Saturday, August 9, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Deciphering Russian signs: An Olympic test of its own

A warning sign at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics. (Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)
A warning sign at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics. (Robert Cianflone/Getty Images)
A warning sign at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics. (Robert Cianflone/Getty Images) Gallery: Deciphering Russian signs: An Olympic test of its own

SOCHI - Getting around at these pleasantly compact Winter Olympics has been easy for us. Knowing just where it is we're getting is another matter.

Because the 2014 Winter Games' home is more remote than the Inuits', there's not much English spoken or written here.

At other Olympic sites - think Turin, Beijing, or even Nagano - signage inside and outside the Olympic walls typically was inscribed in both the native language and English.

That's not always the case in Sochi.

It's particularly troublesome here because Russian, it turns out, is tougher to read than Jackie Collins.

The language that Tolstoy, Chekhov, and Pavel Bure mastered contains 33 letters and not the vaguest relationship to English. It's all in Cyrillic script, something that to the Western eye resembles Wiccan graffiti.

The implications are frightening.

Say you're walking down a Sochi street, and, having not yet been struck by an Olympic bus, you get hungry. You see what might be a restaurant ahead, but since it's sign is in Cyrillic, you could soon be eating overpriced nesting dolls.

Trying to decipher a word's meaning based on how closely it resembles an English word is both foolhardy and futile, which, by the way, explains why I've walked into several Russian news bureaus this week in search of restrooms.

Take the Russian word for Sochi. In Cyrillic it looks something like COYN, which might persuade some unsuspecting Olympic tourists that they've arrived at a banking convention.

The Cyrillic McDonald's is actually fairly close to its English version, which is more than I can say for the Russian egg McMuffins.

Cyrillic, by the way, derives its name from St. Cyril, the patron saint of dyslexia.


Daunting drivers

Some of the Russian bus drivers imported here for the Olympics wear hats with wide, upward-flared brims, the kind all those goose-stepping Soviet soldiers wore in Red Square May Day parades.

They can make for quite the imposing and intimidating sight for a Baby Boomer at 6 a.m. on a Sunday.

Upon entering the bus and seeing a Tom Clancy villain behind the wheel, I didn't know whether to salute or cover my face.


The latest from Russia

One of the reasons there have been so many empty seats at some Olympic events, Sochi organizers insist, is that it's a Russian custom to arrive late.

If that's true, how do you explain the fact that the Russian Army was first to Berlin in World War II? Or that the Soviets were first in space in the 1960s? Or that Stalin was never late to the execution of a family member?


Day 2 room report

TV: Not working.

Heat: Working, far too well.

Hot water: Working.

Elevator: Not working.

Toilet: Working.



Frank Fitzpatrick Inquirer Sports Columnist
Latest Videos:
Also on
Stay Connected