27 August 2011

Gender, Moscow, Coffee, Language

Exciting things happen when Ethan wanders about Moscow!

Friday night, after teaching, several of us hung around the kiosk outside Language Link's building, drinking beers and deciding what to do. Brandon was really excited about this hookah bar he'd been to when he studied in Moscow, and wanted to go again. Belly dancers come out and perform every half hour, and the hookah is good (and well priced, and it lasts). We had meant to visit this place a couple of weekends ago, but didn't reach the metro in time. We decided to give it another go.

Turns out they have gender-neutral restrooms there. The waitstaff directed me to the туалет, where I only found one door. On the other side, there were two sinks, and two more floor-to-doorframe doors, which were individual stalls. The second time I used it (we stayed there for a while), I walked in and got behind another guy in line. When two women came in, he let them go in front of him in line. (He did not extend this offer to me.)

It was odd, and interesting and fun. There have been few moments in this country where I've interacted with people in a way that can give me a bearing on how they interpret my gender. So when the moments come, they're still fascinating.

It's actually not the first time I've seen gender-neutral restrooms. Last weekend, several of us went to a bar/club called Augie (I think?), where the dance floor occasionally turned into a mosh pit. Their restroom was basically the same construction, with the sinks along a small corridor.

Today brought even more fun!

I had met up with some other interns for dinner (we found a sixties-themed American-style restaurant, which surprisingly had normal-tasting ketchup). We were walking toward the metro when Ilya decided to give in to the temptations of Starbucks (which is hella expensive here), so our group went inside. I was feeling dehydrated, and settled on buying a tiny bottle of apple juice, so I waited behind Ilya in line.

When we got to the front of the queue, Ilya ordered his drink, and they wanted to write his name on the cup, so they asked what his name was. His name is Russian, but he's used to people in the US and other places not recognizing the name, so he often uses one of his middle names instead. He then remembered that it's Russia and they get 'Ilya' as a name, and had a short conversation with the woman at the till about where he was from and what he's doing in Russia.

So then, when I got to the till, she asked me about myself, too. The first question, of course, was 'What is your name?'

'Bethany,' I answered, not really thinking much.

'Patrick?' she asked, which is apparently what she heard over the din of the shop.

'Yes,' I said.

Since this was all happening in Russian, I then proceeded to switch all of the past tense verbs I used to masculine endings. It was not as hard as I'd expected. It was quite easy, in fact.

Russian is a much more gendered language than English. In the past tense, you conjugate verbs as either masculine, neuter, feminine, or plural, and many words that describe a person's position (student, teacher, waiter, etc.) are also gendered. I'd given thought to trying to practice using masculine endings, but was worried that it would lead to awkward situations. There's a bunch of things that I know how to say well enough that I can say them without thinking too much, which I say to give myself time to think about how to phrase more challenging things. I was worried that if I started using masculine pronouns and endings sometimes, that I'd start inadvertently saying them when I was with someone who perceives me as female.

Apparently, I'm much more conscious about using gendered language (even in Russian) than I thought.

Anyway, those have been some of the happiest moments of my weekend thus far.

I might find another yarn store tomorrow, which is a whole different sort of happiness.

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