My senior year of high school, they offered Russian as a foreign language.
I had taken German from Jr. High, (side note: I’m old as shit, and went to Jr. High, not middle school. If this is too complex to understand then fuck off) but my family history was Russian, so taking Russian as a language was not just novel, but had some significance.our teacher was Olga Penrose (who in class was called Olga Michailovna, as that was the proper Russian form. It was patronymic, first name plus father’s name as your middle name) We got used to this. A part of the language class was culture, and you don’t really know a language if you don’t get the culture behind it.
So this was great. I loved our class, we did standard language drills, did some cultural stuff, like cooking, and it was fun.
At some point later in the year, we had a chance to participate on a language camp, where we would speak only Russian over the weekend. This was cool. Really, I was a geek, and this was the 80’s, before being a geek had some gravitas. Geeks today are like jocks, each one might be a future dot com draft pick. There is a slight social entry and advantage. Back then, you were poison. I was poison. But camp was outside the normal social circles. There was a faint glimmer of hope. And there was at least one hot girl in our class who was going.
So naturally, I had to go to Russian Camp.
It was actually great, and we did a lot of language drills, and social events. There was supposedly some social KGB that was going to turn us on for non-Soviet behavior, but that never happened because I assume there were geeks and liked blond girls too.
However, this was when I found out that Billy Joel was the official music of Russian Language education. Every night, someone had a Billy Joel tape running. Everyone sang along. I was already a Billy Joel fan from long ago, so for once, I fit right in.
After camp, our class still went out to do things. For whatever reason, The music was Billy Joel. We once ended up with a crew late at night in Bellevue on the docks at Meydenbauer bay, doing nothing, but the tape player had Billy Joel on it.
I went on to take Russian in college. I moved to Russia for a bit, and met my wife. my Russian language improved. We have a daughter now. She’s almost 16. She also likes Billy Joel. it probably isn’t a Russian ting specifically. Probably just a social group exposure.
Or maybe we all have a New York state of mind.