Saturday, September 5, 2009

TransSiberian: Traveling Abroad

I enjoyed watching this thriller with a lot of cultural references. The movie is about drug trafficking in Russian trains and how a naive American couple of tourists get involved with it during a trip abroad. In fact, the director portraits Russians in a way I don't think they are. If you are Russian, will you please make a comment about how you see the way stereotyped Russians are shown and how you feel about this way of portraying your people, please? What did the train attendant say in Russian?? I'd love to know. Being Brazilian, I'm very familiar with stereotyped Brazilians on the Hollywood screens! I hope you like it! By the way, don't miss reading my Russian reader's review on the movie - he criticizes it severely - because it will help your discussion with your students. Thanks, pal!

A. Ask a partner the following questions:

1. Do you like to travel? What was the best place you've ever been to?

2. Would you like to travel alone for many years to different places without coming back
home during the whole period? Why?

3. What is the best way to travel?

4. Have you ever been abroad? Where did (would you like to) you go?

5. Are there places you wouldn't like to go? Why?

B. Now switch roles.

1. Have you ever traveled by train, plane, car and ship? Which one is your favorite?

2. What can go wrong when you travel to another country?

3. Is it important to know the culture of the other country when you go abroad? Why?

4. Do you know anything about the Russian culture? How do you imagine they treat tourists there?

5. Would you like to travel to Russia? What would you like to do there?

C. Watch the movie segment. Then form small groups to talk about the questions that follow.


1. What were the unexpected things the American travelers faced in this short period of their trip?

2. What do you think the Russian train attendant told the couple about the toilet?

3. What idea did you get from the Russians based on the segment?

4. Do you think it is a stereotyped view of the Russian people or even a caricature of their people? Explain it.

5. Would you like to take a trip like that? Why (not)?

D. Each half the class will work on one of the questions below.

Make a list of 5 precautions you would take to reach your destination safely if you were the couple in the segment?

Make a list of 5 precautions you would recommend a woman traveling by herself in your country?

E. Share your lists with the class as a whole. Are there any matches?


  1. Claudio I am in love with your blogs.

    This is pure gold.


  2. Following a decades-long tradition, the casting director could not find a Russian actress to play the train attendant. What Roy hears is rather accented Russian for "It's not my job! I'm sick of you all." I will see if I can find a DVD and watch it without being sick myself. Talk to you later.

    (By the way, I live on the Transsiberian railway - it crosses my city.)

  3. Thank you so much for the feedback. I was absolutely sure it was not an accurate view of the Russian people. Not even the actress is Russian! It's great you live right on the railway so your information is certainly precise. Thanks!! Well, tell me what you think about it!

  4. Finally, I watched it yesterday, the entire gory tale! The English of the actors is very clear and I spotted an expression that I had forgotten - a bunk mate.

    The story is of course complete bunkum. It was not even filmed in Russia, except, probably, the part inside the village bus, but the bus itself was suspiciously new and clean, like one in Austria. There were countless goofs in the plot, so many in fact that I think I will stay on the Russian language aspect of the movie.

    As I said earlier, the role of the train attendant was not played by a Russian actress, she was Lithuanian. What's ironic, actors from Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia used to play SS officers as well as German, British and American spies in Soviet propaganda movies 25 years ago and earlier. Now actors from the same countries play bad Russians in European propaganda movies. The language has changed, the accents remained the same.

    The number of Russians who can speak English in the film is astounding. A hotel manager in a tiny town in Siberia is a fluent speaker, for example. On the other hand, the number of Russians in the film who don't know what to say in Russian when they drink vodka is equally phenomenal. Why do they have to toast each other with "Na zdorovye!" film after film after film? Nobody says that in Russia, the phrase simply does not work in this context. The answer is simple - makers of bad movies about Russia copy it from one another. And, while we are on the subject of drinking, we don't serve Chinese vodka on Russian trains crossing Siberia. We have plenty of our own booze.

    So you are welcome! The railway is great and not as dangerous and empty as shown in "Transsiberian". Train attendants are usually very pleasant and speak good idiomatic Russian, tea and sugar aplenty and I hear showers are being installed in some carriages. Can't promise great scenery though. Planners chose the flattest parts of the country for the rail tracks so you are not likely to enjoy the landscape until you reach Lake Baikal.
    Disclaimer: No, I do not work for the Russian Railways Ltd., but, like Woody Harrelson's character in the movie, I am a bit of a railway buff. I went from Tallinn to Lake Baikal by rail and did some railway travel in the Far East (from Vladivostok to Khabarovsk) so I know what I am talking about. You can take a look at some travel photographs at

  5. You can't imagine how I enjoyed your review, It made me laugh at the silliness of the movie. I new there should be flaws, but what you mentioned here made the movie a total disgrace! Well, I'll certainly add that reading your comment before using the segment is simply a must. It will generate even more conversation in class. Thanks so much, especially for taking your precious time to add such precious comments! See you.

  6. BRAZEN lie!!!!!!!
    No comments....

    A Russian amateur of your site

    PS THNX for the warm-ups and grammar exercises, they are a great help to my teaching process!

  7. Believe me. Brazilians are always stereotyped by Holliwood, so I perfectly understand you. Well, it is good to discuss this misconceptions too during the English class. I'll do it when I use the egment again. Thanks.