I'm making a case for the introduction of the Russian word "Devushka" into the Canadian-English lexicon.
"Devushka" means "girl" (hence the inspiration of my blog title) and it is used in Russia to refer to any female who can reasonably be described as such, ie. not a babushka (grandmother). I've gotten so used to being called devushka multiple times a day by random people that I respond to it faster than I do my own name! I am being completely serious.
Although it translates to "girl," I don't think it carries quite the same meaning that yelling "girl!" at someone on the street would back in Canada. There, you might get offended - imagine someone at the grocery store saying, "Girl, pass me the lettuce that I can't reach!" But here it just doesn't seem rude or abrupt (that being said, of course "devushka" CAN be said in a rude tone of voice). In fact, calling young women "devushka" seems to be a smart way around a social nicety problem - what ARE you supposed to call strangers anyways?
Mostly if I have to address a stranger in public, whether at work or even just in the grocery check-out line, I use "Sir" or "Ma'am" or just awkwardly stammer "Excuse me...uhh..." and wait until that person realizes I'm talking to them so that I can give them back the glove they dropped. But here in Russia, all you have to do is yell out a "devushka!" and every young women within hearing turns to look. Its very effective!
I get called "devushka" all the time in my daily life here. At the grocery store, as mentioned, tiny little babushkas will often ask me to reach for things on higher shelves. In the street, workers will yell at me to cross to the other side to avoid the giant killer icicles that they shovel off the roofs (rooves? omgosh what is the plural form of "roof"? How can I not know this as an ESL teacher?!). On the bus, the woman collecting money will admonish me to move my purse to my lap so that someone can sit beside me (am I the only one out there who REALLY prefers to not be crammed in like sardines next to someone? But this is actually something I've realized in my year here; North Americans really do have this somewhat obnoxious "personal space bubble" that other cultures simply do not).
Anyways, I really like the word "devushka" and I think we need something like that in English when it comes to addressing people we don't know in public. Oh, and in case you were wondering, there IS a young male equivalent to it (moozhchin) and no, you should never replace "devushka" with "zhenshina" (woman)...zhenshina is definitely considered a no-no!
And now that Daylight Savings Time has kicked in (for the last time here in Russia...it's being abolished!) and its actually an hour later, this sleepy devushka is off to bed! Sweet dreams!