Could You Be a Russian Skywalker?

Posted on 22. Oct, 2014 by in Culture, News, Russian life

Image by Mark_M on

So, you think you’re brave? Do you perform stunts that others won’t even try? Are you a photographer? Are you Russian? Is your name Kirill Oreshkin? A recent trend is growing in Russia among young adults and it involves taking selfies from atop some of the world’s tallest buildings, towers, and other man-made structures. In some instances these “Skywalkers” will climb over the edge of a building in an attempt to take the perfect selfie while holding onto the building with one hand. As one that is not particularly fond of heights, I could barely watch some of these videos without having to look away. When I was younger, my friends and I liked to go drink coffee, maybe have some wine, listen to music, dance, things like that. Guess that’s just not enough to stimulate people anymore.

Simply put, the best way to appreciate and understand what these daredevils are doing is see them in action. Here are a few youtube links where you can see Kirill in action:

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As I was watching the second link, my palms were getting sweaty. At least when Evel Knievel performed his epic stunts, he was paid and had a team that took precautionary measures to ensure that the physics worked, the equipment worked, and that people involved in the planning were trained. These selfie enthusiasts seem more like they are regular people with cell phones, guts, and money to travel to various structures and spend on legal entanglements.

As previously stated, Kirill Oreshkin is one of many that are involved in this sport. Donning masks to hide their identity before attempting to climb, Vadim Makhorov and Vitaliy Raskalov, have climbed the yet-to-be completed Shanghai Tower in China. This building stands at just over 2000 feet tall and is the world’s second tallest building. These two daredevils have made headlines in Egypt and Prague for their bravado – if that’s what you’d call it. Here is a link to see what they’re up to:

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I suppose that this is one of the unintended consequences of producing such small and very functional cameras. These crazy boys and girls are not usually professional photographers or climbers – what they are is BRAVE. Others may have better adjectives but I’ll stay positive. While I do not advocate anybody risking life and limb in order to take photos of themselves and videos like these, I will respect what they’ve done in order to make a name for themselves, entertain some of us, and give me ideas to write about. In some ways I can relate to what they’re doing; when I was younger I climbed on top of a tree to impress my friends, unfortunately, I did not have a cell phone to capture it! Well maybe that isn’t quite the same thing!

Time Paradoxes in Russian

Posted on 16. Oct, 2014 by in when in Russia


Image by loppear on

Human perception of time is culture-specific, so it’s no wonder that simply learning the words to talk about time is not enough. You need to understand how Russian speakers see time so their words and actions can start making sense to you.

Time of the day is organic…

You probably learned time of the day (время суток) in your elementary Russian course. If so, you may remember that утро (morning), день (day/afternoon), вечер (evening), and ночь (night) follow our internal clock more than they respect the formal am/pm distinction. For example, English allows for constructions like “2 in the morning;” Russian does not.  Any time when people are normally be sleeping is referred to as ночь. So, 2 in the morning will be 2 часа ночи (not утра). Утро sounds acceptable for hours from about 4 am. This is very approximate.

There are no hard and fast rules, but you can search for what’s used more by using an internet search or a corpus. For example, there are only four real matches for “4 часа вечера” in the Russian National Corpus and 46 matches for “4 часа дня.”

…but time of the year is not

I was surprised when I heard someone tell me in September that autumn would be coming soon. (That was in the US — let me know if it’s the same in your culture!) In my mind, we had crossed into autumn as soon as September 1 rolled around. However, some cultures measure seasons by solstices (солнцестояние) and equinoxes (равноденствие).

Not so in Russia. In the Russian mind, the first day of the first month of a season is the first day of that season. So, December 1 (первое декабря) is the first day of winter, March 1 (первое марта) is the first day of spring, June 1 (первое июня) is the first day of summer, and September 1 (первое сентября) is the first day of autumn.

We are always in a hurry…

horse race

Image by Donnie Ray Jones on

If you have been to Russia — of the vicinity — you will know that patience is not Russians’ strongest suit. In the line (в очереди) at the bus stop or at vendor stands, people will wiggle their way past others and try to get to the front first. If someone is walking too slow, we run around them with annoyance. Public transport drivers close the door when the passenger has barely gotten through the door and take off before the passengers are seated. Perhaps the scarcity of the first post-Soviet years or a smaller personal space have shaped this attitude. In any case, going to — and coming back from! — Russia may require some adjustment to the pace you go about your day at.

…but we are always late

At the same time, your average Russian is not very punctual. Schools and workplaces encourage being on time, but from their insistence you can tell that advice is not always followed. People are much more tolerant of procrastinating (the verb to describe this action is затягивать; откладывать на потом). This often leads to crunch time (аврал) and things being done at the last moment (в последний момент).

Did you notice anything remarkable about Russian attitudes towards time? How are they different from your country?

Trade Your Life for a Joke?

Posted on 15. Oct, 2014 by in Culture, History

What does it feel like to be arrested for retelling a joke, or even an anecdote? For those living in Russia during Stalin’s reign, it was a reality. Gulags were home to not just societies most dangerous and, therefore, worthy criminals; professors, doctors, all sorts of educated professionals could also call it home – some for sharing the jokes and anecdotes found in a collection entitled “Laughing Under the Covers.”

Living in the Soviet Union meant that the state controlled virtually everything and in such a society, it is easier for the state propaganda machine to fill its inhabitants with only the knowledge that the leaders wished to disseminate. Unlike in most of today’s societies, you couldn’t say jokes about the powers that be. Should you step out of line, the state’s enforcers, mainly the KGB, would be there to escort you from your home, often in the middle of the night – never to return. Due to the tight grip the government held on even the words you spoke, people started sharing stories that were often humorous, called анекдот or анекдоты in plural. These anecdotes were spoken only in extreme privacy – hence the title – “Laughing Under the Covers.” Their authors were seldom, if ever, known for obvious reasons.

We can thank, in part,  the late Mark Perakh for translating and compiling many of these gems into English. More info about his work can be found at

What follows are a few examples of these humorous анекдоты:

A delegation of foreign leaders came to see a kindergarten in Moscow. Before they arrived, the children were instructed to answer every question put to them by the foreign leaders by saying, “In the USSR, everything is the best in the world.”

The visitors asked, “Children, do you like your kindergarten?”

They replied, “In the USSR, everything is the best in the world.”

“And how about the food you receive?”

“In the USSR, everything is the best in the world.”

“Do you like your toys?”

“In the USSR, everything is the best in the world.”

Soon after, the youngest boy in the group of children began to cry.

“Misha, why are you crying? What happened?”

“I want to go to the USSR!”

A man named Chekov applied to the Communist Party. The party committee conducts an interview to determine his worthiness.

“Comrade Chekov, do you smoke?”

“Yes, I do.”

“Do you know that Comrade Lenin did not do it and advised other communists not to smoke?”

“If comrade Lenin said so, I shall cease to smoke.”

“Do you drink?”

“Yes, a little.”

“Do you know that Comrade Lenin strongly condemned drunkenness?”

“I shall cease to drink.”

“Comrade Chekov, what about women?”

“A little……”

“Did you know Comrade Lenin strongly condemned amoral behavior?”

“If Comrade Lenin condemned it, then I shall no longer love them.”

“Comrade Chekov, will you be ready to sacrifice your life for the Communist Party?”

“Of course, who needs such a life!”

Hope you enjoyed these as much as I did. In today’s society, it is hard to believe that one could be imprisoned for telling such stories.

Всего хорошего!