Thursday, July 21, 2016


people frequently want to know how well i knew english when I came to the US in 1996.
here's an email conversation with Dave from October 25, 1996, two months after my arrival.
Dave> i woke up late today and only when my friend ted came in and told me he found a girl becky in the hallway at 4:30 in the morning, puking and bleeding out her nose, and covered in mud, and convulsing (shaking), and not speaking english, and he took her in his room . . . and she is almost conscious!
Olga> The story Ted told you was really nice, exept one moment which i didn't understand well: what was she doing in the corridor at 4:30? I mean, what had happened with her, that she was in so bad condition?
(AKA: Dave thought I wouldn't understand the word "convulsing" and so explained it as "shaking." In fact, "convulsing" may have been the only word of his email I understood quite well: its Latin root has spawned a Russian word with similar meaning. I must've understood "bleeding" and so knew he was describing somebody who was in "bad condition," but I was so confused about the emotional charge of this narrative that the most appropriate words I found in response were "the story was really nice." Nice!)
Dave> haha okay the girl was PISS DRUNK and she had alcohol poisoning :) i met her this morning. She is very cute and very FUCKED UP (please excuse my language). she is probably still asleep on our floor :)
i interpret Dave's "haha" and the smiley face as sheer incredulity at how much i didn't understand.
alcoholism was a major problem at RIT. people drank cheap beer in astonishing quantities. my roommate drank so much in the fall that by the spring she developed cirrhosis of the liver. but that's a different story.

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