Sunday, March 9, 2014

(The) Ukraine

Every once in a while, I make an effort to read the news.  I subscribe to two online newspapers (The New York Times and The Globe and Mail), and my motivation to log in and pay attention tends to peak just after I receive my monthly Visa bill. Once I've been reminded that money is being sucked out of my pocket, I temporarily feel that I may as well use the services that I'm paying for.

I'm following the situation in Ukraine with interest.  (Everyone used to call that country "The Ukraine", and the recently-invaded peninsula "The Crimea", but now it's just Ukraine and Crimea.  I can understand how the extra "The" got added by listening to my co-worker who immigrated from the-area-formerly-known-as-Yugoslavia.  She has a tendency to use "the" in front of every noun, proper or no.  For example, we have a lady called Dana who comes by once per month to do complicated stuff with our invoices.  My co-worker refers to her as "The Dana".  As in "The Dana will be coming here on Friday."  So it's no wonder that we got confused about Ukraine and Crimea - immigrants from that area were throwing in that extra "The" 'cause that's how they roll, and we figured they must be correct because they're from there.)

Politics in eastern Europe is incredibly complicated, but I'm starting to get a handle on it.  It helps that I'm currently reading a book about Russia during the transition from communism to capitalism. It's fascinating stuff.  It has shed some light on why the Russian immigrant customers at my work are difficult to deal with.  In communist Russia, according to this book, the counter in a state-controlled retail establishment or government-run office was a barrier separating enemies.  Getting anything, for example a package of toilet paper, or permit for whatever, was like pulling teeth.  Only the people with the most persistence and the best connections prospered.  It was a Darwinian system that selected for bulldog-like stubbornness.  At my work, we try to explain that in Canada "I'm sorry but I can't do that for you" won't change if they stand at the counter for another 45 minutes badgering us, but it's a tough sell.  I guess the less insistent Russians are all still in Russia, because they wouldn't have had enough tenacity and resources to emigrate.

(Trust me, that's not intended as an insult to the Russians in Russia.  God knows I couldn't have survived there with anything resembling my mental health intact.)

In case you haven't been following the story, here's my version in a nutshell.  As I understand it, Ukraine is broke.  Will the country be bailed out by Russia or by "The West"?  Which is another way of asking: who is going to end up with all of the political power over Ukraine?  Russia has called dibs and moved troops in.  The U.N. has condemned the move, and demanded that Russia withdraw.  Putin has responded by basically saying "Troops?  What troops?  Oh, those guys aren't mine.  They're some other guy's guys.  I can't control them."  It's kind of a like a kid standing in front of you with his hands over his eyes, saying "You can't seeeeee meeeee!".  The U.S. Department of State has published a simple, helpful document which gives more details.

Anyway, basically life is pretty rough over in eastern Europe, and I am feeling grateful to my great-grandparents for emigrating from Russia and Poland to Canada.  They got out just in the nick of time.  Otherwise I might have been the one who had to escape in dangerous circumstances with only one suitcase to hold everything I own, and hardly knowing any English.  I might be the one calling our invoicing lady "The Dana".


Munir said...

I know a couple of very nice Russian ladies. They are ever so grateful to have moved to the US.

LL Cool Joe said...

My younger daughter goes to a Boarding school, and apparently most of the new kids joining the school are Russian. Times are a-changing.

Warped Mind of Ron said...

The Ron thinks maybe he should order a Russian mail order bride. But not a male order... need to be careful there.

Granny Annie said...

I have no opinion because I am from the US and we are turtles with our heads pulled inside our shells on this one. It is embarrassing that no one can look to us for any guidance on this world crisis. God forgive us and God bless those of you who know this is a serious situation.

Jenski said...

It's great that the book you're reading is also giving you insight into your customers. It certainly helps to understand people if you understand where they are coming from! I admit, I only know the surface of the situation in the Ukraine. Call me crazy, though, when I say it doesn't make sense that sending in troops (and pretending not to) is a good step towards bailing out a neighbor.

Vanessa T said...

I haven't been following the situation there. I mean, I see it in the news, but I haven't taken an up-close look like you have.

Like you, there are a few people in our church who have emigrated from that general region. It has a long history, and not all of it pleasant.

When I was a girl, the big thing was a book by a man named Richard Wurmbrand, who had escaped the USSR.

As far as Ukraine, I suspect it's going to get worse before it gets better, and Lord only knows if it'll get better any time soon. Lots of prayers being said for the people there.

Lynn said...

The world is a scary place right now. I admire you for reading into this so deeply.

I used to work for an immigration law firm and that is a common thing among ESL people - saying things like "The Dana." One man also used to refer to himself as He. "And they told him he never has to go back to +++ again."

Jerry E Beuterbaugh said...

It is also awkward to me to hear mention of Ukraine, instead of it being the Ukraine. Although, I don't know about us getting that from easterner European immigrants. For as far as I know, it is always been the United States of America while it has always been just America--not the America.