Friday, July 25, 2008

The "Kitchen Debate" with Nixon and Krushchev: This Week in History

On July 24, 1959, U.S. Vice President Richard Nixon and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev got into a lively discussion that came to be called the kitchen debate. Nixon was in Moscow for the American National Exhibit which featured an entire house filled with the latest labor-saving devices such as a dishwasher and lawnmower. Items that the U.S. exhibitors claimed anybody in the U.S. could afford. It was a display of capitalism at its best.

Thanks to YouTube, we have this video snippet of their exchange. What impressed me was Nixon's composure and diplomacy in the conversation although he was no pushover with Khrushchev. The later had more of an in-you-face, bombastic style. No surprise there.

How about your family? Did you folks have a dishwasher? We did too. Ours was the two-legged type.

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By the way, you might be interested in how to pronounce Khrushchev in Russian. It's different from the English pronunciation and the first few times I heard his name spoken here, I didn't recognize it.

Let's start with the easiest part . In Russian, the second syllable of Mr Nikita K's name is accented. And that changes how the "e" is pronounced. According to the rules of Russian pronunciation, when the letter "e" falls in the stressed syllable, its pronunciation changes from "ye" to "yo." Often in Russian, the accented "e" is shown with two dots over it. But not necessarily. Well mercy me, I see there's a "yo" right here on my keyboard. So here it is for you, ё.

The next thing in his name is harder to explain. That would be the first letter of the Mr. Nikita K's surname, which in Russian is the letter "Х." It looks like a letter in the English alphabet but don't let that fool ya. The Russian letter makes a very different sound.

Some Russian language books represent the sound by Kh, although that hardly does it justice. We don't have that sound in American English and, as per my language books, it's best explained by saying it's pronounced in the back of the throat. It's close to the gutteral "ch" sound in the Scottish word, loch. Which of course is a word we say quite often. Or maybe not.

That sound is similar to the sound made when a person clears the back of his throat and -- not to be crass -- and expectorates on the street. Which happens constantly here. Okay, so there you have it, the Russian letter "X." It's a little painful to say at first particularly for those of us who, you know, are not into expectorating anywhere, any time.

Well back to Mr K's name -- in Russian it's written Хрущёв. The Russian consonant "щ" is so efficient that it is represented by four English letters, "shch."

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Funny, I ran across a funny tidbit about Mr Krushchev a minute ago. Apparently Russian folk have coined a term for the apartment buildings Mr Krushchev built in order to alleviate the housing shortage. The term is a combination of his surname and the word for slum. Don't imagine that he mentioned that during the kitchen debate.


Jeanette said...

Oh, Eileen! I just love your blog. The clip of Khrushchev and Nixon is the perfect example of what my friend Natasha often tells me...Russians of that era in no way took Mr. K seriously. When he took off his shoe and banged it on the table, they all laughed at his buffoonery. I only remember him as someone fierce and rather frightening. Now...I see is WAS a buffoon. And Nixon knew it. (Why didn't he tell me?)

Eileen said...

Hey Jeannette, thanks for your commment. Now see, I had never heard that - that he was laughed at by Russians. Now you've got me interested in checking on that too.

Oh the shoe-banging incident. You know what I read somewhere - that an eyewitness of the event said that he did not remove a shoe to do that. That he had an extra shoe (houseshoe comes to mind) along for the occassion. Which would mean that he had the little drama planned and brought along his own props.


He IS buried in Red Square though as I recall. No no, I'm wrong on that. As I recall I wondered WHY I wasn't seeing grave there at Lenin's Mausoleum. Need to double-check...