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19 September 2018

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Russian and Not Russian

Author: Julie Masis
Illustrations/Images by Susanne Kries

July/Aug 2016
Page 50   ( 8 pages)

Summary: Ukraine’s bustling Black Sea port is one of that country’s most Russian of cities. And while there seems to be some dispute about how old the city is, there is no disputing that Odessa is distinctly Odessan.


Anywhere else in the world, a shop might post a sign that says, “Do not touch.” But in Odessa, the handwritten sign says, “Do not look with your hands.”

Other places, a workplace kitchen might have a notice that says, “Clean up after yourself.” But in Odessa, the sign says, “Be grateful you have hands! For many people in the world, doing dishes is far more difficult!”

Elsewhere on our planet, neighbors might put up a sign that says, “Clean up after your pet.” But in Odessa, a note on a fence reads, “Highly respected dogs and dog-owners: please do not urinate on our beautiful flowers!”

In other cities, a youth hostel might post a rule stating that fighting will not be tolerated. But in Odessa, hostelers are warned, “If you don’t like your roommate, inform the administrator. Those who attempt to resolve disputes independently will be executed.”

In Odessa, everything is a joke.

“Why do you want to go there?” my relatives asked, when I informed them I had bought a one-way ticket to the famous city on the Black Sea.

“Odessa is not the same,” they warned. “You are not going to like it.”

But to help me out, my father started doing research, to see if we might, by any chance, still have family in Odessa. After calling around, my father discovered, or re-discovered, that he has a second cousin: Uncle Isaac, better known as Isya, whose late mother was my late grandmother’s cousin. Uncle Isya met my father once, about 50 years ago, when they were both too young to remember. When my father phoned him to tell him that his American daughter was coming to Odessa, Uncle Isya inquired, “Can she speak Russian?”

My father replied proudly that his daughter speaks not only Russian, but also French and English.

To that, Uncle Isya said, “Do you know the joke?” And not waiting for my father to answer, he proceeded to tell it:

Young lady: “So you say you can speak French?”


“So say something in French!”

“Hände hoch!”

“But that’s German!”

“OK, so I can also speak German.”

Then Uncle Isya laughed at his own joke.

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