pet peeves

Alright, so I do a lot of gushing on this blog about how I’ve adapted so well, how the people are so encouraging and supportive, how charming the culture is, etc., that you may be wondering if I ever have a bad day. How can you trust what I have to say if it isn’t balanced reporting? Surely there must be things that bug me, right? Well, I generally do describe myself as “more happy than not happy” but, yes, even I can get disgruntled. So, what does it? What causes me to regard something as annoying in Mongolia? Here goes:

The date

By usual American standards, we would write today’s date as April 14, 2013. We know, however, that other parts of the world would write 14 April 2013, and we can accept this. In one of our language classes during PST, our teacher wrote the date on the board and received the ultimate, most sincere objection ever from fellow trainee Steven, “Absolutely not, you can’t do that! Why would you ever do that?” So, what could she have done to bring about such resistance from this otherwise gentle California dude? She mixed Roman numerals with regular old numbers. To write 14/IV 2013 is unfathomable.  

Watch Your Step

When I wrote about the streetlights going off exacerbating the danger of the coverless manholes and the uneven streets, you may have been led to believe that the walking hazards were limited to outside. But that is hardly the case. It may even be the norm that staircases are uneven in Mongolia. When climbing up, every time I go to put my weight down, only to end up slamming my foot on a step that is an inch or two lower than expected, I think “Why?” Sometimes, because the whole staircase was off, that last step up is only an inch high. And they aren’t just differing heights, but they slant in every possible direction. And we all know I have large feet by American standards, so in Mongolia they are especially large. But, still, I think the depth of the stairs is far too shallow. Either I walk on tip toes, or else I walk diagonally. Going down is particularly challenging.

I can’t read this!

So, ten months later, I still have trouble with differentiating between the “O sounds” as previously written, but what’s worse is that I can’t read anything in Mongolian that isn’t written in block Cyrillic. There are a few people in my life whose penmanship is so unique (first prize to Krin!) but, being written in English and me having a vested interest in understanding them and already knowing the context, such notes are decipherable. There are so many acceptable ways to write letters here that even words that I know look foreign (ha!) to me. I will post a picture of this, I promise. Then, of course, there is the whole issue of spelling Mongolian words with the Roman alphabet (a.k.a. English) but to accommodate sounds that don’t exist in English, there are multiple acceptable spellings for single common words. Sigh…

That’s not a word!

 “За” (Za) is probably comparable to “um” in terms of how often it is used. But, whereas “um” is a space filler, “za” apparently has actual information. I’m just not confident enough to try it out. Depending on the situation, it could mean, “yes, I hear you” (not that I necessarily agree with you), it could indicate a transition to another topic, or that the discussion has come to an end.

That’s a brand.

There are certain brand names that we (Americans) use in place of the generic. I was once so aware of this that I wrote them down, but all I can remember offhand is Xerox and Chapstick. And maybe White-Out, some version of which is still in use here. In Mongolia, it’s Scotch, as in packing tape. I don’t know the word for tape because I’ve only ever heard “do you have any Scotch?” The funny thing is I’ve never even seen the Scotch brand here! 

Are you having difficulty breathing?

What’s really weird to me is that I missed this for the first 2 months… I suppose it’s similar to our “mm-hmm” or “uh-uh,” instead of actually saying “yes” or “no.” What the Mongolians do, and I don’t see myself adopting this, is a breathy exhale or inhale. The word for “no” is “үгүй,” phonetically that is “oo-gwee” but it’s generally shortened to “oh-go”—in fact, my host family seemed to tease my need to say it as it is spelled (all in fun and no hard feelings). Now, the shortened “oh-go” is further shortened to just the “go” part, but it is said as if you were Darth Vader. And, I’m going to have to assume that from there, the breathy inhale for “yes” evolved (since it’s the opposite of an exhale) because I can’t otherwise explain it. But, everyone does this. It doesn’t have the same formal vs. casual connotations that our shortened versions seem to have. And once I became aware of it, I hear it all the time.


And now for a few things that aren’t pet peeves exactly, but they are noteworthy and I can’t think of another place to put them.


I’ve noticed this since the beginning and somewhere I have a picture of what I mean, but I’ll try to explain it here. The wiring in this country, especially in the older buildings, is an afterthought. There are exposed wires that are tacked along the wall to get to the destination, or else an unsightly hole in the wall to let the wires out. Light switches and outlets are sometimes dangling from the wire, not attached to the wall. (It’s common enough that Peace Corps rules for host families specified that the Volunteer’s room had to have an outlet attached to the wall.) Despite this apparent apathy towards the aesthetics of electric pathways, there are often very flamboyant lighting fixtures. Certainly, there are just as many bare light bulbs, but when there is a light fixture of any kind it is sure to be eye-catching.

Hop in!

Motorcycles are very common here, as I’ve documented previously. What I haven’t said is that a significant portion of them (maybe 5-10%) have a side car attached. I recently saw an эмээ (Em-may, grandmother), wearing the traditional Mongolian deel, riding in a side-car. No pics yet, but surely it’s just a matter of time.

6 Responses to pet peeves

  1. Priscilla A. Arsenault says:

    Even your pet peeves are entertaining (it’s all in the eye of the beholder). When I read “That’s a Brand,” the word “Kleenex” immediately came to mind. The first time you were asked if you had any “Scotch,” did alcohol cross your mind? The wiring situation and stairs/steps height issues would drive Jim batty!

  2. maryse says:

    they call tape in france scotch too, regardless of the brand. i guess it’s pretty common everywhere.

  3. Robin says:

    Love it. Bandaid is another one we use regardless of brand.

    • Mike says:

      Q-tip was the first thing that popped in my head… and I hate the stairs too, especially when the automatic lights don’t turn on until you’ve reached the landing!!!

  4. Priscilla A. Arsenault says:

    Stairs – You don’t mention railings so I’m assuming there usually aren’t any? Otherwise they’d def help w/going up & down, give you something to hold onto.

    • eelevol says:

      I’d say there are usually railings. Though not all of them are sturdy. They don’t really do anything for the depth perception (where your brain thinks the next step is going to be), though…

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