''The WC guests asked why people in Russia didn’t speak English and why they told their country off''

A Kazan family hosted foreigners during the WC and observed how they were surprised at our home cellar and adore salted food

''The WC guests asked why people in Russia didn’t speak English and why they told their country off''

School teacher Elena Agley, her husband, five-month baby and a cat hosted fans in their house during the FIFA World Cup and shared hospitality and joy of life with Kazan's guests. In a column of Realnoe Vremya, the young mother tells how Colombians were sincerely surprised at the dug cellar and exchanged their coffee for Tatar chak-chak, while Iranians were amazed at beds in the garden and home food supplies and simultaneously asked why Russians didn't speak English and tell their country off so much.

Part 1. Preparation

''I have an idea of how to brush up our English,'' my husband came home once in April. Our language skills are lower than intermediate level (as it seemed to us): he doesn't know the rules but practises speaking with a group and a teacher at work, while I haven't had any practice for three years already with a diploma in translation.

The idea was to offer two rooms in our house through a site, provided we lived in the same place but on the second floor. Firstly, this seemed to be absurd: there are so many hotels, inns, hostels and flats designed to be rented, who will want to come to a private house in the suburbs of the city, moreover, live with the hosts who, in addition, have a baby and a cat? But having looked at prices for accommodation during the Cup per night, I began to understand there would be people who would like to. We filled in a form on an international site, took photos of the rooms and started to wait.

The first booking came from Colombia just a couple of days later. It seemed to me it didn't happen so, we could see something similar only in Oryol i Reshka travel series, we even didn't confirm the booking immediately – there was both nervousness and even some fear. But we decided to run the risk and approved it. There were also bookings from India and the USA (Miami), we also confirmed them. But the people denied then without depending on us. Guys from Iran became the second company (for earlier dates): a young man studied in Kazan, his friends were going to come to see him. We also doubted here but approved the booking. A new question arose: how to accommodate them? We felt we're hosts of a small inn then: we thought about beds, sheets, clean-up of shared places (kitchen, shower, toilet), even our own regime of the day and work schedule and a variety of other details – this all came through in our talks from time to time.

Part 2. Guests from Iran

It's morning, we're waiting for the guests. They're coming by taxi. My husband had a phone call in which he was said in fluent Russian: ''We're here''. ''Wow, it turns out they speak Russian,'' we thought, and my husband went outside to welcome them. I should say beforehand that our house has a character ''a'', it's not on the map, this is why GPS shows a house with the ''integral'' number, while it's leaning and shabby, to put it mildly. Imagine the indescribable amazement of the guys and the thought: ''So we've been deceived''. Then they talked, the stories about how ghost flats that were rented and foreigners were deceived came to their mind.

The guests arrived, and here we knew it was the taxi driver who spoke with us in fluent Russian. The guys spoke only English! We introduced ourselves at the table drinking tea: the young man studied in Kazan, his sister with her fiancé and a friend from Singapore came to see him. They'd been in the city for several days already and came to stay a night with us. The language barrier depressed first. But just thirty minutes later you begin to talk without hesitation. Here is it, real immersion into the linguistic environment! They were interested in our daily life most: what we ate for breakfast/lunch/dinner, how we lived in a private house – beds in the garden caused unabashed delight (they went and took photos), while home food supplies (courgette varenye, pickled honey fungus and salted cucumbers) were just an ecstasy of taste.

As the guys had already seen the city and gone to watch a football match, we offered them to go to Sky-Blue Lake. The guests weren't ready for such a water temperature: they looked with terror and amazement at how both women and kids were swimming! One of them anyway even crossed the lake under the rapturous applause of both his friends and other visitors of the reserve.

We'd like to pay attention to two aspects that our guests were interested in: why people in Russia don't speak the English language and why they tell their country off so much. When they heard that English was studied at school throughout the course and several times a week, they were shocked, as they'd seen many times when they couldn't get a reply even to elementary questions (where the bus stop/shop and so on is), not because people were angry (no, they nicely smiled) but because they couldn't understand and say. I want to believe that after the championship many people in our country will think about the need to learn foreign languages. When discussing this topic, we also, of course, apologized for our language command, but got the compliment from the guests, ''Your English is just fine! You, you… talk, not silent!'' To the second question, we didn't even know what to answer. With all its disadvantages (they are everywhere), Kazan for us is a great place to live (we have travelled a lot by car around Russia and seen a lot of cities), so only folk wisdom ''the grass is always greener on the other side'' was an explanation. We parted good friends, received an invitation to visit both Iran and Singapore — perhaps, it might happen one day.

Part 3. Guests from Columbia

Alas, we failed to get the language immersion. We were visited by a company of four people: a married couple and two friends of the family. One guest, Carmen, knew Russian because she studied in Leningrad 35 years ago, defended her thesis, left the country, but she did not forget the language and became a translator for her friends, who do not speak either English or Russian, or any other languages except Spanish. Hurray! There will be Spanish immersion for my little sister, who studies it at the Kazan University and even had an internship in Spain!

But it turned out that ''Spanish'' Spanish and ''Colombian'' Spanish are very different — here we felt the horror of the language barrier: you live with people whom you absolutely do not understand, and they do not understand you! Of course, we communicated through Carmen, but it was very difficult — the conversation was monologue and insincere. Although, by the end of their stay, her husband said, ''I do not know what he says, but I understand him!'' – that is the immersion in the language environment. We also took the guests from Colombia to the Blue Lake, made them a walking route through the centre of Kazan, which delighted them, ''Yes, Kazan is not Saransk.''

You probably noticed that there were a lot of Colombian fans, they travelled with their team to all cities. Of course, we asked: how did it happen that from Europe, for example, although it is closer, there were not so many fans, but from Colombia… although it is on another continent. ''The Colombians just love football,'' they said. ''The banks gave loans for a trip to the championship with a minimum volume of documents and without guarantors.'' Then he added already chuckling, ''Then they will return and will be in debts...'' Also, guests from Colombia were very interested in our life: a large cellar cause a great furore, about which Carmen said, ''You came up with it yourself or everyone has it?!'' It seems that after arrival she will dig herself the same natural refrigerator.

From the food, they really liked chak-chak, which we bought for tea — they even took it with them, having treated us to Colombian coffee. We also parted in good friendly relations with the invitation to visit their beautiful country. Maybe it will happen, many things happen in life! The memory will give us energetic music for a long time, which the Colombians were listening at nights…

Part 4. Personal conclusions

It is very interesting and unforgettable experience to provide accommodation to foreigners. Then all the games of the Russian national team were accompanied by messages with the wishes of victory from Iran, Colombia and Singapore. The guests from Iran even wrote about our house: ''Best place of Kazan''.

P.S. Neither our cat nor five-month-old baby were injured from the guests, their ''sleep-eat-walk'' regime was not broken, they just received a heavy dose of attention and compliments.

By Elena Agley. Photo: Maksim Platonov
Tatarstan