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Destinations, Dreams and Dogs - International adventure with a fast-track family (& dogs) of Old World values, adopting the Russian-Italian-American good life on the go…!

Social Graces for Adopted Children

Ah, the wonderful subject of politeness and manners for the next generation, a topic which has all been kicked to the curb in recent years. We’ll leave that for another day, and instead, focus on getting our kids through basic introductions.

“Hello, how are you?”

Some get it and some don’t.We practice again and again.

Part of it is thinking quickly in another language, and part of it is they never had any reason to be polite before.The problem is exacerbated when a curve ball is thrown their way, and unfortunately, most of life is not made up of straight pitches.Over the weekend, we play-acted a typical meet-and-greet session, something that more corporate trainers need to rehearse, as well.

My goal is two-fold: I am trying to get them to distinguish that people you see all the time cannot be greeted with a warm smile and no words emanating from your lips. Ever. Eventually, you must speak. Which is never a problem around us where the non-stop chatter continues unabated for days on end. But in public? Not a word is uttered.

The second goal is to get them to respond appropriately to what is being said. Which is why they are silent. To think before they speak is to really ask the impossible of them, they argue. And so, it’s a vicious cycle.

“Hello, how are you?” I toss the conversation to Sashenka, the youngest.

“Hello, how are you?” she parrots.

“No,” I shake my head. “They don’t want to hear an echo of what they just said.”

It reminds me of our first son, Petya, when we bought him a play cell phone in Russia. He pressed the buttons a million times over as it shrieked “Kak dyelah? Kak dyelah?” (How are you? How are you?), driving me to distraction.

“Alright,” I try again, “when someone asks: ‘How are you?’, you know the response,” I tease out of them.

“Pleased to meet you,” Sashenka attempts.

“Well, right, that’s if you’re meeting them for the first time, and you’ve never been introduced before. But what if you know this person and he asks, ‘How are you?'”

“Fine, thank you,” Pasha responds on cue.

“Exactly. That’s how we respond,” I am pleased. “Now, what if someone said, ‘Hey, what’s happening?'”

“Fine, thank you,” Mashenka tries.

“No, no, they want to know what’s new with you, shtoh noh’vahvah?'”

“I don’t know,” Mashenka slurs, sounding for all the world like Marmaduke the cartoon dog, or else a pirate, “Arrr-uh no.”

Did I mention that I hate slurred speech?

“Let’s speak clearly,” I urge, suddenly realizing why they can’t seem to do 100% on their spelling tests, if this is how they talk.

“Now, it really doesn’t matter what you say, because this is called ‘polite conversation’. The person asking “How are things?” really doesn’t need, nor want to know, that you got up at 6:00 am, went to school at 7:00 am, took a break at 12:00 noon. Anyone have an idea what might you say to ‘Hey, what’s happening?'”

“I went bike riding today,” Petya, the voice of reason, sighs. Unfortunately, he has to sit through these sessions, too.

“Great, that’s right,” I congratulate.

This takes place off to the side in my office and Petya leaves for a few minutes, while I have the other three continue to act this out among themselves. I set it up.

“Why don’t you try: ‘Hi, buddy!'” I suggest.

“Hi, buddy,” Pasha parrots, turning to an easy target, Sashenka.

“Hi, body!” she returns.

“No,” I insert myself as they go farther afield with the remedial exercises that are doing anything but helping. “You’re not talking about his body, it’s ‘Buddy’. That’s a nickname.”

“That’s not my nickname,” Pasha protests.

Do you see what I mean? This could take a while. I try again.

“Nice to see you,” I turn to Mashenka.

“Good.”

“Good?” I ask.

“How are you? – Good,” she replies.

“But I said, ‘Nice to see you.'”

“Oh.”

For now, thinking on their feet is not much of an option. Standing to greet someone, smiling, and shaking their hand will have to suffice.  I tried.

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