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Cultural notes

In this episode you are going to listen to a dialogue between two neighbors who met at elevator lobby of a high-rise building. In Russia, it is typical to establish a personal relationship with your neighbors. Quite often neighbors are if not the best friends, then people who have helped you and for whom you don’t mind do favors. However one also may expect to be morally judged and to consider it appropriate towards other people since Russians are eager to pronounce their opinions.

Conversational notes

Listen to the idioms they use. One says Цены растут не по дням, а по часамFood prices are increasing by leaps and bounds.” Due to the speaker's dramatic tone and the use of a long pause, this cliché is perceived as a general truth which illustrates the degree of difficulties in contemporary Russia. Her neighbor responds with an idiom Нам не привыкать It is nothing new for us,” which is a way to measure social conditions. Everyone in Russia has a set of clichés, jokes, proverbs that perfect for the moment or situation at hand. Russians use them habitually and no one consider such clichés as a mark of banality, but rather as thought-provoking formulas, expressions of collective wisdom that perfectly corresponds to the occasion. On the other side, for an observer from a Western culture these formulas may demonstrate no-control-over-the-world attitude: the realm of uncontrollable and, thus, unconceivable. Pay attention to the common grammatical structure that conveys the impersonalized action, cf.: Нам не привыкать.

Notes on Russian stress

Stress in Russian is unpredictable and erratic, though you begin to recognize some patterns as you learn more. What happens if you stress the vowel in the wrong place? In some cases, a person whom you converse with may have a hard time understanding you. For example, for the verb ‘to learn’ узнаЮ is 1 per. sing. imperfective verb in present tense while узнАю is 1 per. sing. perfective in future tense; or плачУ means I am paying while плАчу means I am weeping. In other cases, (pay attention to the correct stress in оптОвый магазин warehouse retail store but покупать Оптом to buy goods wholesale) nothing terrible happens, but you are better off finding out which vowel to stress in a word for social reasons. Usually, Russian is spoken in different geographical varieties, but it is ‘Moscow norm’ that is most prestigious and is taught to foreigners as the standard variety of Russian. You should be aware that the correct lexical stress is one of the ways Russian introduces its standard through. And finally, it should be noted that ‘Moscow norm’ is preferred by particular (usually higher) social groups, and in particular (usually more formal) social situations. Before learning a new Russian word, look in any Russian-English dictionary, which usually marks stress by putting the sign ´ over the stressed syllable.

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