Mountains out of Molehills

Today marks Day Six of the Maslenitsa Blini Challenge. As I previously mentioned, Maslenitsa is essentially a week-long Fat Tuesday to prepare for Lent and to celebrate the beginning of Spring. I promised myself not a day of Maslenitsa would pass without blini consumption. And so I frequent Teremok, the finest/cheapest/most omnipresent blini institution in all of Petersburg.

While I love Teremok, I’m not sure how much their staff love me, the typical dumb American. One time, I began my order as follows: “I want two: a ham/cheese & a caramel apple.“ Unfortunately, the Russian language does not have articles. So when I received my receipt, to my dismay, there was an order for two ham & cheese blinis, and one caramel apple. To fix my order or just let it go? When I mustered up the courage to re-approach the cashier, I pointed to the number two, and explained I only want one ham & cheese blini. “But you said two,” she responded, rightly so. What I wanted to say was: Yes, two in total. Unfortunately, I didn’t know how to say “in total.” So I tried to get around it using vocabulary I do know, but here is where my memory fails me. I responded in one of two ways:

I either came off as a) a somewhat presumptuous blini addict or b) redundant and condescending.

It’s really easy to magnify your failures and feel like you will never be competent enough to earn anyone’s respect. But at the same time, it’s surprisingly easy to magnify your successes. Little things that have no sentimental value at home can make me feel like I’m on top of the world. For instance, buying cheese. I bought myself 200 grams of sliced cheddar cheese, with no noticeable grammar mistakes. No doubt cheese brings me joy at home, but it does not come with the same sense of sheer accomplishment.

Then, on Wednesday, I had an incredibly successful piano lesson! And while I’m really proud of the progress I made in my piece, I’m even more proud of my confidence interacting with my teacher. Normally, before I open my mouth in Russian class, a knot forms in my stomach and I rehearse what I am going to say. But throughout the whole piano lesson, I didn’t get that intimidating, sickening feeling once! I just spoke.

The real accomplishment came on Thursday: I understood almost all of my Freud class, in which I’m the only American student! I was just one step behind the professor; by the time I’d remember the translation of one word, she would be farther along in her sentence. Consequently, I missed a lot of the actual ideas, concepts, and facts. But when I’m able to stop translating and simply absorb information, I’ll really be able to take this class like a настоящая русская студентка (true Russian student).

The thing about studying Russian, as my friend so aptly pointed out, is that you can’t win. You can’t master it. You can just tread water fast enough to stay afloat. So I need to stop being so hard on myself when I accidentally order two ham & cheese blini instead of one, and instead concentrate on the little yet ever monumental milestones as they come. I just have to consciously make an effort to make mountains of only the good molehills, really appreciating the baby steps of progress. And, at the end of the semester, when I sum up all those little accomplishments, I hope it’ll be impressive enough that I won’t need to exaggerate. Even to my harshest critic, myself.

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