Novice Mid / Grandmothers News

Cultural Notes

The saying ‘Всему свое время can be rendered as ‘Everything in its own good time’ means that one should not rush things. In the Russian language there is a higher tendency to represent popular beliefs through proverbs. There are two types of proverbs: those with a common, universal morality, similar in all countries, if not in the form, at least in the message; and those which are particular, born from a historical fact, a local custom or a specific event. For instance, the saying “Where do you lead us, Susanin-hero?” is based on the historical anecdote referring to the quasi‐legendary hero of popular resistance to Polish infiltration in the 17th century.

Interestingly, although this saying became a part of every Russian’s patriotic consciousness, its contemporary usage seems rather different from the historical use: nowadays this syaing is used to describe actions of someone who claims to know the way, but who eventually gets lost.

Proverbs can also provide a way for analyzing the stereotypes (conscious or unconscious beliefs) indirectly reflected in the language. For instance, you can hear 'Нежданный гость хуже татарина' ('An unexpected guest is worse than a Tartar'), for which a vague English equivalent is ‘As welcome as a storm’. Although this proverb refers to the devastation of the Tatar Yoke, which has been so emphatically inscribed in the Russian cultural memory, it also expresses unmotivated derision of the ethnicity. The fact that this proverb is quite a popular implies that proverbs may betray unmotivated derision of an ethnicity. In contemporary Russia, this proverb has become such an integral part of everyday Russian speech that most native speakers don't realize its dismissive and denigrating connotation. Needless to say, this proverb has nothing to do with reality. Thus, it is important to note the usefulness of proverbs and to stress that they are extremely valuable for anyone who wants to know the folk attitudes and popular beliefs.

Grammar Notes

1) The use of Как поживаете is basically the same as ‘Как дела’, but is more appropriate when addressing people much older than you, groups of people, someone you don’t know very well, or simply to show respect. The former is probably more common in spoken Russian.

2) Note that prefix по-gives unidirectional verbs the meaning ‘to make a complete trip in one direction’ as in ‘Пойдемте ко мне чаю попьем. Note that for single trips in the future the unidirectional verbs are used. Even if you expect to come back, it is normal to say ‘пойду по магазинам

3) In English to ask people to do things one tends to use such polite constructions as ‘Would you…’ or ‘Could you…’ Russians make such requests with a form of the verb called the imperatives. The imperative in English is the same as the infinitive (without ‘to’). ‘Give me a book’ sounds abrupt in English, but its literal equivalent ‘Дай(те) мне книгу‘ is normal usage in Russian. The first person plural (the ‘мы’ form) of the future is the equivalent of ‘Let’s do…’ Future perfective form ‘пойдемте’ and ‘попьем’ indicates that the proposal is given for a single action.

4) Everyone finds it difficult to get the accent of Russian words. There is no such thing as predictable stress (христианИн, but христиАнка Christian), different stresses are permitted in some words (for instance, твОрог and творОг cottage cheese), it may change from one word to the other even if the two are of the same root (like in внУчка granddaughter, but прАвнучка great granddaughter). So you have to learn which syllable is stressed along with each word you learn.