Read Famous Opening Lines in Russian – Part I

Posted on 21. May, 2015 by in Literature

cat reading Anna Karenina

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I’m sure a few of our readers became interested in Russian thanks to their love of Russian literature. Whenever Russian literature comes up, people immediately respond with the name of their favo(u)rite Tolsotyesky 😉 book.

At the same time, very few of these Russian lit buffs have read these books in Russian. This is understandable — fiction tends to use rarer vocabulary and more complex sentence structure, and some of the language may be antiquated. These are not things a conversational Russian class prepares you for.

With that in mind, I thought it may be nice to look at the beginnings of famous Russian books and break down some of the language used in them. I will also link to an English translation for each of them.

А́нна Каре́нина (Anna Karenina)

Anna Karenina is a well-known novel by Leo Tolstoy (Лев Толсто́й) about a married woman who has an affair with a younger man. Please click on the audio player to listen to the pronunciation of this first part. The novel has inspired film and ballet adaptations. Several English translations are available.

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Все счастливые семьи похожи друг на друга, каждая несчастливая семья несчастлива по-своему.
Все смешалось в доме Облонских. Жена узнала, что муж был в связи с бывшею в их доме француженкою-гувернанткой, и объявила мужу, что не может жить с ним в одном доме. Положение это продолжалось уже третий день и мучительно чувствовалось и самими супругами, и всеми членами семьи, и домочадцами. Все члены семьи и домочадцы чувствовали, что нет смысла в их сожительстве и что на каждом постоялом дворе случайно сошедшиеся люди более связаны между собой, чем они, члены семьи и домочадцы Облонских. Жена не выходила из своих комнат, мужа третий день не было дома. Дети бегали по всему дому, как потерянные; англичанка поссорилась с экономкой и написала записку приятельнице, прося приискать ей новое место; повар ушел еще вчера со двора, во время обеда; черная кухарка и кучер просили расчета.

Похо́ж (-а/-е/-и for feminine, neuter, and plural) is the short form of похо́жий (-ая/-ое/-ие), “similar.” Похо́ж is used to say something is similar to or looks like something else — in this example, all happy families are like each other. Note how the preposition на goes between the two parts of друг на дру́га.

Узна́ла is a good illustration of the perfective voice — знать is, of course, to know; узна́ть is “start knowing,” or find out, learn something. Связь is a connection, liaison; here, an affair.

The second sentence is often quoted to describe a complete confusion or chaos. Смеша́лось is “got mixed up.” One of the meanings of меша́ть is to mix, to blend. This is a perfective, reflexive form.

Чу́вствовать is to feel; чу́вствоваться is to be felt — the reflexive suffix makes the verb passive here. Постоя́лый двор is an inn; strangers at an inn would have felt closer to each other than people in the Oblonsky house.

Ме́сто here is a situation, as in employment. The “Englishwoman” (англича́нка), presumably the governess (гуверна́нтка), has asked a friend to find her new employment (прииска́ть ей но́вое ме́сто). Чёрная куха́рка refers to the cook who made food for the servants and not for the masters of the house. Finally, расчёт refers to settling an account; here, it means that the coachman and the cook quit and asked to be paid for their work up to that moment.

Ма́стер и Маргари́та (The Master and Margarita)

The Master and Margarita is a novel by Mikhail Bulgakov (Михаи́л Булга́ков) that was not published until after the author’s death. This book touches upon the themes of love, art, Soviet society of the 1930s, and religion, among others. An English, or other, translation is likely available at your local library.

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Однажды весною, в час небывало жаркого заката, в Москве, на Патриарших прудах, появились два гражданина. Первый из них, одетый в летнюю серенькую пару, был маленького роста, упитан, лыс, свою приличную шляпу пирожком нес в руке, а на хорошо выбритом лице его помещались сверхъестественных размеров очки в черной роговой оправе. Второй — плечистый, рыжеватый, вихрастый молодой человек в заломленной на затылок клетчатой кепке — был в ковбойке, жеваных белых брюках и в черных тапочках.

Весно́ю is “in spring.” We can use the instrumental case to talk about other seasons, too — зимо́й (in winter), ле́том (in summer), and о́сенью (in autumn). The ending -ою is the more antiquated, poetic variant of -ой.

two menПатриаршие пруды are literally Patriarch’s Ponds; there is a physical pond in that location, but the name also refers to the entire neighborhood. The author is describing what the two men are wearing. Оде́тый (оде́тая/оде́тые) means “dressed in something,” or “wearing something.” You may also encounter the short form — оде́т, оде́та, оде́ты. This adjective (technically, participle) is followed by в + the name of the item in the accusative case. Па́ра refers to his suit. We also learn that the first man is упи́тан(ный) — portly, лы́с(ый) — bald, and ма́ленького ро́ста (short; literally “of little height”).

The second man is плечи́стый (broad-shouldered), рыжева́тый (has off-red hair), and вихра́стый (shock-headed). His description is an adjective suffix paradise. -ист- is used to say “looks like something” (серебри́стый, silver-colo(u)red), “having a lot of something” — this is the case here, пле́чи being shoulders; or “quick to start something” like “поры́вистый” (impetuous). -еват/оват- means “slightly,” so ры́жий is red-haired, and рыжева́тый is “with a red tint.” Finally, -аст- is used to describe a person in terms of their appearance (скула́стый – having pronounced ску́лы, cheekbones; очка́стый – bespectacled; вихрастый — having many tufts of hair, вихры́). The second man is wearing a checkered shirt (ковбо́йка, also кле́тчатая руба́шка), wrinkled white pants (жёваные бе́лые брю́ки; жёваный is literally “chewed up”), and black slippers (чёрные та́почки).

Let us continue this discussion next time. What other books have you been meaning to read? Please let me know if you have a hard time listening to the audio.

Russian Summer Wardrobe: Get Your Speedo Ready!

Posted on 20. May, 2015 by in General reference article, language, when in Russia

Summer is upon us and with it the desire to finally shed multiple layers of clothing and feel the warmth of the Sun on our skin. Of course, if you live in Florida, California or some other place that is just as warm, you probably don’t get quite as excited. But what if you live in Russia? How warm are Russian summers? Are summer temperatures drastically different depending on where you are in Russia? And what do you call all the summer items of clothing in Russian? The answers to all these questions are revealed below.

Russian climate is mostly continental but average outdoor temperatures do vary. In the subtropical city of Sochi, the place of the last winter Olympic games, the average for the month of July is between 75-80F, while in the city of Vladivostok the July temperatures don’t usually rise above 65F. In any case most places in Russia allow you to show some skin during summer :-).

Thanks to Maria’s post about Russian winter wardrobe, I feel you are now well prepared for that. Now it is time to prepare you for the summer… which is so much more fun!

Let’s dive right into it by addressing bathing suits or купальники (for ladies) and плавки (for gents). Купальник consists of a лифчик (top portion) и плавки/трусы (bottom portion) or you can also say верх и низ (top and bottom).

Купальники бывают сплошные и раздельные. – There are one piece and two-piece bathing suits.

Верх моего купальника мне по-прежнему подходит, а низ стал немного маловат. – The top of my swimsuit still fits me but the bottom is now a little tight.

Swimsuits for guys are called плавки. It is worth mentioning that most Russian men are not into swimming shorts, instead they wear what you call speedos (tight bikini-like swimsuits). The bottom portion of ladies swimsuits is also called плавки, not бикини (бикини is present in the Russian language but it means a certain type of underwear, not swimwear).

The following list of summer essentials is familiar to everyone:

Гардероб – wardrobe

Шорты – shorts

Shorts in Russia are more common among women than men, in my opinion. Many middle-aged men in particular prefer not to wear shorts in public (some wear short running shorts at home or at their dacha).

Юбка – a skirt

Платье – a dress

Сарафан – a sleeveless dress with straps

Майка – a T-shirt or a tank top

Футболка – a T-shirt

Жилет/жилетка – a vest

Комбинизон – overalls (a trendy item these days)

Рубашка – a shirt

Блузка – a blouse

Ремень – a belt

Солнечные очки sunglasses

Кепка – a cap

Туфли – shoes

Сандали – sandals

Шлепанцы – slides, flip-flops

В чем пойти?/ Что надеть? – What can I wear?

To make this vocabulary easier to digest I am including a couple of videos on the subject of summer wardrobe. By watching the videos you can also improve your pronunciation of the words mentioned in this post. For those who would like some more info on the subject of clothing this post might be interesting. P.S. The first two videos discuss summer clothing for ladies, the last one describes wardrobe essentials for guys.

Всего хорошего!

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Russian for Travel

Posted on 18. May, 2015 by in Russian for beginners

view from an airplane

With the summer upon us, many of our readers may be making travel plans. Perhaps some are going to Russia or the region for a study abroad or on business. This experience can be overwhelming on its own, and limited Russian skills may add to the stress. To make the process smoother, I would like to cover some basic concepts that may come in handy in your travels.

Air Travel

plane taking offFirst of all, you need to book your flight (заброни́ровать рейс). Nowadays that’s easy to do over the Internet (по Интерне́ту), although if you are staying somewhere with spotty Internet access, you can do it in person at a travel agency (турфи́рма).

Some things to keep in mind when choosing your flight are departure time (вре́мя вы́лета),  arrival time (вре́мя прилёта), and any layovers (переса́дки).

At the airport in Russia, you will want to listen for the announcements for the check-in (регистра́ция). It usually goes like “Начина́ется регистра́ция и оформле́ние багажа́ на рейс но́мер… авиакомпа́нии… до… Регистра́ция произво́дится у сто́йки…” (Check-in and baggage check is now open for [airline name] flight [number] to [destination]. Check-in is at counter [number]). These announcements are also made in English, but the announcer can have a strong accent, making it hard to understand.

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If you hear “Начина́ется поса́дка…” at the beginning of the announcement, it’s time to go to the gate — that is the boarding call.


hotel receptionIf you are an independent traveler, you will need to book a hotel (заброни́ровать но́мер). Once you’ve arrived, you need to see the reception (администра́тор, recently also increasingly ресе́пшен) to check in to your room. The check-in is called заселение. If you are staying in a dormitory (общежи́тие), you need to talk to your school’s administration about the move-in.


Russian trainIf you are planning to travel within the country, you need to buy tickets (купить билеты) to your destination. If you are planning to travel by rail (е́хать на по́езде), be sure to check if you are buying купе́ (a compartment) or плацка́рт (shared car).

Remember that some places have special discounted rates for students, so you are one, you may want to have your student ID (студе́нческий биле́т if you are enrolled in a Russian college) ready.

Any other things you would like to know to be able to navigate travel to and in Russia? I’m sure our readers who have traveled to Russia will have a lot to add.