The Russian

By Viv Vermaak

Sometimes I go to the pub and pretend to be Russian. I don’t know why.

You can learn a lot from being Russian. For one thing, you will notice the wine-purchasing offers from the assemblage of toppies around the bar increasing exponentially. Why would this be so? Is it the Russian accent? Perhaps images of mail-order brides they never had the courage to pursue and this is their chance – without paying for the stamp? Maybe. Through some careful data collection, I have also noticed that my Russian-speaking afflictions happen to strangely coincide with my rare and indiscriminate lipstick –wearing attacks. Is it that? It is hard to say. Being Russian is not an exact science.

Secondly, being Russian makes you understand Superman better. You know how Clark Kent could put on his glasses, and suddenly nobody recognized him. Being Russian is like that. Put on some lipstick and an accent and some people don’t recognize you. “For God’s sakes, *Gawie” I eventually blurted out to one guy, “You recognized me two weeks ago when I was Afrikaans!”

Most confounding to me though, is that I can only maintain fluent faux Russian for a few minutes. It is quite embarrassing, if you think about it. You see, I am almost entirely talking gibberish when I am ‘Russian’, so, technically speaking, I have linguistic carte blanche. The Russian Cyrillic alphabet contains 33 letters, seven more than what we are used to. We only have 26 letters in the English alphabet, (probably only 20 in Germiston) but the combination of them could produce the Bible, 24 Wilbur Smith novels and regrettably, the Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Painters really only have red, blue and yellow – yet they produced the Sistine Chappel, Mona Lisa and The Spear. Basically, in the pub in Germiston – I have a blank canvass and all the linguistic artistic tools too my disposal to create a Tolstoy-esque masterpiece – and I yield a murky blob in a corner of a bumper sticker. I should be able to speak bullshit indefinitely and no Germiston dronkie would know the difference, but that is not how it works. I am often busted by an ill-placed Afrikaans saying. When the game is up, the sheepish grins on the men’s faces overwhelm their wolf-like leers and Madame Ba-booze-ka Kablondski goes back to paying for her own drinks.

It doesn’t help that I am totally unprepared for these excursions. Madame Kablondski arrives without warning. Further, I know only a few Russian words, phrases I learned when I did Russian Martial Arts.

– Kak dilah (Как дела?) (similar to ‘Howzit’)

– Spasibo Garashon (Спасибо, хорошо.) (similar to: hundreds, my china)

– Kak abuchna (Как обычно.) ( as usual, similar: just the depth varies)

(Aside: Isn’t it weird how both Russian and Afrikaans have the word ‘kak’ in them, spelled the same and both have more than one meaning?)

So mostly I stick to English with various ‘ush’es and ‘ka’s’ thrown in.

And here is where things get interesting.

The other day I was in the pub. Ba-booze-ka was not there. I was making small talk with a new group of people when we noticed a guy performing exotic dance maneuvres on the dance floor, mostly with himself. On a sobriety scale of 1 to 10 I rated him about 3 feet higher than God.

Nobody knew him, but he looked interesting enough and introduced himself in a foreign language. “How exciting. A foreigner in our pub!” thought the group. “What bullshit, I thought. “Which language is he speaking?” someone asked. “He is speaking Russian,” I said. “I speak Russian too.” Then I launched into a vigorous conversation with the man in fluent Russian. Shame, he did not really want to be Russian. It sounded like he really wanted to be French or German, but when two bullshitters make eye contact, you go with the flow and I was the stronger of the two. I regaled the group with my impressive display of Russian and tales of courage in my Russian Martial Arts classes, but a bout of Boerski soon burst our Russian bubble.

“Awe, my bru?! That’s not Russian,” exclaimed the man next to me. I eyed the man disapprovingly. The game was up. After that, the ‘Russian’ skulked off to the bar and minded his own business.

I laughed and wondered whether somewhere in Irkutsk or Dablonsk there was a chick going into a bar pretending to be from Germiston.

Na Zdroivie!


– Do not try any of these techniques outside of Germiston. I doubt anybody else will fall for this shit

– Do not use the words AK47 more than three times in a sentence. It will sound suspicious.

– Arm wrestle them when the least expect that. The illusion of your superior physical power over them will tilt the scales in your favour.

– If there are any dead animals around (real or fake) wear them. A Russian in a James Bond movie once wore fur and toppies of the time still recall that image.

– Do some homework. Think about your name, where you come from etc. It is very embarrassing when someone asks you which town you are from and a non-Russian has to explain to you that Stalingrad does not exist anymore – and hasn’t for decades.

– Practice your accent. I sometimes find myself sprinkling Chinese or other spices in. “Did you just speak Russian with a Zulu accent?” asked one person incredulously.

– The most important insight I can share with you about being ‘Russian’ is:

DO NOT BE YOURSELF, BE SOMEONE ELSE FOR A CHANGE. Don’t overthink it. Just be it. And allow your fake you come from within you. If it does not come from within, it is not your real fake you.

(*Names of people have been changed to protect their identity. However, due to the high per capita population of Gawie, Dawie, Jan and Frikkie’s I am probably implicating another person by protecting the other.)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.