Immersion Methods

“Chicken! Fingers!” Jen exclaims loudly, her finger jabbing the menu, as she glares up at our server. This is America, we speak American? No, this is Moscow, 1998. We speak … whatever the hell we want, apparently. We’re in the center of the city in a caf

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“Chicken! Fingers!” Jen exclaims loudly, her finger jabbing the menu, as she glares up at our server.

The server patiently repeats Jen’s order back to her, in Russian, scribbling in beautiful, loping, characteristically Eastern European swirls.

This is America, we speak American? No, this is Moscow, 1998. We speak … whatever the hell we want, apparently. We’re in the center of the city in a café so accommodating that each menu item is printed in Russian, German and English. And there are photographs of the food, too.

What’s enraging about this experience is that Jen and I have been here studying abroad for three months in intensive language training already, after two years of taking Russian classes back home: plenty of time to master ordering from a menu in a café.

But today we’re outside the classroom, and away from our immersion experience (complete with assumed identities, names, personal histories and vocations, you know, back stories to act as mnemonics), and damn it all if Jen isn’t going to show everyone that we are from America, where we excoriate our philandering president, tuck our white-sneakered feet up under ourselves in a restaurant and order in our own damn language. Loudly.

“Shoulda gone to McDonald’s,” she mutters. Her eyes roll at me knowingly, as though I am going to return the gesture and pile on with my own expressions of exasperation. Those Russians. They’re so, like, Russian.

The only reason Jen’s talking to me at all is because it’s exams time and she needs my help. We’ve decided, I guess, to study at this Western-style restaurant, because here you can order things like Chicken! Fingers!

The last three months, the eight other Americans on this study abroad have gathered in one chummy clump and separated themselves from me wherever and whenever possible. Looking back with more than a decade of hindsight, it’s easy to see why: I’m the youngest student on this trip, and I’m utterly na

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