What did they just say?

One of the great things about studying abroad in St. Petersburg is that the world-famous Hermitage is free for anyone with a student ID.

Kris’ student ID in Russia

All of the guides are fully bilingual in English and Russian, and know every detail about every floor, window, article of clothing, and gift from the Grand Duchy of Wherever in 17XX.

A friend of mine went on an English-language tour and told me this story. The guide was giving the full rundown on a room, when they got to one piece of furniture, which they said “is made of, um, some sh*t.” Without missing a beat, as though nothing had happened, they then moved the tour along.

The group had no idea how to react. What’s going on? The guide’s English is immaculate, they must know what they just said. Was it a joke?

My friend had a hunch, so he looked in his pocket dictionary for самшит – S-A-M-Sh-I-T – which is the Russian word for “boxwood.”

I think about this story a lot at ATC. If I hear a word or name I’m pretty sure I know how to spell, I always Google it anyway just to be safe. If a speaker says something that doesn’t quite add up, I think about the context. Are these database engineers really saying “sequel” a hundred times, or is there some industry jargon/acronym they’re using? (In this case, SQL.)

As the old Russian proverb goes, trust but verify, otherwise you may end up stuck in самшит.

-Kris

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