Naval Service?” he asked in the round-about Russian way.

“Where is WHAT located?” Our conversation was in Russian, of course, and but I needed him to repeat what he was looking for.

Hearing my accent, he tried to switch to English and shifted his gaze to the tree tops in an effort to remember his high school English.

“Today. . .,” he said in English, gesturing widely. He looked back up to the sky to find more words. “Today. . .,” he continued and stopped.

I didn’t acknowledge that I understood the English but repeated my question in Russian, “Where is WHAT located?”

Instead of answering in Russian he switched to German. I was getting impatient. I was tired, my arms were heavy with stuff and playing language games wasn't on my immediate agenda. But something was starting to click in my mind.

Earlier that morning at church, a visitor mentioned that the day happened to be Naval Armed Forces day, a holiday to honor those who serve in the navy. Here in Russia, many professions have their own holiday to honor, celebrate and show appreciation to those in that profession. There is a holiday to honor those in the medical professions, a day to honor firefighters, days to honor teachers, accountants and those in oil-related industries, for instance. Honorees might be feted with flowers, but it’s likely that the celebrations will include fine food and endless congratulatory toasts.

I realized that the man on the street was assuming from my bouquets that I was connected with the Russian Naval Fleet. And, who better to ask for directions to the Black Sea division?

“English is my first language,” I said to him in English. “But I have no idea where the Black Sea Naval Forces are headquartered. I’m carrying flowers because today is a holiday for me, too – it’s my birthday!”

Something clicked in his mind too about making assumptions. He stepped back, and apologized with a chuckle.

So, here’s wishing a big congratulations to the Naval Forces of Russia, celebrating their 310th birthday. And a Happy Birthday to me, too. At a mere 54 years, I’m feeling positively youthful by comparison.