Culture Lessons

The word for hose in Russian is “schlang”. When the short, stout Irina Leikina was addressing us in her mad bursts of Muscovite Russian, she demonstrated with her flying hands.

“And my son,” she bellowed. “He was pouring water out of the schlanga–” She gesticulated towards her groin, as if she were her tall, half Slavic half Jewish son, pouring water from a hose, at waist height.

The room erupted in laughter. She stopped abruptly, her dark eyebrows waggling, looking at each of us in turn. Black Navy uniforms, green for Army, light blue Air Force. Nearly everyone in the room was male, except for me and an Army Specialist sitting kitty-corner to me at the tables placed around the room.

“Vat is so funny?” She asked us in her sparse, heavily accented English. 

Don, whose last name I can’t remember, the highest ranking person in the room, a Warrant Officer, also the oldest, with a wife and kids already, spoke to her gently.

“The word schlong in English,” he said, face composed and only slightly pinking up, unlike that of the two blondish army guys giggling on either side of him, “the word schlong, is a slang word for penis in America–and you were gesturing at your, you know–” Don looked pointedly at Gospozha Leikina’s groin.

Her round face immediately bloomed into a deep red.

“It is German word.” She breathed heavily. “It is, word for–”  She looked at Don again. 

“Yes, yes it is, “ he said.  “It just sounds funny to us Americans.”

“Ah, I see.” Gospozha Leikina paused for a moment and wiped the sweat off her brow, turned to the chalkboard and began to write words with force and motion. She wrote the cursive heavily looped word SHLANG across the green board in white, then wrote an example of how to use the word properly, in any of the 8 cases that typically baffled native English speakers.

“Genitive case,” she said. VODA IZ SHLANGA. Water comes from hose. How do you say?” 

“Water from a hose.” Don nodded. “That’s how you say it.”

Gospozha Leikina nodded.

We turned back to our rapid note-taking, as she barrelled on, filling the board with words and phrases we had no idea we’d ever use.

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