November 12th, 2008 — posted by Olga

The Russian word for turkey is индюк. Even though Thanksgiving is not a holiday that is celebrated in Russia, Russians still like to eat turkey all throughout the year and many Russian recipes include this tasty meat.

Last Thanksgiving, I was planning on making a large turkey for my family and friends. There were going to be approximately fifteen people at this dinner and I wanted to make sure that the turkey was going to be one of the tastiest dishes that day! I went to the grocery store and picked out the biggest turkey I could find. At home, I was about to start on my recipe when my little sister approached me and asked «Можно я помогу тебе приготовить индюка?» “Can I help you cook the turkey?” She looked so cute when she was asking me, and gladly I allowed her to help me stir the stuffing ingredients together.

I had fun making the stuffing with my sister and was very excited about the big Thanksgiving dinner because the stuffing was turning out delicious! After I assembled the turkey, I set it into the oven to bake. A few hours went by and the turkey still looked raw despite what the instructions indicated. I panicked and said «Что происходит? Я не понимаю, почему индюк еще сырой!» “What's happening? I do not understand why the turkey is still raw!” Suddenly I felt like this was going to be a Thanksgiving disaster, but luckily my mother came and told me that I simply needed to be patient and wait a bit longer. Thankfully my mother was correct and I finished the turkey just before the big dinner.

Don's additional notes: the word индюк can be used to indicate a male turkey, or when cooking the word can be used generically to refer to an entire bird without really specifying the gender of the bird. Индейка is an even more generic word for the animal, but can also mean the meat of the animal, or it can mean a dish prepared from that flesh. Индюшка can mean the same thing as индейка; that is, it means either the animal generically or the meat of the animal. Индюшатина means the meat of the animal or a dish prepared from the meat. Finally, when Russians in Russia discuss the American Thanksgiving celebration, they usually use the stock phrase «готовят индейку» “they cook turkey” to describe it.

Although Olga is correct that Russians in America may eat turkey and that Russian recipes may use turkey, in Russia itself turkey is not a particularly popular meat.

Туфли (часть первая)

November 11th, 2008 — posted by Olga

The Russian word for shoes is туфли. Many women enjoy owning many pairs of shoes because they like to have a wide range of choices when picking an outfit. I find that it is important for me to own a few nice and comfortable shoes instead hundreds of shoes that I may never wear. The word обувь is also another word for shoes and is used interchangeably by Russian people.

One day, as I was driving to the airport, I realized I was late and could possibly miss the flight. I rushed through the security lines as fast as I could so that I would have a better chance of making my flight. The security guard told me «Пожалуйста, снимите ваши туфли» “Please take off your shoes.” I quickly took them off and placed them through the scanner. I was so focused on getting through that last security check point that I quickly put my shoes back on without even tying the shoelaces шнурки. As I was running, I tripped over the dangling laces and fell hard on the floor. I scraped my knee, and a police officer ran up to me and asked «С вами всё в порядке?» “Are you okay?” I said «Да, я просто упала, потому что я забыла завязать шнурки» “Yes, I just fell because I forgot to tie the laces.” I got up and made the flight just in time, but I learned that when leaving for a flight, it is better to leave earlier to avoid chaos.

Улыбка (часть первая)

November 10th, 2008 — posted by Don

The Russian noun for “a smile” is улыбка, and the verb is улыбаться/улыбнуться.

У неё такая красивая улыбка!She has such a pretty smile!
Я не поверил своим глазам: сегодня Зоя улыбнулась мне!I couldn't believe my eyes: Zoya smiled at me today!
Почему американцы постоянно улыбаются?Why do Americans constantly smile?

In Russia smiling is not required to be polite. A store clerk can walk up to you, look you in the eye, and not say a thing. If you ask her for something and she gives it to you without a word, then she has been perfectly polite: you got what you wanted without a hassle. This lack of smiling creates a very bad impression on Americans who go to Russia; they come away with the feeling that everyone in the country is rude. They are wrong. It's simply a different social standard. Russians smile when they are happy, and I don't mean happy in the sense of "Oh, here comes my 78th customer of the day, what a joy, I'll smile because I'm really interested in him as a human being!" That's an American delusion. Russians smile when they are actually happy. A Russian man smiles when he hasn't seen his girlfriend in three weeks and she shows up at the door, flings herself into his arms and offers to make dinner. A Russian woman smiles when she finds three hundred dollars on the ground and no one else is around so she gets to keep it. That's what smiling is about in Russia: actual specific happiness. It's never smiling just to be polite.

The Russians label the American smile as «дежурная улыбка» “a business smile,” the kind of smile you put on your face just because that's what Americans are in the habit of doing. That kind of smiling creates an impression of insincerity and falsehood in the Russian mind and makes people wonder, "What the heck is so-and-so up to?” There's a story of an American business coach teaching the employees of a Russian company to constantly smile at each other and say, “Have a nice day.” Three weeks after the consultant left, everyone in the office thought everyone else was out to get them. The American smiles caused mutual suspicion, a sense of falsehood; it was completely the wrong thing to teach a company in a Russian environment.

It's funny: we Americans tend to think that our smiles are a spontaneous expression that springs simply from emotion. Not so. A smile is a learned behavior which is used to mean different things in different places. I remember back in the 2001 World Series there was a game where Byung-Hyun Kim made a series of bad pitches that could have lost the game. He stood in the middle of the field staring at the ground and grinning like an idiot. The American audience totally misunderstood his smile. Some thought he was being overconfident. Some thought he was thinking it just didn't matter. But Koreans may use a smile to mask negative feelings, and in this case the feeling was shame. The guy wasn't overconfident. He wasn't making light of the situation. He was feeling like a complete failure and was thinking about how his wife and all his friends and countrymen would be ashamed of him.

The lesson to draw is this: when we first go to Russia, our American intuition will tell us that the Russians are always being rude. That intuition is false. You will have to train yourself to remember that those intuitions you have are based on American expectations of body language. Russian body language is different. Use your mind to teach your emotions how to reinterpret things.

You can find an interesting article about Russian and American smiles here. The section contrasting how Russians and Americans smile at children and pets strikes me as being slightly exagerrated, but on the whole I think there is some truth there.

PS. On October 21st, 2008 Russian singing duo «Тату» (t.A.T.u. in English releases) released a new album called «Весёлые улыбки» "Happy Smiles."

2013-12-06: I just came across another neat article on Russian smiles at Russia Beyond the Headlines (mirror). You can find the original of the article at adeptis.ru (mirror).

2014-01-09: A former student of mine, Graeme Fox, pointed out this new addition (mirror) to the discussion of Russian smiles. Point #11 is quite good; I had never thought of that aspect.


November 7th, 2008 — posted by Olga

Квас is a very popular Russian drink. It is a mildly fermented alcoholic beverage made from rye bread or berries and yeast. Because this drink has very low alcohol content (1%), it is considered acceptable for children to drink. It is often flavored with fruits фрукты and herbs травы such as strawberries клубника and mint мята. This drink can be bought at the store or made at home. As a child, I loved drinking квас and my mother was a professional at making this drink.

I remember an unfortunate day when I tried to help my mom make квас. I wanted my mom to see that I could be a very good helper so I decided to prove this. I came up to my mom and asked her «Mама, можно я помогу тебе сделать квас?» “Mama, can I help you make квас?” My mother smiled at me and said «Конечно, моя дорогая!» “Of course, my dear!” I tried to show my mom that I was a big girl and could handle carrying one of the large jars of liquid to the table. While my mother left the kitchen, I quickly tried to move the heavy jar and to my surprise, the jar slipped out of my hands and fell to the floor. I was shocked and scared so I ran to my mother in a panic and as I ran, I saw her frantically run towards me! She said, «Что случилось?» “What happened?” In a panicked voice I answered «Я хотела передвинуть банку с квасом, но она упала и разбилась!» “I wanted to move the jar of квас, but it fell and shattered!”. My mom was upset with me for the rest of that day, but from then on I understood that I should not take on tasks that I can not handle.

Конфеты (часть первая)

November 6th, 2008 — posted by Olga

The Russian word for candy is конфеты. Russians love to serve candy with tea when guests come over, and many candies are wrapped in very beautiful wrappers that make the table cheerful. A common ingredient in Russian candy is chocolate шоколад and waffles вафли, but of course a wide range of other candy ingredients also exists in Russia.

Each year here in the States my little sister enjoys collecting candy on Halloween and tries to break the record each year by collecting more candy than last year. «В этом году я насобираю больше конфет, чем в прошлом году!» “This year I will collect more candy than last year!” I enjoy walking around with her and looking at all the decorated houses. This year after we came home, my sister counted all of her candy and said «Класс! В этом году я насобирала тысячу двести три конфеты!» “Cool! This year I collected one thousand two hundred and three pieces of candy.”

Don's additional notes: the singular of конфеты is конфета “a piece of candy.” One type of candy in Russia is called ириска, which is a caramel that resembles one of the mini Tootsie Rolls one hands out at Halloween. Which reminds me of a joke:

В магазин входит старушка и просит одну ириску. An old woman walks into a store and asks for one caramel.
Продавец: Только одну? Почему так мало? Salesman: Just one? Why so few?
Старушка: Ну, гулять так гулять. Дайте две ириски! Old woman: What the heck, may as well party hardy. Give me two caramels!

(Source of joke: "Russian Stage Two: Welcome Back!" (textbook) © 2001 by American Council of Teachers of Russian)