Time Paradoxes in Russian Posted by Maria on Oct 16, 2014 in when in Russia
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…
If you have been to Russia — of the vicinity — you will know that patience is not Russians’ strongest suit. In 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?
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