Russian Language Blog

Примета такая есть – There is an Omen Like That Posted by on Apr 16, 2012 in Culture, Russian life, when in Russia

I was so busy last week that I completely forgot about April 13. Тринадцатое апреля (April 13) this year fell on пятница (Friday). Since the next one will be в июле (in July), let’s get ready and talk a bit about Russian суеверия (superstitions).

You might’ve noticed that the верие part in the word суеверие sounds much like вера (faith, belief). The first part, суе-is related to the word суета (vanity, fuss) as in суета сует (vanity of vanities). It is also related to a wonderful verb суетиться (to fuss or bustle, usually in vain, without any results):

Наташа гдето бегала, комуто звонила, суетилась, но толку от её суеты не было (Natasha was running around hustling and bustling, making some calls, but nothing came out of all this fuss)

Another word for суеверие is примета (an omen). It is related to the word метка (a mark) and the verb примечать (to take note of something). Not all приметы  are old wives tales. In fact, many народные приметы (folk wisdom) reflect cumulative wisdom of generations.

Still, there is a bunch of плохие приметы (bad omens), дурные приметы (bad omens) or even скверные приметы (nasty omens) that are nothing, but superstitions. But that’s some boring reading. Let’s watch (totally family-friendly) a cartoon instead.

The episode at the beginning of this post is from a very popular Russian show Смешарики (Smeshariki). It is called Скверная примета (Nasty omen). How many of the superstitions do you know that appear in this cartoon?

Here they are in the order of appearance:

Встать  не с той ноги (lit: gets up on the wrong foot). This is like saying “to get up on the wrong side of the bed”. The entire day will likely be наперекосяк (messed up).

В понедельник не следует начинать новых дел (One should not start anything new on Monday) . As you know, понедельник – день тяжёлый (Mondays are tough) and there’s no need to осложнять положение (complicate things).

Баба с пустыми вёдрами (a woman with empty buckets) – it’s pretty hard to run into this situation now unless you go to деревня (a village) with no running water. On the other hand, what about all the moms at playgrounds as they carry their children’s (empty) sand buckets?

Возвращаться плохая примета (It’s a bad omen to return) – if you step out of the house and realize that you forgot something, do not go back EVER unless you want to risk getting into all sorts of trouble later, as you finally get on the road. Of course, sometimes you must return for something жизненно важное (vital, life-and-death), say your iPhone or to turn the oven off.  In this case, don’t forget to посмотреть в зеркало (look in a mirror) on your way out.

Соль просыпать – к сcоре (Spilling salt will lead to an argument or a fight). But this one is so easy to remedy! Just pick up щепотка просыпанной соли (a pinch of spilt salt) with your right hand and throw it over your left shoulder. Now you’ll be ok!

Перчатку потерять – к несчастью (To lose a glove causes misfortune). Sure, because now you have to go and buy a whole new pair! Either that or your mom не даст пирога (won’t give you a pie). Double points if you know the rhyme I’m referring to (let me know in the comments)

Тараканы – к богатству (Cockroaches mean money) – I don’t know about that, but пауки (spiders) in the house are a sure-fire way to come into some money. You know what else will bring you money? If your friends and relatives don’t recognize you right away on the street or even over the phone. In Russia when this happens, people say Богатым будешь! (You’ll be rich!)

Одежда наизнанку – к слезам (Clothing worn inside out leads to tears) – especially if you get teased about it. Another version of this примета says that if you wear your clothes inside out (by accident), будешь битым (you will get punched), which will probably lead to tears.

Число тринадцать – несчастливое (Thirteen is an unlucky number) – that’s pretty much the same as in the West. Except that this unlucky number is not called “a baker’s dozen”, but instead чёртова дюжина (a devil’s dozen).

Свистеть – денег не будет (Whistling means no money) – this is especially true if done indoors. In general, свистеть (to whistle) is considered bad-mannered even when done outside. If you do forget and start whistling a tune at your friend’s house, immediately stop, apologize and hand him a live roach (or a spider) to counteract the bad omen.

You say this is all ерунда (nonsense), but believe me, Russians do pay attention to such приметы. So don’t be surprised when

  • Your friends won’t shake hands with you or even talk to you unless you are on the same side of порог (threshold) as they are.
  • You will be asked to присесть на минуту (sit down for a minute) before getting on the road.
  • Your pregnant friend stops getting hair cuts and gives up her favorite past-time, knitting.
  • Your friends will go out of their way to avoid stepping over your legs, your child’s legs, even your dog sprawling on the floor.
  • You will be chastised for pointing to your body parts when telling a story of someone else’s accident or illness as in Вася забыл пристегнуться и ударился головой о руль так, что вот здесь пришлось три шва накладывать (Vasya forgot to buckle up and hit his head so hard on the steering wheel that he had to get three stitches right here)
  • Every time you step on someone’s foot, they will insist on lightly stepping on yours to avoid a possible argument.
  • You will be asked загадать желание (to make a wish) every time you find yourself seated or standing between two Russians who are тёзки (sharing the same name).
  • Oh, and expect a lot of spitting over the left shoulder and knocking on wood too (if there’s no wood readily available, your friend might even lightly knock herself on the head).

What other Russian приметы and суеверия do you know?


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  1. Ard:

    Always put an empty bottle (of wine, beer, vodka, etc.) on the floor, never on the table!
    Mis-handling an empty bottle may result in an empty wallet.

    • yelena:

      @Ard That is a great example, Ard. It’s even more interesting than most other superstitions since it has a very sensible origin.

  2. Rob McGee:

    Тараканы – к богатству

    Богатство именно тому (у того??), кто занимается уничтожением тараканов!!

    I mean to say, “Wealth namely for those whose business is the extermination of cockroaches.” (I checked Google and there doesn’t seem to be a word for “professional bug exterminator”, but уничтожение — lit., “annihilation” — seems to be commonly used in the context of pest-control.)

    • yelena:

      @Rob McGee Rob, you might know the joke “Стук в дверь. На пороге молодой человек с саквояжем:
      – Мыши, крысы, клопы, тараканы есть?
      – Нет.
      – Нате! – и открывает саквояж.” (Knock on the door. A young man with a briefcase stands on the threshold. Do you have mice, rats, bed bugs and roaches?
      – No.
      – Here you go then! – he says opening the briefcase.)

  3. Sarahjane:

    Oh? Does Russia have an equiavalent of:

    “Three little kittens
    Have lost their mittens
    And don’t know where to find them?” 🙂

    • yelena:

      @Sarahjane Sarahjane, you’ve got it! Yes, there is a Russian translation of the three little kittens rhyme. It starts off “потеряли котятки на дороге перчатки и в слезах прибежали домой…” Read the rest and other Mother Goose rhymes here –

  4. Мария:

    Елена, спасибо-спасибо-спасибо Вам за такие замечательные посты! Я учитель английского языка, а в разговорах на простые темы с учениками так часто не хватает именно простых бытовых словечек и именно в контексте разницы культур (как то кулич, оказывается, Easter bread, дача так и будет dacha и т.д.) С упоением читаю блог уже где-то полгода и каждый раз столько полезного для себя нахожу!
    Было бы ОЧЕНЬ интересно почитать Вашу историю – как попали в Америку, сколько лет Вам было и, самое главное, как Вам удалось так замечательно выучить английский, чтобы делать столь точный перевод порой сложных вещей.
    Спасибо Вам за Ваш труд!

  5. Sarahjane:

    Thanks, Yelena! That’s one of my little daughter’s favourite rhymes in English, and I’d love to read her the Russian version. She already loves the Russian Винни-Пух, Ну погоди! и т. д.

    Полностью согласна с Марией, мне тоже интересно, как Вы попали в Америку, выучили английский до такого высокого уровня.

  6. Rob McGee:

    Нате! – и открывает саквояж.

    LOL! I hadn’t heard that joke, but it immediately reminded me of this famous scene from the 1970s Dracula spoof Love at First Bite.

  7. Rob McGee:

    P.S. Hmmm, now I know what a саквояж is! It’s a word I know from the poem Багаж, which we had to memorize in 2nd-year Russian (“Диван, чемодан, саквояж, корзина, картина, картонка, и маленькая собачонка…”). But I always imagined it as something more like a canvas Army duffel bag.

  8. Yelena:

    Rob, lol! Однако, за время пути собака могла подрасти 🙂 Well, I think the proper term for саквояж in English is carpet-bag, but not the fancy-schmancy Vera Bradley one. It’s more of a larger one made of leather.

  9. Paddy:

    Now I know why my Russian friend stands really close to the door when she calls. As soon as I open the door, she dives in, so that I can’t make the mistake of saying hello to her before she’s got over the threshold.

    • yelena:

      @Paddy Paddy, as you’ve noticed, transacting any business, including even brief conversations, over a threshold is a big no-no in Russia. I still feel very uncomfortable when girl scouts make their rounds selling cookies. My first instinct is to ask them to come in. And handing out candy on Halloween is pure torture because it feels so rude to do it over the threshold.

  10. Киммо:

    I found it odd that my friends put all their empty bottles on the floor. Now I know. Thanks for that bit of info.

    I also found it odd that when I was leaving, my friend strongly insisted that I sit. I couldn’t fathom why. Now I know why. Very helpful, thanks.