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International Women’s Day in Russia Posted by on Mar 8, 2011 in Culture, Russian life, Traditions

Today is the day when Russian men «поют дифирамбы» [sing praises] to Russian women. And Russian women, congratulating each other «в стихах и прозе» [in poetry and prose], not so jokingly wish for the day to end. For today, March 8th, Russians celebrate «Международный женский день» [International Women’s Day].

The whole world knows that Russian women are «красавицы» [beauties]. What they don’t know is that Russian woman is also «отличница, комсомолка, спортсменка» [an outstanding student, a member of the Komsomol youth organization, an athlete]. This famous phrase, from a Soviet-era movie «Кавказская пленница» [The (female) prisoner of the Caucasus] means “an ideal woman”, the one who succeeds in everything she undertakes and in spite of anything thrown at her.

And that’s exactly the kind of woman who «коня на скаку остановит, в горящую избу войдёт» [will stop a galloping horse, will enter a burning house]. This is a phrase that all Russian men know even those who have never read Nekrasov’s famous poem.

Back to the 8th of March… This is the day when children give hand-made cards to their mothers while husbands attempt to both clean the house and cook dinner while watching the kids. Then the men give up and run out for some «цветы» [flowers], «безделушки» [trinkets] and «коробка шоколада» [a box of chocolates].

And women try to get a break from «домашние дела» [household chores] if for just a few hours. But that almost never happens. 8th of March is a federal holiday in Russia and a day off. So friends and family get together in the afternoon to «отметить дату» [celebrate the occasion]. Naturally, all the cooking and much of the cleaning are done by women.

Of course, the first toast at the table is «за прекрасных дам» [to the beautiful ladies]. But by the end of «застолье» [soiree] men are frequently too «подшофе» [drunk] to even help get the dishes to the sink. «Лучшая половина» [lit: the better half, wife] is left to do all the cleanup.

To Russian men’s credit, they do know of their shortcomings. They also have largely theoretical knowledge of how tough life is for their «подруги жизни» [lit. life partners, wives and girlfriends]. They understand that Russian women are the glue that holds Russian society together and gives it strength to continue on. And they do it with virtually no recognition of their hard work.

One of my favorite Russian «сатирики» [satirists], Mikhail Zhvanetski, once said «Воспитанный мужчина не сделает замечания женщине, плохо несущей шпалу.» [A well-brought up man will never correct a woman improperly carrying a railroad tie.]

He also, by the way, described the conspicuous absence of women in Russian politics in his snappy «Почему они все так хотят в парламент?! Ведь есть же рестораны, клубы, ночные бары… Туда можно с женщиной…» [Why do they (women) still want to be in the Parlament?! After all, there are restaurants, clubs, bars… One can go there with a woman…”

Unfortunately, most foreigners consider beauty to be the main attribute of a Russian woman. Yet beauty is not what sets Russian women apart. Nor is it their smarts, education, modesty or subservience (unbelievable, but some men still look for this quality in their wives). Above all, Russian women are infinitely patient and resilient, much like the country they live in.

So when you lift your glass today, let this toast guide you:

– Я возьму себе жену красивую, умную, верную и хозяйственную! – говорит один холостяк другому.
– И как ты думаешь управляться со всеми четырьмя?- опешил второй.
Так выпьем же за наших жен, совмещающих в себе все эти качества и еще многие другие!

[- When I marry, I will choose a wife who’s beautiful, smart, faithful and the one that knows how to keep the house!, said one bachelor to another.

– And how do you plan on managing all four of them? – the other one exclaimed, taken aback.

So let’s raise our glasses to our wives, who combine all of these fine qualities along with many others!]

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  1. David:

    A few days late, but…

    This is the 100th Anniversary of Международный женский день

    It originated in America, with a group of socialist women pressing for womens’ rights.

    It was originally celebrated on the last Sunday of February. In 1917 it was 23 February, and in on that day (in the old Russian calendar) Russian women started a strike in Petrograd that led to the abdication of the Tsar, women getting votes, etc. 23 Feb old Russian calendar is 8 March in the present calendar, so 8 March became the day, in recognition of the womens’ achievements in starting the February revolution.

  2. David:

    “Воспитанный мужчина не сделает замечания женщине, плохо несущей шпалу>> шпалу (from шпала) looks to be related to the “sleep” words like спалня,сплю etc, with c instead of ш. And in British English a “railroad tie” is a SLEEPER. So Russian and English seem to use the same metaphor for the slabs that support the railway lines,although the words are different. Although maybe not all that different: switch the order of the consonants l and p in sleep and you get спл as in сплю. Re-ordering of this sort (Spoonerisms) is one of the ways in which words can change as languages drift apart.

    • yelena:

      @David David, thank you for your comment – it made me look up the origin of the word “шпала”. This is one of the things I love about Russian – even for native speakers it’s a “live and learn” kind of experience.

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