Russian Language Blog

Doing Business по-русски Posted by on Sep 14, 2012 in language, when in Russia

It’s the end of the week, so let’s do something fun. How about watching cartoons? Some time ago I found a cartoon on YouTube called Бизнес по-русски (Russian-style Business). Of all the episodes I could find, I liked Труба (Pipe) one the most.

The story is of обычный россиянин (an ordinary Russian) who comes up with various бизнес-идеи (business ideas) and get rich quick schemes. Almost immediately he starts losing money. First,  while on his way to various инстанции (authorities) he gets stopped by a wolf dressed as a traffic cop. The wolf becomes the first in line for взятка (bribe). He is also the first character that brings to mind some excellent крылатые фразы (catch phrases):

Тамбовский волк тебе товарищ (Look for friends elsewhere. Lit: Tambov wolf is your comrade).

Товарищ волк знает, кого кушать (Comrade wolf knows whom to eat)

As our hero makes it through all the different levels of бюрократия (bureaucracy), he spends all his money on various fees and bribes until he emerges без штанов (without pants), ready to join the ranks of бизнесмены (businessmen).

And that’s when his adventures really begin. The Труба episode begins with him searching the web for аукцион (an auction), using all the different misspellings he can think of. Why? Because that way only the inner circle of свои люди (those who belong; lit: our people) will find and bid on the best deals.

He finally comes up with an idea to type in ыыкцыон (as you probably know, there are no Russian words that start with ы.)

Sure thing, he finds an auction for a “pipe”. Usually, the word труба is preceded by an adjective clarifying just what kind of a pipe this is – заводская труба (a factory smokestack), печная труба (a stove pipe), водопроводная труба (a water pipe), аэродинамическая труба (wind tunnel). By itself, труба usually means a horn, a type of musical instrument as in У нас сосед играет на кларнете и трубе (Our neighbor plays clarinet and horn). Curiously, труба all by itself also came to mean нефтепровод (oil pipeline) or газопровод (gas pipeline) as in the title of this article России не нужна украинская труба (Russia doesn’t need Ukrainian gas pipeline).

Owning a stake in an oil or gas pipeline is a sure bet for getting rich quick. If only you can сесть на трубу (get in on the pipe deal; lit; to sit on a pipe)! Then the family would never had to face the possibility of сидеть на хлебе и воде (to live on bread and water alone).

The pipe, as it turns out, is from элитный жилой комплекс работы Церетели, под названием Дворец сердца (an elite housing development by Zurab Tsereteli, called “Palace of the Heart”). If you’ve been to Moscow, you’ve undoubtedly seen at least a couple of Tsereteli’s creations, most notably the one above, памятник Петру Великому (statue of Peter the Great). It is officially recognized as both one of the world’s tallest and ugliest statues.

Spoiler Alert: do not read any further if you’d rather find out by yourself what’s in the pipe.

As it turns out, the pipe is канализационная труба (sewer pipe). Faced with a giant sewer pit, our businessman is trying to figure out how to make money from экскременты (excrements).

Russian language has lots of other words for фекалии (faeces), including the rude говно (sh**) and its milder version дерьмо (crap). The difference in usage is similar to that of the corresponding English words. In addition to describing waste matter, these words are also applied to things that are worthless, useless, low quality, and in general good for nothing.

The Труба cartoon plays on this double-meaning. As you watch how the hero attempts to make the best of дерьмовая ситуация (a crappy situation), think of these phrases:

Кому это дерьмо нужно? (Who needs this crap?) – this can be asked about anything that’s perceived to be useless or of low quality. For example, Вася хочет продать свою старую Оку, но кому это дерьмо нужно? (Vasya is thinking about selling his old Lada Oka car, but who needs this crap?)

В магазине и не таким дерьмом торгуют (A store sells even crappier stuff) – very true and applicable no matter where you live. If you want some more edutainment on the subject of crap sold in stores, listen to this song called Купи говно (Buy sh**).

Сделать из дерьма конфету (lit. To make candy out of crap) – this is not to be taken literally, of course. But with some clever маркетинг (marketing) and packaging, even total crap can be successfully sold to millions (I bet you can think of a few examples). In fact, when the hero goes to two маркетологи (market specialists), they say открытым текстом (openly) that they never marketed anything other than дерьмо (crappy stuff).

У нас своего дерьма достаточно (We have plenty enough of our own crap) – this is a handy, if rude, phrase to use when someone tries to pass to you some unwanted junk, such as an old 13-inch TV.

Soon a brilliant легенда (legend, here – a story behind a product) is created based on the три богатыря (three mythical warriors) stories. You do know them, right?

Thanks to животворящий маркетинг (life-bringing marketing; the word life-bringing is used ironically here), the crap now renamed народный продукт (National Product) takes off in a big way.  Naturally, the government officials become interested. They immediately claim it as народное достояние, попавшее в частные руки (national asset that ended up in private hands). It is also a national heritage, something that is going to be оставлено потомкам (left to the future generations) and as such must be controlled by the government, just like газ (natural gas), нефть (oil), золото (gold), and Солженицин (Solzhenitsyn), all appearing on the Наше Всё! (Our Everything!) map.

And so the government tries to bring down the private company with requests for mountains of paperwork. But all the paperwork is в идеальном порядке (in perfect order), including proof of voting for the ruling political party.

That’s why the government adopts a different strategy introducing a government-controlled competitor Гпром (Gprom; an unsubtle hint at GazProm) that builds its own pipes at the Palace of the Heart. Gprom starts selling the Product at rock-bottom rates, but one must bring their own containers and do their own scooping from the cesspit. Nevertheless, plenty of people buy into the bargain ruining the hero’s pipe dreams.

He finds himself по уши в дерьме (up to his ears in crap) quite literally since the stores send back to him the unsold packages of the National Product. He realizes that дело труба (things are bad), but it’s too late. He вылетать в трубу (goes broke).

If you like this episode, there are 5 more available on YouTube.

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  1. Irene Kwasha:

    I loved this one, and you are bringing my Russian Vocabulary back to me in the most interesting way. Thank you so much.

  2. Rob:

    Сделать из дерьма конфету (lit. To make candy out of crap)

    Hmmm… in English, “crap” and “sh*t” don’t always imply that something is of low quality.

    For instance, “I love this sh*t — it’s totally delicious” is a completely normal sentence, at least in slang. (It may merely signify that you don’t know the food’s correct name, as when you’re dining at a Chinese restaurant, for instance.)

    What’s the recommended Russian translation for these words when you’re just using them as a “humorous placeholder” for some unknown word, without implying bad quality?

    • yelena:

      @Rob Yes, very true. I did not think of the use of the word “sh*t” in a sense of something really good 🙂

  3. Nata:

    Rob, in Russian the placeholder for something you don’t know the name of (or simply do not care all that much) is usually фигня or, if you want to be more rude or negative, херня (or хрень). These words don’t really have a literal translation, which sort of make sense – after all, you’re not supposed to know what the hell it is 🙂

    • yelena:

      @Nata Отлично! Кстати, это напомнило мне вот этот диалог:

      — Дай эту фиговину.
      — На фига?
      — Я ею прифигачу вот эту фигню.
      — Так ведь фигня получится!
      — А тебе не по фигу?

      (из вот этой статьи)