Вы говорите по-английски? (Translated: Do you speak English)

The answer, for the most part to that question, is niet.

I used to say, if you can speak English or French, there isn’t a place in the world where you can’t communicate. Boy, was I wrong.

Saturday was the first test of just how challenging it will be to communicate here in Sochi. The assignment: a simple story about tourist preparations.

All I needed were shots of the souvenir stores opening, the Olympic Mascots and nik-naks, a clip from Sochi Tourism and a few interviews with regular people excited about the Games.

In Canada, I can do that story in an hour and not break a sweat. Here in Russia, the roadblocks came fast and furious.

First of all, I tried the tourism official. Simple, right? Maybe someone from the local chamber of commerce or maybe from the city’s tourism board.

“No, impossible. Submit questions in writing, wait until next week. Maybe.” Or Я не говорю по-английски (translated: I don’t speak English).

Sochi sign

So, now to the regular people, interviews we call streeters! I’m good at that. Right? My usual weapons: all non-verbal – give a smile, make a welcoming gesture. Then, “Can I ask you a question?”

Well, forget what powers of persuasion I thought I had. Stone-faced and in no joking mood. All of my attempts fell flat.

Not one to give up, I tried and tried. Do you speak? Niet! A little bit? Niet! A simple yes or no? Niet, niet!

So, beaten down and frustrated we took a break. Lunch time, get a nice little something to eat, recharge and get back out there.

Well, lunch was no picnic.

We go to a sea-side restaurant with pictures of kabobs, fish and BBQ chicken on the windows. Perfect. We sit down, menus dropped off and this is what we see! Clear as mud, right!?

Lunch menu in Sochi

Then the waitress comes over, starts into a monologue of epic proportions before I cut her off and say, we don’t speak Russian. She shrugs her shoulders, “Niet?” and then again starts talking a mile a minute.

I point to the picture. Gesture, one for me and one for my cameraman. She gestures two. We nod our heads: yes.

She is back 40 minutes later with food. Different-looking food than what was pictured. And four of them!

Again I gesture one plus one equals two, she responds two for me and two for the cameraman.

So, we choke down the strange meaty offering, pay our bill (twice the price we expected) and head back out to continue looking for people who speak English.

With full bellies we come up with a new plan. A hand-written note in English posted on the camera asking if you speak English.

It didn’t work. Nothing.

English sign in Sochi

Just a few kids came up, tried to read it, laughed and retreated back into the crowd.

Back to the disheartening process of approaching every person going by.

By luck, I found a shop owner who spoke “little English.” Great! Can you do me a favour, can you come with me outside and translate for us when we ask people questions? Sure. Unbelievably, she shut her store and followed us. SUCCESS!

After 10 minutes, we were rolling, just what we needed. And we even found a few more people who spoke English! Done and done.

A BIG thank you – спасибо - to the woman who helped us.

If you want to see the result of this frustrating day, watch the clip.