Back in the 90s I worked as a Programmer Analyst at the School District of Philadelphia. I was that guy who got all the really difficult assignments, did the direct client contacts, and basically ended up working as a Project Manager with everyone from the clerks and janitors to the Superintendent’s Office.
It was a lot of fun, and I got to work with a lot of different people. We had a very diverse office, and between the South Philly Italians, the Russians, and some other groups, it taught me how to manage some situations that might have been handled by heavier hands with finesse.
I was walking around this morning looking at the Ground Orchids that my neighbor Jack had planted on the property line and the story of the Tsviatok came to mind.
You see one of my friends there was an intense South Philly Italian nicknamed Sammy. He was a cross between Bart Simpson and a Jack Russell Terrier, very bouncy, intense, and always happy. Sammy had a habit of getting into things and stirring up the pot from time to time. He did have a habit of making things Interesting, and depending on how busy you were, you could enjoy those little thing or not.
At one time, Sammy was learning some Russian from some of the Russian ladies in our department. He started of course with the dirty words, because that is said to be the first words that you learn in another language when you feel like playing around with others.
This unnerved two of the Russian ladies I worked with, Faye and Inna. They were more quiet and reserved, a pair of rather sweet ladies that found someone walking around swearing like a sailor very rude. So they said to me that since I was Sammy’s friend could I speak with him. Knowing how Sammy liked to get into trouble, I decided that we’d have a little fun with him.
We would fight fire with fire.
I said “So tell me a word that we could use…”
Inna said she couldn’t do such a thing and it wasn’t right for a lady to speak like that.
Faye replied that she never swears and she wouldn’t use those words at all.
I said “Ok, then lets do something different.”. What I did was tell them to give me a word that sounded to a native English speaker very rude and strong, but meant something completely harmless.
“Like Flower! It would be our secret. We will tell him it is the worst swear word in the world and all the while we would be yelling Flower! at him.”
The ladies loved it, and four of the five Russian ladies who worked with me were all in on the joke!
The problem was the fifth, Slava. She would be the one who would give it all away so we had to do it fast, and do it in the week she’s away on vacation.
Sammy came by and said his curses to me while Faye was in my office working, and I responded:
“You know Sammy, that really was uncalled for. That’s the kind of thing only a Tsviatok would say! Now, we’re busy trying to get our reports out for all the students so please leave us be.”.
Sammy demanded to know: “Tsviatok? What is a ‘svee uh tock’? How do you say it again?”
Faye played along well: “I cannot say it, it is the worst swear word in the Russian language, perhaps the world!”.
“Yes, Sammy you are a Tsviatok!”
From that point Sammy had a new best friend, the word “Tsviatok”. He went around the building telling everyone they were a Tsviatok, and “cursing” at anything he could!
Tsviatok!Tsviatok!Tsviatok! was all we had heard for three days.
The director of the department, Linda, a good friend even took me aside and said “This is getting scary, we’re afraid this is going to be a problem! What does it mean, Bill”.
“Linda, I really can’t say that sort of thing in an office, but I’m working on the problem child.”.
This went on all week, and Friday morning, I had my usual status meeting with my two bosses, Danny and Yaz, when near the end they said “Hey Bill, close the door we have to talk”.
Yep, one of those talks.
But knowing the guys, they were going to be into the whole joke, so we set it up that Sammy would be called in and “Disciplined” for doing all this swearing. I was congratulated on my scheme and told that they couldn’t have done a better job managing a difficult problem.
I was proud of that little situation.
This was mid morning, and we knew the game would be up by Monday when Slava was coming back from her week off so we had to act fast.
Yaz called in Sammy to the closed door meeting once he was off the phone.
Of course that was the time the joke got spoiled. You see, Slava’s husband had called in to Faye to iron out some weekend details and Sammy grabbed the phone and asked him what was a Tsviatok.
He immediately went looking for me, and told Linda what the story was.
Linda spotted me first. “Ha ha, very funny, Bill. Flower? Is THAT what it means?”
“Yes, Linda, that is what it means.”
Having a meeting with Technical Support as the liaison from Application Development, I hopped on the elevator to the first floor. When the doors opened to the marble encrusted lobby, there was Sammy. He had come down looking for me knowing I needed to make my meeting.
“I know what that means. Flower! Why did you do it?”.
“Sammy, buddy, the ladies were really hating how much you were swearing and didn’t know how to handle it. We figured we’d have a little fun and teach you a lesson at the same time. The whole office excluding the upper management was in on the joke.”
To this day, more than 15 years later, the story of the Tsviatok still makes me smile. Sammy calmed down, and his Russian lessons were cut short. Even Slava enjoyed the story and called him “My Little Tsviatok” in a thick Ukranian accented English.
You can teach people how to speak another language. After all, a foreign language is something someone else knows that you don’t and you should never be afraid to learn something. Sometimes it takes a little flower to get you interested. It could be something nonsensical as well.
Thinking of this story, I saw this video about a pair of teachers in Cambodia using “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” to teach English to some children. The smiles on their faces were a nice start to my day, even if the word means nothing.
Just think of it as a little Tsviatok for your day as well.