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Guest Post: Russian Protocol for Safe Travel

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Note: If you are reading this post, then we are in Israel and I am definitely not posting anytime soon because I am too busy eating falafel/singlehandedly fighting Hamas.    Today’s guest post is from Marinka, who is also a Russian Jew, and therefore also inherently awesome.  Except, she also has kids AND a cat named Nicki, all of which she deals with deftly and with a sharp wit, so she might just be more awesome than me.  Maybe.

The first time my American- born husband left our marital abode for a business trip, I was certain that he was going to detour into town to get an emergency annulment.  Because he thought that he could just walk out the door, with a goodbye kiss to me and an “I’ll email when I land,” completely and totally disregarding the Russian Protocol for Safe Travel.  I mean, I can’t guarantee the safety of the flight if he refuses to follow it.

“You didn’t sit on your suitcase,” I tried.
“What’s that now?” he paused at the door.
“Your suitcase, you just picked it up. You have to sit on it,” I knew that I sounded mildly insane, but I’m sure the Wright Brothers got a few odd looks in their time, too.
“On my suitcase?” He asked.  Did I just not clearly say that he has to sit on his suitcase?  Was my new groom not particularly bright?
“It’s good luck,” I explained.  I was hoping that this would suffice and that I wouldn’t have to get pen and paper for the visuals.
“OK,” he said, slowly.  Like he was a hostage negotiator or something. “I will sit on the suitcase.”
He sat on his suitcase and we looked at each other.
“Now you’re supposed to say “ne pucha, ni pera,” I alerted him.
“…”
“NE PUHA, NI PERA,” I used the time-tested technique of saying the foreign words louder to make the other person understand.
“Pe tuca, caravan,” he said. Or something that made a complete mockery of the Russian Protocol for Safe Travel.
“NE PUHA NI PERA, NE PUHA NI PERA, GOD!  I’m not asking you to split the atom here!”
“What does it mean?” suddenly my husband became an anthropologist.
“It means ” ‘Neither fuzz, nor feathers’.  Why do you ask?”
“Because I don’t understand what the Russian means, although your translation doesn’t exactly clear it up for me.”
“Oh, that,” I chuckled at his innocence.  “Yes, you’re supposed to say that to hunters when they go to hunt.  Sort of a may you not hunt any animal or bird that has fuzz or feathers.”
“Doesn’t that means that you are wishing them an unsuccessful hunt?” He asked.  It was starting to seem to me that our entire courtship was just a pretense until he got that ring on my finger and now he could start the interrogation about all things Russian.
“Not really,” I explained.  “Because you’re sort of saying this sarcastically.  Like, you’re really wishing them the opposite.  Like lots of animals with fuzz and feathers.”
He didn’t seem reassured.
“And what does the hunt for these mythological creatures have to do with my taking a flight this afternoon?”
“It’s just a short way of saying “have a good flight!” ”
“It doesn’t seem like a short way.”
“Well, not with all the explanations, no.  Usually we just say it and go on our way.  The tutorial is extra.”
“Got it.”
“Ne puha, ni pera.” I reminded him.
“Ne puhu, nu pura,” he said.  Close enough.
“K chertu,” I said.
“That wasn’t a sneeze, right?”
“No.”
“What did you say?”
” ‘Go to hell’,” I motioned him to get up.
“That’s nice.”
“That’s what you’re supposed to say.  You’re supposed to send to hell that wish that your hunt is unsuccessful.”
“Got it.  Are we done now?”
“Almost.”
“Almost?”
“I just remembered that the person staying behind should say “ne puha, ni pera” and the person leaving should say “k chertu”,” I confessed.  “So sit back down on the suitcase, and I’ll say “ne puha, ni pera” and you’ll say ‘k chertu’.”
“Make it “go to hell;” he said, “And you’ve got yourself a deal.”

6 Comments Join the Conversation

  1. “go the hell” – really? Why would you not send your wish to Heaven? Is it the whole opposite thing – have a crappy hunt and I send this wish to be realized with the help of the devil?

    I guess this is like “break a leg” before someone goes onstage. I suppose that is Russian in origin too.

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  2. I am laughing so hard at this that stomach hurts. Also, I just read the whole thing aloud to my husband, who also laughed. Also, I was thinking “break a leg” too, just like Amy! We must be channeling all things Russian.

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  3. This is an excellent summary of Russian travel procedures! However, I call for a follow-up post detailing optional steps that were omitted here, such as looking in the mirror before leaving, sitting down and having tea even though your train leaves in 20 minutes, and each traveler exclaiming “With God!” when you are about to embark on a trip. And, of course, the frequent wood-tapping and over-the-shoulder spitting that should occur before, after and throughout the trip.

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  4. I have to commend you on your patients while explaining this time honored tradition (yes I too hear TRADITION as sung by Tevia). I had a similar experience years ago with my then American boyfriend and his whole immediate family. We were all traveling, I made them sit for the road, “for good luck” and lets just say that was the WORST trip ever recorded in history for all of us. They still (10+ years later) blame me for all the mishaps. I say, it was their skepticism that negated any possible luck we would have experienced and not the absurdity our time outstanding and age old tradition. Thanks for document the experience and for everyone confirming my actions.

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