Sunday, October 2, 2011

Our Crazy, Cross-Cultural Kid

Dietrich is doing some amazing stuff linguistically as he continues to adjust to a 3-language environment (English, Russian and Ukrainian). Here are some of the funniest.

1. Он меня обидел (Ohn menya obeedel)
"He offended/insulted me" or "He hurt my feelings." The verb is pretty flexible in Russian but I don't think it's as flexible as it is when Dietrich uses it. When you ask Dietrich about his day, he usually talks about whether or not anyone at school did anything bad. Vlad took away Dima's toy. Vlad pushed Nastya down. Vlad threw sand at Sasha. (There are 2 Vlads in Dietrich's class and one or the other of them is the cause of 90% of the problems. We expect that these Vlads aren't the villains they seem to be on Dietrich's telling.) Now, when we're at home, we let Dietrich tell us about these things in English. But when we're on the street, we ask Dietrich to speak quietly, if he's speaking in English, or to speak in Russian. He'll often choose to speak in Russian about these things when we're out and about. He loves to start every account with the phrase, "So-and-so offended/insulted/hurt the feelings of so-and-so." After we ask for clarification he goes on to tell us the details. It's not often something were the verb "to offend," "to insult" or even "to hurt one's feelings" seems to be the best choice. When taking a way a toy, pushing someone down and throwing sand are all lumped together into the word "обидел," it's a sign that either everyone in his class is more concerned about being offended than anything else or that we need to help him expand his vocabulary a bit in this area. But I wouldn't want to offend him by proposing that. We'll just work on it in subtle ways.

2. Excessive punishment
One of the more troublesome stories that Dietrich told a few weeks ago was about a boy who, for starters, took off his slipper (slippers here have pretty hard soles) and hit another boy above the eye with it. The hitter then struck the same boy with his fist in the same spot above the eye. And just to make sure the job was done, he picked up the slipper and threw it at the same boy and hit him in the same spot. One of those actions caused the victim to start bleeding. Horrible, shocking story. We followed up by asking if the boy was punished/disciplined in any way (there is only one Russian word for punishment/discipline, which makes the theological distinction a bit tricky, but that's a topic for another post). Dietrich said that he was not allowed to come back to school. We asked how long he had to stay away from school. Dietrich told us that he had to stay away for 40 years! While feeling very sorry for the poor boy who had been stuck so many times, we had a lot of fun imagining a 5-year-old who, after being banned from school for 40 years, finally gets to go back to kindergarten at age 45. Sounds like the plot of an Adam Sandler movie. Since the aggressor is back at school, we assume that Dietrich misunderstood something. That makes guessing why D came up with the 40-year punishment all the more fun.

3. Why stop at 3?
On weekday afternoons, Dietrich is allowed to watch 30-minutes of something educational. Only on the weekends is he allowed to watch a feature-length cartoon. At some point, in order to help his Russian/Ukrainian language acquisition, we decided that he could watch 30 minutes of a feature-length cartoon during the week, if he watched it in Russian or Ukrainian. He doesn't choose that often but I've come home to him watching, Cars, Finding Nemo, Toy Story 2 or 3 in Russian or Ukrainian, only later to hear him playing with toys and using words, phrases and sentences in one of those languages mixed in with his English. Success. Until a few weeks ago. We borrowed Aladdin from some other missionaries and I, jokingly, told him that I was going to play it in Polish (region 5 DVDs come dubbed into a number of Eastern European languages). After answering his question, "what's Polish?" I played it in English and didn't give the conversation a second thought. The following weekend I had been out somewhere and came home while Dietrich was watching Aladdin. I was, as usual, trying to tune it out, but something wasn't right. I listened and couldn't understand a thing. Dietrich's obvious and nonchalant answer to my puzzled inquiry about what language he was watching the movie in has had me baffled to this day. I'd say he watched Aladdin, in Polish, all the way through, about 6-7 times. Masochist or future linguist? You make the call.

We love our little guy and are very thankful to God for how well he is doing with the confusing and complicated MK life he is leading. These and many other moments like them simultaneously lighten the mood and keep us grounded in reality.

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