Kazakh language conflict on the ski slopes of Kazakhstan

I very rarely feature another blogger on my own blog since I have so much to write about Kazakhstan. Besides, I don’t want to lose my blog traffic to someone else who might write better than me. 8) Anyway, I’ve met a few of the other bloggers out there who focus on Kazakhstan, both in Almaty and Astana.  I’d like to meet this American(?) expat woman Clare who wrote about a little altercation she had recently on the ski slopes of southern Kazakhstan.

At least I thought part of Clare’s blog was a good followup of our conversation with Annemarie last week about Kazakh culture and what values are being taught. We discussed this very dilemma in class the other day.  See what you think should be done to re-educate the Kazakh parents of children who are snooty about knowing Kazakh language and put down their own people or foreigners who don’t know the language of this country. This also happened in western Ukraine years ago where my husband tried to speak Russian to a Ukrainian. He was rebuffed by the Ukrainian person who pretended not to hear my husband.  The Ukrainian man refused to communicate with anyone who didn’t know the Ukrainian language.

Here’s my point, how can the Kazakh people expect everyone (expats and their own people included) to drop all that they know (English or Russian) and have studied for years on end and then to know and speak Kazakh language immediately? They can’t!!! These things take time and training AND a huge dose of patience.  By the same token this is true of the current Kazakh teachers all throughout Kazakhstan. How can they know all three languages (mandated by their government to be well versed in Kazakh, Russian and English) and then know their subject material PLUS to be computer literate?

The stakes are high because most of these Kazakh teachers know that they are teaching the future of their country. They are doing the best they can with what they know, but I believe they need more professional development training and quickly!  But I digress…I think also the parents of these children need some re-education or training in teaching their children manners and civility.  Look what is currently going on in Japan with all the heartache and death and destruction of earthquake, tsunami and now nuclear complications, there is no looting of stores.  Many things may be broken, damaged or people missing in Japan, but there are morals and characters that are broken in Kazakhstan that need fixing.

Here’s what Clare wrote:

“…What was not a lot of fun was the waiting in line.  Granted, waiting in line is never fun.  However, this was a quick moving line so it was pretty painless. Or rather, it should have been pretty painless.  However, there was a group of local kids (middle school age) who felt entitled and kept cutting the line.   Not only were the skipping the line—thus making it much longer for other people—they were doing so and splitting up families or groups that were traveling together.  So, for example, I always wanted S or his brother to be there person right behind me.  I knew that if there was a problem and they were going to ram into me, either of them would have thrown themselves to the ground or done anything humanly possible to no risk injuring me or the baby.  I did not have this confidence in random strangers.  But, these kids, would try and cut in the middle.

We watched several times flabbergasted.  For the most part, I was not actually tobaggoning.  I did a few runs, but mostly I watched everyone else and took care of the stuff.  We also knew a lot of other Americans there that day: people from work, my boss and his two girls, our friends we had traveled with.  Finally, I got fed up.  The kids tried to cut inbetween S, his brother and the daughters of my boss.  Using my best Russian, I explained that there was a line and they were expected to go to the end.  They decided to cut right behind us.  Luckily, someone else (another American I know with better Russian than I) saw this happen.  He went and got the kids and marched them to the end of the line.  You know, to make sure they knew what a line looked like.

Next round, the kids cut again.  This time, they had a MOTHER with them.  She told them to pay no attention to me.  She told them to only speak to me in Kazak as I spoke Russian.  She, the mother, the supposedly responsible adult was blatantly telling her children to disrespect others and treat the system. This is the attitude in Kazakhstan that drives me absolutely nuts.  Yes, people are selfish and generally act in self interest, but refusing to stand in line, illegally parking my car in because you don’t want to park ½ a block down, and doing anything to push down another to get something first drives me nuts!

After watching this, it was hard to blame the children. This is what they are being taught.  And, it is frustrating.  It was particularly infuriating for the children in our group who also wanted to go more times, who also didn’t want to stand in line, but who had learned in kindergarten and at home to respect others.

After a while, the mother disappeared. The kids continued to push in line.  At one point, I physically put my big pregnant belly between them and cutting between my bosses kids and my husband’s family.  When one pushed his way around me, telling me that he spoke no Russian (same kid who had spoke to me in Russian an hour earlier), I picked him up and put him behind me, forcing him to wait.  I guess, in some ways, I became the bully.”

2 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    KZBlog said,

    Many people have told me here that we should be lenient towards children and not expect them to be polite or to wait in line. But unfortunately, if you don’t teach them young, they grow into snotty teenagers and then spoiled adults.

    I can believe the mother encouraged them to cut in line. But I can’t believe she told them to pretend not to speak Russian. Or that they were disrespectful of a pregnant woman!

    Interestingly this also reminds me of an article I linked to a while back about an ethnically Russian journalist who said many Kazakh friends don’t want her to learn Kazakh because they use Kazakh to talk about their Russian colleagues behind their backs!

  2. 2

    Clare said,

    I think you are getting right to the crux of the problem. How can children be held accountable when they aren’t being taught manners? How can teachers confront these same issues, if the lessons aren’t being reinforced at home? Similarly, how can people expect to be respected, when they don’t respect? I see that it is a difficult quandary and think it is wonderful that educators are discussing. Behavior change is one of the hardest things to achieve– and yet, sometimes so necessary for future success.


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