Watching the evening news in Russia can be an adventure all in itself – try to imagine a 30 minute sum-up of what has happened on one sixth of our planet – and you will easily be fooled into thinking that there are mafia bosses in black Armani suits, starving orphans and bombs going off just around the block from your house. When I switch on the TV in the country where I have willingly spent the past three and a half years of my life, I tell myself: “I’m such a bad person; I deserve to be living in Russia.” In order to protect oneself from the reality of life in an illogical country of strange and mysterious chaos any given individual will sooner or later form a deep inner sense of indifference. It’s not just me – the Russian language is full of constructions from which it is obvious that there is a long tradition of not caring here, all the way from Kaliningrad to Vladivostok.
The most polite way of saying that you don’t care is to say: мне всё равно, which literally translates into “it’s all the same to me”. And it is just as courteous to tell a fellow Ivan (Иван), or if you’re already Vanya (Ваня) with him doesn’t matter, that: мне нет дела до этого, which could roughly be interpreted into “to me this is no matter”, since дело means “matter, affair, business, deed, act, cause, or case”.
When getting a little less respectful, and a little less polite, you could use the word барабан [drum] and put the personal pronominal я in the dative case to create an impersonal sentence of the sort: мне по барабану [I don’t care], literally – “to me it’s on the drum”.
When in a situation that is far from official with people who are far from official, for example when sitting on a park bench drinking beer with Vanyuha (Ванюха) [which is an even more familiar nickname for Ivan], you can express your apathy with these words: мне наплевать [плевать] на это. What you’re saying is actually “I spit on this”, but the meaning is “I don’t give a damn about it”.
As the evening gets darker and the empty beer bottles at your and Vanyuha’s feet multiply, you experience an inclination to articulate your feelings not only about crime and punishment on TV, but also about politics, economics and life in general like this: мне по фигу [I don’t give a damn]. To help remember this very useful construction keep in mind that the word фиг very much resembles the Russian word for fig and fig tree – фига. It’s almost like saying “to me it’s on the fig/fig tree”.
Once you decide that enough is enough, it is after all a working day tomorrow at the factory where you are an honorable employee; you turn to Vanyuha and ask him if he’s up to walking home. He offers instead you get another beer and continue discussing whether or not Putin is staying for a third term, but you answer him: хрен с этим! This is the rude Russian way of telling a fellow human being that you are unconcerned with something. So what was it exactly that you said? You didn’t use any swear words, all you used was the word хрен, making it literally – “horseradish with this!” And yet you weren’t being polite at all, quite the opposite, which the expression on Vanya’s face will assure you.
To take it to the next level you could be honest with Ivan and tell him bluntly – хрен с тобой!