13 February 2008

Life is Getting Better

I was reading Saxifraga's blog the other day and she mentioned that her Russian colleague saying "life is not too bad" which reminded me of my Russian colleague who could always be counted on, when asked how he was doing after some rather unfortunate incident - such as fur seals biting our Zodiac in half in the middle of the Bering Sea and barely getting rescued by a fishing crew, or watching the Russian fishing vessel we almost chartered go up in flames and sink in the harbor while we stood on the bridge of another vessel, or even as falling off a cliff and breaking his arm - "life is getting better" (best said in a Russian accent). On one trip which seemed to have more then the usual allotment of frustrating circumstances this saying became our mantra.

Another example of Russian humor: this boat is named the Titanic (2006)

He claimed it was a "very famous Russian saying" and so I asked him how it originated. Here's the story as he told it "There was a Russian man who was an alcoholic, who smoked a lot, and who had no more money so he decided to commit suicide. He went into a public toilet to do so and while he was there he thought he might as well use the toilet first. While peeing he saw a pack of very fine cigars and thought, I will smoke this first. When he was done with the smoking he saw a bottle of the finest Russian vodka, and he thought I will drink this first. Then, having smoked the cigars and drunk the vodka, he said to himself, why should I commit suicide? Life is getting better."

The tale is an interesting insight into Russian humor, humor being one of the cultural things that I fins people are the last to fully grasp. To most North Americans it's a rather grim tale. Every Russian I know laughs uproariously at this tale. However, when I found myself upside down like a turtle in a hole with a 30lb pack on the Russians I was with found it most disturbing that I was laughing so hard I could hardly release the pack from my back - this an American style of humor; to laugh at oneself when one is in trouble. Anyway, I wonder, if that was the same story that Saxifraga's colleague was thinking of?

* * * * *

I have been given a lovely award from Hypoglycemia Girl at her 366 blog, the E award for excellent blogging. She says it's for my amazing photos and fascinating stories! Awww... really?The Mad Hatter and CAE of VWXYNot? also awarded me the E, with the latter saying that I write "wonderfully evocative descriptions of a life that is very different from my own and that often makes me yearn for those higher latitudes." I am most honored. Thanks to all of you! Hmm...it's tough deciding who to pass this on to, many of you are deserving of it... I think though that I will pass it on to Hel and her Truth Cycles for all the lovely walks she takes me on and to Matriarch for her detour as Redstocking where she boldly explored US politics.


  1. "life is getting better"

    i need to meditate on that.

  2. Great story. I think I need more Russian humor in my life.

  3. What does it mean that I LOL and thought that story was enormously entertaining?

    I think it might mean that I have a Russian disposition.

    Believe it or not, I have been accused of that.

    As you can imagine, sometimes that doesn't fit too well in the US.


    Congrats on the E!

  4. Love the story! I can even hear it in a Russian acccent in my head. :-) Interesting how humor is so culture dependent.

  5. that's a great story. I'm a great fan of Chekhov, although it took me a while to get the humor. the first time I read his play Uncle Vanya I was like "comedy? what comedy?"

  6. jen, sometimes it's exactly the story you need.

    liv, meditate away...

    dancingfish, indeed.

    julie, nothing wrong with that! And thanks for the congratulations! My second award ever!

    mad hatter, it's so much better in a Russian accent. I've long learned that the final steps to fluency include counting spontaneously in that language beyond twenty and laughing at their jokes.

    maypole, exactly! What's the last Chekhov play you were in?

  7. Thanks for the story, and yes, it may well be the one my colleague was referring to. We also use the "life is not too bad" saying as a bit of a mantra in the field. I think I have developed a taste for Russian humour over the years and I totally get this one. I also hear it with a Russian accent-. Thanks for sharing.

    I'm going to reply to your email soon. I just returned from Russia last night (short trip this time) and am catching up on blogs.

  8. I can appreciate this strain of humour. Whenever I feel like life is getting too much and things are looming over my life like huge bowls of cold still to be eaten porridge I allow myself to contemplate suicide. When having to make the choice between an imperfect life and no life at all perfection suddenly does not seem quite so important anymore.

    But when I share this excellent strategy with others they always look at me rather strangely.

    Thank you for my beautiful award. I am truly honored.

    And happy.

  9. saxifraga, welcome home! I thought you would enjoy this and I thought about sending it in an email but figured that others would enjoy it too.

    hel, you deserve it! And yes, I agree, an imperfect life, no matter how bad, is a big improvement over the alternative!

  10. "I've long learned that the final steps to fluency include counting spontaneously in that language beyond twenty and laughing at their jokes."

    That's a pretty good definition of fluency. It took me awhile to begin understanding American humor, but I am pretty sure I am doing my part in sharing Eastern European humor with those around me (too bad my Ukrainian accent is weakening - it used to add more zing to the matter).

    Oh, and that story is great :)

  11. ScienceGirl, I thoroughly enjoy the (presumably Soviet era) Ukrainian and Russian anecdotes on your site! And Wayfarer, thanks for the further excellent examples!

    I've also had the experience of seeing completely bemused foreigners wondering why I'm finding my own misfortunes so amusing. Vive le difference!

  12. I always find explorations of cultural humor so cool. This was no exception.


  13. sciencegirl, thanks! I've definately enjoyed the stories over your way too.

    cae, I agree, sciencegirl has some awesome stories.

    jocelyn, thanks! I like your new thumbnail avatar!

  14. That really is a good story.. and I've heard similar ones from Russians. I like that tinge of reality.


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