4 weeks in Russia: The curious case of the chair in the corridor…

Day two: Listening and Speaking. I arrived again 45 minutes early, to wait in the wide corridor by the exam room. Yesterday there had been a chair, so I sat on it, giving the young Chinese students who trickled in the opportunity to revise standing up. Today, there was no chair, just me alone in an empty corridor. However, there was a storeroom open and I saw a chair in there and after a short debate with myself, I removed it, positioned it against the wall and sat on it. Within a couple of minutes a cleaning lady arrived with another, officious looking woman who announced in an annoyed tone “What’s that chair doing there? There shouldn’t be any chairs in this corridor! There was one here yesterday but I deliberately put it back! How did it get here?” My honesty surfaced and I felt I should own up. The conversation continued a bit like this:

Me: Actually it was me – I did it- I got the chair – from there (pointing at the storeroom)

Officious woman: There shouldn’t be any chairs in this corridor! What do you want a chair for anyway?

Me: Well – I wanted to sit down. (thinks to self :Well, dur…)

Officious woman. Harumph! Well  you had no right to do that.

Me (Prepares to get out my passport and plead advancing years – although in retrospect I could have produced my cardiogram: she’d have been none the wiser!)

Officious woman: You can’t put it back now because the door is locked. Harumph… (They both walk off)

So I kept my chair and was just pondering on the bureaucratic nature of cleaning supervisors in Russia when the subordinate cleaning woman came back, winked and gave me the nod as if to say “Oh don’t bother about her -you sit on that chair if you want to” Then she asked me where I was from, what I was doing here, we had a chat and I realised: I didn’t need to pass this exam at all. I have already achieved what I set out to do, make myself understood in Russia in a natural way.

My young Chinese co-examinees arrived and we were then taken into the exam room to do the Listening test. My big worry about this was that we could only hear the passages once. However, this was compensated for by the fact that we had plenty of time to read and digest the multiple choice questions, of which there were 30 and about six passages, dialogues and announcements. I felt very tense throughout, and was calculating the time in the test where, if I had got enough correct, I might pass.

Then we had the Speaking part. The first two parts are unprepared questions and the second two parts are prepared, so we had twenty five minutes to prepare for the second part. We had a passage to read – which was a story about a girl, dumped by her boyfriend , who found a lost dog and loved that instead, then discovered the dog was owned by someone else who subsequently became her boyfriend.( And they all lived happily ever after.) Then we had to prepare a personal talk – and again – I couldn’t believe my eyes when I read that the talk (like the Writing exam) was about learning languages, advice on how to do it, your own experiences etc etc. I was eager to get going – and in fact, I was “first on”…

Somewhat of a shock was the fact that I was placed in front of a video camera. These exams, official exams, are recorded. I complained I hadn’t done my hair! I was quite nervous for the first few, unprepared questions but the examiner was very kind (I hope that’s not a trick) and we eventually got onto the girl/boy/dog story, which I had to summarise and give my own opinion of, and then we actually had a very interesting, natural conversation about languages, language learning at a senior age (he started learning Turkish at the age of 54) and the mental benefits of studying a new subject in later life. So I seriously hope I have passed after this.

As I was leaving, the nice cleaning woman saw me and asked me how I got on. I said I’d done the exams and would be back tomorrow with the results. (But they don’t matter. Making connections with people is what matters, and she made me see that. Chair or no chair.)

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