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Russian MiniLessons
for intermediate and advanced students
2009 Archives
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Below is an archive of the Russian MiniLessons featured in the SRAS newsletter over the 2009 school year. Please see our FULL TABLE OF CONTENTS for a list of all lessons, arranged by subject. To subscribe to the newsletter, and recieve a free Mini-Lesson each month, simply sign up.  

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Baby's First Documents - Первые документы малыша

Birth in Russia - Рождение ребенка в России
Part 3 - Часть Третья

After three days at the роддом (specialized maternity clinics; see Part 2 for full discussion maternity clinic, the woman выписывается (checks out), and the father goes through a ceremony of sorts where he meets the mother and the новорожденный (newborn; sometimes the more colloquial terms "малыш" or "младенец" are used). The baby передается (is handed) to the father by two or three members of the clinic personnel and the whole process is usually captured in a фотосъемка (photo session) and sometimes even a видеосъемка (video session). The father is encouraged by the staff to purchase copies of these photos and the video - which are official services of the роддом. It is tradition to give a bottle of champagne or a box of chocolates to each of the personnel present as a sign of gratitude for his/her service - although today it is perhaps more common and practical to simply give each a few hundred rubles.

Once home from the роддом, the parents must do lot of paperwork to document the child with various государственные органы (government offices).

To do this, they need to obtain две справки из больницы (two certificates from the hospital). These are basically certificates of live birth, though they differ in terms of the form used, the chain of events they set off, and their final destinations.

The first certificate is taken to the ЗАГС, an acronym that stands for органы записи актов гражданского состояния (Government Registry Offices; literally: Offices for Recording Acts of Civil Status), where the parents obtain самый главный документ малыша (the child's most important document) - свидетельство о рождении (the birth certificate). The parents are required obtain this certificate no later than one month after the child is born.

After receiving the birth certificate, the parents must оформить гражданство (apply for citizenship) for their child. Unlike in the US where being born on US soil automatically grants US citizenship, in Russia each individual must apply for citizenship, even if both parents are Russian and the child is born in Russia. This child's citizenship will be given в виде особого штампа на свидетельстве о рождении (in the form of a special stamp on the birth certificate). This process is completed at the local offices of the Федеральная миграционная служба (Federal Migration Service, usually referred to in Russian by the initialism "ФМС").

At the ФМС, officials also вписывают родителям в паспорта данные ребенка, (inscribe the child's information into the parents' passports). The stamp duplicates information from the свидетельство о рождении. The stamp used to be more frequently used (i.e. for checkups for the child with state-run clinics, enroling the child in school), but increasingly these institutions are requiring the original свидетельство о рождении be shown. Modern Russian parents report that the stamp is used only infrequently now when traveling.

Next, as all people in Russia must obtain регистрация по месту жительства (registration of their place of residence) with the government, the child must also быть зарегистрированным. To do this, the parents must go to a паспортный стол (passport table) which is called such because this particular government entity often does not have its own offices, but are instead located in other offices. The location can be found in government directories and usually online. The fact that the child is registered is stamped on the свидетельство о рождении. However, if it is needed to show where the child is registered, the parents will need to obtain a выписка из домовой книги (extract from the housing record) в паспортном столе.

Lastly, the parents нужно обратиться в районную поликлинику (must apply to a regional health clinic) in order to receive a полис обязательного страхования (mandatory insurance policy), which is issued by the government and which guarantees the citizen medical assistance within Russia. This полис is issued as a small plastic card which looks much like a credit card.

The specifics on how all these procedures are carried out меняется почти каждый год (change almost every year). For example, the agency where вписывают родителям в паспорта данные ребенка used to be ЗАГС, but the function moved to the ФМС two years ago. Parents often обращаются к государственным сайтам (check the government websites) and also check unofficial форумы (internet forums) to see what to do and what to expect.

The other справка из больницы is used for получение единовременного пособия по рождению ребенка (receiving a onetime state benefit for the birth of a child). If at least one of the parents is employed, this is received from the government through one of the parents' employers. If neither parent is employed, the funds are received from органы социальной защиты населения (social services offices). Currently in Russia, this onetime payment is около десяти тысяч рублей (close to 10,000 rubles or about $330).

This is part of a программа социальной защиты (social security program) that mothers and infants are entitled to in Russia. Our next installment of this series will cover this in more detail.

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The Maternity Clinic - Роддом

Birth in Russia - Рождение ребенка в России
Part 2 - Часть Вторая

Despite the fact that Russian citizens have access to free health care, many women elect not have бесплатные роды (free delivery of the baby) because of the often inferior facilities and service that state родильные дома (specialized maternity clinics; popularly known as "роддома") offer. Роддома differ, with some having been remodeled after the fall of the Soviet Union and some now with decades-old paint peeling off.

The good news is that a woman may give birth in any clinic she chooses and thus, because clinics so widely differ, the process of choosing a clinic usually begins very early in the pregnancy by asking friends, researching online, and visiting clinics.

Роддом-8 is one Moscow's largest maternity clinics.

Sometimes women рожают дома с личной акушеркой (give birth at home with a personal midwife/obstetrician). Those who can afford it sometimes pay to give birth in a частный родильный дом (private maternity clinic). The cost of this outside of Moscow currently ranges from about $300-1,000. Inside Moscow, costs generally range from $1,000 to $5,000, depending on the services ordered such as отдельная палата (private rooms) or присутствие отца при родах (having the father present at birth).

While it is now officially discouraged, expectant parents also sometimes come to an understanding with a doctor at a free clinic to make sure they have "хорошее отношение" (good relations) during childbirth. This was once a more straightforward arrangement whereby the parents would agree that that doctor would oversee the birth and would receive some specific amount if everything went well. There are now regulations to discourage this - including preventing doctors from coming in on their day off (so it is not always certain who will perform the delivery). However, a tradition has remained of paying the doctor a large sum (in Moscow, $1000 is a fairly common amount) upon the delivery of the child. 

In some state clinics, it is possible to sign a договор с личным доктором (contract with a personal doctor) which will oblige the clinic or doctor to вести беременность (monitor the pregnancy) and проводить необходимые исследования (perform the needed tests) and to принимать роды (deliver the baby). The most important of these tests are Анализ на СПИД (AIDS test) and УЗИ (ultrasounds - pronounced "oo-zee," an acronymn for ультразвуковое исследование).  

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In some state clinics, paid services are also available through a контракт на роды (contract for maternity services) which can entitle the mother to services such as those found at private clinics and generally a повышенный уровень комфорта (higher level of comfort) for будущая мать (the expectant mother). These can include, for instance, having one doctor oversee the pregnancy and deliver the child and to give birth in a private room or semi-private room rather than in a room with as many as six other women. The husband can be present for the birth and посещать жену и ребенка после родов (stay with the wife and child after the delivery).

However, these contracts are not considered by many doctors and patients to be an optimal arrangement, as the parents generally pay more and the doctor, in the end, receives less due to the administrative costs of the contract. An informal arrangement is preferred as it increases the doctor's economic incentive to provide attentive and sympathetic care.

The mother should bring a few papers to the роддом. These include:

  • Обменная карта (exchange card), which is given to the беременная (pregnant woman) on the 32nd week of pregnancy. This is considered the most important document for the future mother because it has all the information about her pregnancy and includes the результаты необходимых анализов (results of the necessary medical tests). In the event of an emergency, the mother has a complete medical history of the pregnancy to hand to any doctor.
  • Страховой полис (medical insurance card)
  • Паспорт (passport)

The clinic generally has все необходимое для пребывания мамы и ребенка (everything necessary for the child and mother's stay). The mother will generally arrive with предметы личной гигиены (items for her personal hygiene; or toiletries). Many women prefer to arrive with certain items for themselves and their infant to ensure that they are of high quality. Each роддом has its own list of things which the молодая мама (young mother) may bring.

These often can include:

  • Памперсы (diapers),
  • Прокладки (disposable absorbent pads to lay the baby on)
  • Распашонка (a loose-fitting baby shirt)
  • Пеленка (a piece of cloth to wrap the baby in)
  • Чепчик (bonnet)
  • Тапочки (slippers) - for the mother
  • Посуда (dishes) - for the mother
  • Еда (food - especially apples and other high-nutrition, low-acid foods, etc)

There are also some restrictions for what can be brought in роддом. A lot of foodstuff is prohibited, such as those which can spoil easily such as кондитерские изделия с кремом (pastry with cream) and мороженое (ice-cream), and foods that contain caffeine such as кофе (coffee) and шоколад (chocolate). Потенциальные аллергены (potential allergens) such as цитрусы (citrus fruits) and клубника (strawberries) are also prohibited.

The woman usually stays at роддом at least three days after giving birth and sometimes for several days before giving birth. The father makes trips to bring things from home that she or the новорожденный (newborn) may need/want, but is generally banned from actually entering the facility at any time, officially по санитарным причинам (for sanitary reasons).

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Haunted Places in Russia - "Нехорошие" места в России

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According to Russian folk beliefs, нечистая сила (evil spirits - sometimes referred to with the shortened "нечисть") prefer to settle in evil places or places viewed as conducive to evil.

These can be categorized in several broad categories (not all of which are listed here). One consists of uncivilized places or places not conducive to civilization. These include: дикие места (uncultivated and/or unsettled grounds), трущобы (thickets), трясина (bogs), and непроходимые болота (impassable swamps). Another category deals with the concept of предел (threshold) - where one area crosses to the next. These include развилки дорог (crossroads), мосты (bridges), околицы деревень (borders of villages), edges of fields края полей, пещеры (caves), ямы (pits), and колодцы (wells).

Crossroads are traditionally considered places of evil across Europe because, in ancient times and into the middle ages, people who died while traveling were traditionally buried at the next crossroad. As the places became associated with death, tales of неуспокоенные души, которые скитаются у развилок дорог (restless souls wandering at the crossroads) and of убийцы, которые прячутся в засадах у развилок дорог (murderers lurking at crossroads) became common.

Places that are considered опасный (dangerous) are also places that might be haunted. These include пруды (ponds) and especially водовороты (whirlpools), which are often associated with утопление (drowning). Places known for their риск пожара (risk of fire) such as места за печью и под ней (places behind and under an oven) and the баня (bathhouse) are often settings for grizzly tales of evil spirits burning people alive or even flaying off their skin. Хлева (barns or cattlesheds - note the irregular plural of this word), where people are at риск обрушения (risk of trampling), are also sometimes inhabited by evil spirits.

Places associated with склад (storage) make up another category. This includes емкости с водой (water containers), емкости с мукой (flour containers), погреба (cellars - note the irregular plural form again), and чердаки (attics).  Russians once commonly made the sign of the cross before opening flour jars, for instance, and those that didn't were sometimes tormented by devils.

   Recommended Reading!
Russian Folk Belief
See Also:
More on Russian Mythology
Day of Ivan Kupala
MiniLessons: Religion, Folklore
More on Baba Yaga
More Haunted Places

There are also certain trees associated with evil, such as верба (pussy-willow), орешник (hazel nut tree), and груша (pear tree). The beliefs about these trees originate from the particular features of each tree. For example, spoilt hazel nuts turn black inside their shell, as though burnt. Folklore explained this with stories of the trees saving people from lightening or fiery devils by catching the evil forces inside its nutshells. Ancient Slavs would sometimes make circles of hazel wood branches around themselves for protection. Some Russians still consider the hazel nut tree to be a талисман (talisman).

Sometimes, the same tree can symbolize both good and evil spirits. For example, a young pussy-willow symbolizes growth, health, fertility and protects from natural calamities, evil spits and disease. At the same time, an old pussy-willow is considered a home or hiding place for черти (devils).

It is not recommended to спать под "нехорошим" деревом (to sleep under an "evil" tree) or to ломать его ветви (to break its branches). This allows evil spirits to завладеть вашей душой (capture your soul).

One difference between haunted houses in Russian culture and western culture is that sometimes, in Russian culture, houses are haunted not because of a зловещее убийство (grizzly murder) or other ужасное событие (terrible event) connected with it, but because all homes naturally have spirits in them called the "домовой" ("house spirit"). Cats can see the домовой, though humans usually can't. Some Russians believe that when a cat plays, it is playing with the домовой.

While generally positive or neutral spirits, домовой can become evil if not treated well. When moving to a new house, the домовой should also be invited. If not invited, the home becomes haunted by the slighted домовой, who can be extremely dangerous. Anyone attempting to reside in an заброшенный дом (abandoned house), risks смерть (death), ранение (injury), or безумие (madness) at the hands of the вызванные домовым (provoked house-spirit). An abandoned home may be abandoned for good reason! Sometimes a home to which people move will already have a домовой, and the домовой that the new residents invited from their old home will fight with this second spirit, causing хаос (havoc) in the home until one is driven from the house or defeated.

Some places are посещается (haunted) by духи умерших (spirits of the deceased). The Moscow Kremlin is among one of them - where the ghosts of old Russian czars like Alexander II and Ivan the Terrible have been seen. An official working late one night in 1994 in the room under Lenin's former office обеспокоили (was disturbed by) by звуки шагов над ним (sounds of pacing above him). Sure that this was Lenin's ghost, the official stopped staying late at the office for fear of disturbing the spirit.

St Petersburg has many ghosts - Peter the Great has been reported haunting the Winter Palace and the murdered Tsar Paul I haunts Mikhailovsky Castle. The ghost of Sofiya Perovskaya, a Russian revolutionary who is best remembered for her role in assassinating Tsar Alexander II and being the first woman казненная (executed) in Russia for political crimes, is often seen on the bridge crossing Ekaterininsky Channel, the purple imprint of the noose still around her neck and the lantern she used to signal her terrorists still in her hand.

The village of Kukoboi is perhaps the place with the greatest concentration of haunted places in Russia. This village, in the Yaroslavsky Oblast (some 200 miles from Moscow), is considered the home of Баба-Яга, an old witch immortalized in Russian fairy tales who, among other things, похищает (kidnaps) and sometimes eats children. Kukoboi has several haunted houses, spots, and even a haunted library.

Former World War II battlefields are also known as места скопления духов (gathering places for ghosts). Here, many people were killed and often not buried properly, leaving their ghosts to remain on earth. One can reportedly see солдаты-призраки, идущие в бой (ghost soldiers going into battle) and shouting "Ура!" (Hurrah!) while attacking enemies. There are such places in many Russian regions with the most notorious being Volgograd (formerly Stalingrad), where more than 3 million people died defending the city, and Myasnoi Bor in the Novgorod region where tens of thousands of soldiers died in the swamps and are, to this day, unburied.

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Birth in Russia - Рождение ребенка в России

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Birth in Russia - Рождение ребенка в России
Part 1 - Часть Первая

Russia's current demographic crisis, in which it is losing a few hundred thousand people per year, means that childbirth is an important topic there. It is, however, a very wide topic, incorporating economics, education, biology, sociology, and even politics. This is the first in a multi-part series from The School of Russian and Asian Studies that will address many of these issues and the Russian terminology related to them. 

There is no standard сексуальное образование (sex education) in Russian public schools. In the 1980s, a class called "Ethics and Psychology of Family Life" was introduced, but the teachers were too embarrassed to explain "the birds and the bees," which is known in Russian as "пестики и тычинки" (the pistils and stamens). The class was therefore ineffective and soon cancelled.

In 1986, cross-sectional views of мужские и женские половые органы (male and female sexual organs) were added to the anatomy textbook for the first time. However, the textbook still does not mention "половой акт" (intercourse), "контрацепция" (contraception), or even "планирование семьи" (family planning). There is no information on how to protect oneself from болезнь, передающаяся половым путём (sexually transmitted diseases; also known in Russian by the acronym "ЗППП") such as СПИД (AIDS; in Russian, as in English, the disease is most often referred to by the acronym. It stands for синдром приобретённого иммунодефицита (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome).  

The Russian Orthodox Church actively opposes sex education in schools. It has been referred to as "evil" by Orthodox groups. Patriarch Kirill, the leader of the Russian Orthodox Church, and many conservative politicians such as Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov, have made public statements against sex education as well.

Some progress has been made. Today, in some Russian schools contraception is explained in a special classes such as "Основы безопасности жизнедеятельности" (The Basics of Safety in Life). A few schools also offer a course called "Валеология" (Healthy Lifestyle; the term is actually defined as "the scientific study of the structure, development, protection, and strengthening of human physical and moral health." Some schools invite a гинеколог (gynecologist) once a year to talk with female high school students about gynecology. Sometimes representatives of firms making прокладки (sanitary pads) will give lectures in schools, distributing brochures and samples of their products.

While most of the processes leading up to it are avoided in Russian schools, most Russian students are taught the basic process of оплодотворение (fertilization) wherein a сперматозоид (sperm) penetrates the яйцеклетка (egg), creating a зигота (zygote; also called "оплодотворенная яйцеклетка," or "fertilized egg"). When the zygote divides the result is referred to as a зародыш (embryo). 

Some health expectations for a беременная женщина (pregnant woman) are the same in Russia as in the West. In Russia, many if not most women will quit курение (smoking) and не употреблять спиртных напитков (do not consume alcoholic beverages) for the length of the pregnancy. Some expectations in Russia are different from those in the West. Doctors recommend pregnant women stop any exercise regime in favor of special гимнастика для беременных (exercises for pregnant women) and light swimming.

During the вторая половина беременности (second half of the pregnancy) spicy food, chocolate, rich foods, and caffeine are strictly prohibited. Углеводы (carbohydrates), мучное (floury products), and крахмал (starch) are restricted. After birth, during кормление грудью (breastfeeding), the diet is restricted further, ruling out red foods, most fruits, most fresh vegetables, and other restrictions based on the doctor's advice.

Russian people have a lot of superstitions related to literally every aspect of life, and pregnancy is not an exception. Not everyone follows them, but they are generally known. A pregnant woman, for example, should not play with cats, otherwise the child will have many enemies. A pregnant woman should not sit on the porch as this might attract evil spirits. She should not sit cross-legged or the child may be pigeon-toed. If she eats fish, the child may be born немой (dumb; unable to speak). Some believe that pregnant women should not have haircuts, nor should they tell other people день родов (when the baby is due), as this attracts bad luck to the pregnancy.

Probably the most followed superstition in Russia is that one should not buy children's items before the child is born. Some young progressive parents do break this, but often against the wishes of their own parents. Traditionally, the father, upon hearing that the baby has been born, will buy the детская кроватка (crib), пустышки (pacifiers), погремушки (rattles), молочная смесь (formula), clothing, and other needed items that day and begins assembling the детская комната (nursery) at home. As Russian women will spend at least three days in the hospital after the birth, this theoretically gives the father enough time to do all this.

Russia's public health care system is especially concerned with the health of pregnant women. The woman expecting a baby should register with женская консультация (a maternity clinic) before the twelfth week of pregnancy. She is immediately given анализы крови (blood tests), анализ мочи (a urine analysis), and often анализ кала (a fecal analysis). These tests look for the presence of diseases, and also, among other things, check hormone levels and sugar levels.

After this, the expectant mother undergoes a medical examination at least once a month during the first half of the pregnancy period, twice a month from the twentieth to the twenty-eighth week, and once a week thereafter. These examinations can include not only a general checkup, but also more tests such as those already described. She will additionally undergo an электрокардиограмма (electrocardiogram) and УЗИ (ultrasound) two or three times in the course of the pregnancy. Ultrasounds are believed to "disturb" the baby, and therefore are given in relative moderation.

All births are performed in state-certified maternal clinics known as a "родильный дом" (birthing houses) or sometimes by a shortened version of the name "роддом." More about these clinics and child birth will be covered in a future installment of the SRAS Russian Mini-Lesson. 

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Ссориться по-русски – Fighting in Russian

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The Russian language, like English, has a rich vocabulary for discussing conflicts. The verb "to fight" has several equivalents in Russian. If we list them according to the degree of severity, the most severe are драться (to be engaged in physical fighting) and скандалить (to argue loudly and disruptively; note that the root of the word is "скандал" or "scandal").

Конфликтовать (to conflict / have a conflict) sounds less severe and more official. Even less severe, and more commonly used, are the verbs спорить (to argue or debate) and ссориться (to quarrel or disagree). Friends may ссориться из-за женщины/мужчины (fight over a woman/man), or из-за разногласий (because of a difference of opinion). Married couples the world over often ссориться из-за денег (fight over money) or из-за того, что муж/жена проводит слишком много времени с друзьями (because husband/wife spends too much time with friends).

Friends might спорят (have an argument) and оскорбить (insult) each other or спорят because one оскорбил/ла the other. A particularly strong оскорбление (insult) may result in a длительная вражда (feud; note that "вражда" is from the root "враг," or "enemy"). Соперничество (rivalry) is a softer term and may exist even between friends who, for example, want to excel in their studies or who have fallen in love with the same person. An escalated fight might turn into дать/получить нагоняй (to give/get a tongue lashing).

Russian also has a rich lexicon for reconciliation. It may be possible to reconcile people who are fighting by saying to them: "Ну хватит вам, что вы завелись..." (Haven't you had enough? What are you so worked up about?) or "прекращайте, друзья а ссоритесь..." (Stop it, you are friends and yet fighting?).

There is a belief that "чем быстрее вы помиритесь, тем быстрее вы почувствуете облегчение и спокойствие на душе." (The sooner you reconcile, the sooner you will feel relief and inner peace). There also exist sayings like "худой мир лучше доброй ссоры" (a bad peace is better than a good fight) and "всякая ссора красна примиреньем" (the best thing about any fight is making up). In English, we often say that it's best to let bygones be bygones. Russian phrases the same thought very strongly, perhaps reminiscent of Gandhi's "an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind." Russians say: "кто старое помянет, тому глаз вон (literally: he who remembers bygones deserves to lose an eye).

After all, if a fight is left unchecked, friends might перестать разговаривать (never speak again). Spouses or lovers might расстаться (separate), разорвать отношения (break up), or разорвать брак (divorce).

Fighting on an international scale can be even more dangerous. When Russians speak about fighting between countries, they most often use the formal verb конфликтовать (to conflict), which can refer to just about any type of conflict that might occur. Countries might fight over пограничный спор (a border dispute), разные идеологии (differing ideologies), религия (religion), проблемы торговли (trade problems), or they might fight чтобы получить доступ к природным богатствам (to gain access toif natural resources). An international fight often starts with эскалация напряжения (escalating tensions) and словесная война (a war of words) and can result in торговая война (a trade dispute), пограничные стычки (border skirmishes), or военный конфликт (military conflict).

American President Barak Obama declared at a summit in Moscow, that "холодная война закончилась миром" (the Cold War ended in peace). However, war very rarely ends so simply. Война (war) and the violence it causes can lead to lasting tensions. For instance, the Caucasus region of Russia was very recently a war zone and is still widely seen as in conflict. Those who have had relatives, family members, or clan members killed will, according to their culture, declare a кровная месть (vendetta, blood feud) on those whom they blame for the deaths. These types of tensions can persist even after those involved in the initial violence officially объявить перемирие (call a truce) or заключить мир (make peace).

Two examples of international conflict in Russia's recent history also show that conflict can be handled and thought of very differently. The trade conflict between Russia and Belarus in 2009 was treated quite softly by the Russian side. Prime Minister Putin struck a conciliatory tone, stating "мы - единая семья, в семье могут происходить и ссоры, и скандалы, но все равно жизнь идет своим чередом" (We are one family; a family may have fights and scandals, but its life together goes on). However, in the aftermath of the 2008 military conflict with Georgia, President Medvedev's words can be seen as anything but conciliatory: "мы, конечно, предполагали, что у нашего соседа не все в порядке с мозгами, хотя и не ожидали, что до такой степени" (We, of course, already thought that our neighbor was not quite right in the head, but we didn't expect to what extent), referring to Georgian president Mikheil Saakashvili's decision to invade Georgia's breakaway province of South Ossetia.

Even the Cold War, it can be argued, has not ended quite as simply as Obama's quote assumes. In fact, it would seem that on many levels, relations between Russia and the US are still marked paradoxically by дружба и соперничество одновременно (friendship and rivalry at the same time). This can often happen when two countries with a complicated past, with both сталкивающиеся и перекрещивающиеся интересы (conflicting and overlapping interests), and when both countries are strong enough to prevent the other from declaring war or escalating tensions too far - as is the case with Russia and the US today.

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Как торговаться – How to Haggle 


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I. Как торговаться на рынке (How to haggle at the marketplace)

Рынок (A marketplace) is a popular place in Russia for shopping. Here, people buy produce and meat, household goods and clothes, even building materials and electronics, depending on the size of the рынок and what it specializes in. At a продовольственный рынок (grocery marketplace), you can buy свежие продукты (fresh foods). Вещевой рынок is a place where you can buy clothes cheaper than at regular stores. Electronics might be bought at a аудиовидеокомпьютерный рынок (electronics market – literally: audio / video / computer market) and building materials at a рынок стройматериалов. In Moscow, there is even a птичий рынок (pets market) where all sorts of household pets can be bought.

Рынки are popular because they offer similar products as offered in обычные магазины (regular stores) for substantially lower prices. Especially in the case of продовольственные рынки (food markets), the products may even be of higher quality as well. However, one should also be aware that sometimes products, especially at вещевые рынки (clothing markets), tend to be knock-offs (подделки).

It is acceptable to торговаться (haggle) на рынке (at the marketplace) in order to сбавить цену (reduce the price) of a product. Often the person working the kiosk is a частный предприниматель (private entrepreneur) who will come down a little on the price in order to make a sale. 

If a customer asks, "Сколько стоит?" ("How much?"), after hearing the answer, he/she might counter, "Очень дорого. Не продадите подешевле?" (That's very expensive. Would you sell it cheaper?). Задобрить (To sweeten the deal), the customer might offer "Возьму сразу три" (I will take three items at once). Alternatively, the customer might be more direct and simply ask "Уступите за сто рублей?" or "За сто рублей отдадите?" (Would you let me have it for 100 roubles?) The seller might уступить наполовину (meet [the customer] half way) and offer "Берите за сто пятьдесят рублей" (You can have it for one hundred and fifty rubles). If the customer agrees, he might respond "Идет" (that works) or "Давайте" (all right / let's have it) to indicate that an agreement has been reached. 

II. Как торговаться с таксистом (How to haggle with a cab driver)

Частник, or частный извозчик (A private cab driver) will drive a private, unmarked cab and can carry you around a city дешевле (cheaper) than a regular таксист (cab driver). Regular taxis in Moscow are clearly marked and are equipped with счетчики (meters) that will measure the price of the ride. They usually have a минимальная плата (minimum charge) of 500 RUR (about $16 as of May, 2009). Usually these cab drivers не идет ни на какие уступки (are not willing to give any discount at all) and will insist on using the meter to gauge their fee. They should, however, be able to назвать примерную цену (give an estimate) of the likely charge and tourists are advised to ask for an estimate before getting in the car.

Most often, if you ловите такси (catch a cab) on the street, it will be a частник, which are plentiful in nearly all Russian cities.  With частники, haggling is not only общепринятое поведение (an accepted practice), it is обычное поведение (standard practice) and expected.

Ловить такси, (to catch a cab), стоять на обочине (standing on the curb), лицом к потоку транспорта (facing traffic), with одна рука немного вытянута в сторону (one arm slightly outstretched). Note that, because most taxis in Russia are частники and because most Russians prefer them, many Russians do not say "ловить такси," and instead say "ловить машину" (catch a car / hitch a ride) to better express the informal nature of the action.

Before getting in, you should open the door and tell the driver your destination, for example, "До Пушкинской площади не довезете?" (Can you take me to Pushkin Square?) The driver will usually respond with a terse "Сколько?"(How much?). The passenger then names a price he thinks is fair. Destinations within Moscow can usually be reached for a maximum of about 600 rubles. So, the passenger might say "Четыреста" (four hundred), to which the driver will usually add a few rubles, "Давайте за пятьсот" (Let's [agree] at 500). The passenger might say, "У меня только четыреста" (I only have four hundred [roubles]), thus not leaving the driver much room for further negotiation. If the driver agrees to the price, he can say, "Хорошо, садитесь" or  "Ладно, садитесь" (OK, have a seat).

It should be mentioned that private cabs are technically незаконные (illegal) in Russia, even though they are the most common form of taxi. However, they are also, with rare exception, safe and are usually driven by обычные мужики (slang: regular guys) who are just trying to make a little money in their spare time.

That said, you should never get in a cab if the driver doesn't know exactly where the destination is (and you should be able to give an exact location to be driven to). You should even ask "Вы точно знаете, где это находится?" (Do you know exactly where that is?). It is also recommended that tourists not accept rides from cabbies already carrying another passenger. Частники who wait outside of clubs and restaurants are usually more expensive than those flagged down from the street.

In general, полагайтесь на свои инстинкты (trust your instincts) when in Moscow. If the any situation seems odd or shady, walk away from it. Частники are plentiful and there will always be another soon if you chose not to accept a ride from the first one or two that stop.

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Тринадцать нечастных случаев – Thirteen Unfortunate Occurrences

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Russian Studies

Отрывки из школьных сочинений (extracts from school compositions) is a popular genre of humor in Russia. It usually consists of a list of "one-liners," which rely on words with double-meanings, illogically juxtaposed sentences, misused words or idioms to create a comic effect. The result is an "out of the mouths of babes" humor, attributing illogical, vulgar, and/or sublimely wise quotes to innocent or naïve speakers. Below are some examples of отрывки (extracts) that we found amusing – and fairly tame.

1. Онегину нравился Байрон, поэтому он и повесил его над кроватью.

Translation: Onegin liked Byron and for this reason he hung him above the bed.

Explanation: Here, the writer has left out a word. He/she should have said "повесил его портрет" (hung his portrait), but instead has basically said "hung (executed) Byron."

2. Лермонтов родился у бабушки в деревне, когда его родители жили в Петербурге.

Translation: Lermontov was born in his grandmother's village, while his parents were living in St. Petersburg.

Explanation: The sentence seems to imply seems to imply that Lermontov was born while his mother was elsewhere and is therefore humorously illogical.

3. Андрей Болконский часто ездил поглядеть тот дуб, на который он был похож как две капли воды.

Translation: Andrei Bolkonsky often went to see the oak tree, with which he shared a resemblance like two peas in a pod.

Explanation: First, note that the Russian idiom "как две капли воды" is literally translated "as two drops of water" but is closest in meaning to the English "like two peas in a pod").

The writer most likely meant that Andrei Bolkonsky, a character from Tolstoy's War and Peace was like the oak tree in character – in this case referring to the character's lethargy. However, the reader's first impression from this sentence is that Andrei actually looked exactly like an oak tree. A clearer phrasing for the intended thought would have been "Характер Андрея напоминал тот старый дуб" (Andrei's character reminded one of the old oak tree).

4. Бедная Лиза рвала цветы и этим кормила свою мать.

Translation: Poor Lisa often picked flowers and with it fed her mother.

Explanation: The writer means that Lisa picked flowers for a living to support her mother, and not that Lisa fed flowers to her mother as might be assumed on first impression. The writer would have been better understood if he/she had written "Кормила свою мать на деньги от продажи цветов" (fed her mother by means of the money made from selling the flowers).

5. Онегин был богатый человек: по утрам он сидел в уборной, а потом ехал в цирк.

Translation: Onegin was a rich person: each morning he sat in the toilet and afterwards went to the circus.

Explanation: The word "уборная" was used during Onegin's time to mean "dressing room." In modern usage, however, it most often means "toilet." The writer would have been better off to use the word the more modern word "раздевалка" or even the phrase "комната для переодевания" in place of "уборная."

6. Печорин похитил Бэлу в порыве чувств и хотел через ее любовь приблизиться к народу. Hо ему это не удалось. Hе удалось ему это и с Максимом Максимычем.

Translation: Pechorin kidnapped Bela in a fit of passion and he wanted to become closer to the common people by means of her love. But this did not work for him. It didn't work for him with Maksim Maksimovich either.

Explanation: The author is discussing Lermontov's A Hero of Our Time. In this story, Maksim Maksimovich is an elderly male army officer. The sentences above are juxtaposed in such a way as to imply that Pechorin had also kidnapped Maksim Maksimovich in order to begin a love affair with him. The writer should have wrote more specifically that "Не удалось ему это и в дружбе с Максимом Максимовичем" (it didn't work for him in his friendship with Maksim Maksimovich either).

7. Хлестаков сел в бричку и крикнул: "Гони, голубчик, в аэропорт!"

Translation: Khlestakov sat in a light carriage and shouted, "Onward, my friend, to the airport!"

Explanation: While the author may think that anyone of importance should go to the airport when planning to travel, there were no airports in the mid-19th century when Gogol wrote his play The Inspector General in which the main character Khlestakov bungles his way to momentary fame and fortune. Here, the student has likely not fully read the text before writing his report.

8. Папа Карло вырубил Буратино.

Translation: Papa Carlo laid Buratino out flat.

Explanation: Buratino is a wooden doll, the main character of the book The Golden Key, or the Adventures of Buratino (1936) by Aleksey Tolstoy. The book is a loose Russian adaptation of The Adventures of Pinocchio by Italian writer Carlo Kollodi. Papa Carlo carved Buratino from a log and the verb "вырубить" does have the secondary meanings of "to carve out" and "to make." However, its primary meaning is "to cut down" (as in a tree) and often is often used as slang to mean "to lay out flat," meaning to hit someone so hard they fall over. It would have been clearer for the writer to write "Папа Карло вырубил Буратино топором из полена" (Papa Carlo carved Buratino with an ax from a log).

9. Вдруг Герман услыхал скрип рессор. Это была старая княгиня.

Translation: Suddenly, German heard the creak of springs. It was an old grand duchess.

Explanation: "Скрип рессор" is most often associated in classic Russian literature with an approaching carriage. The springs used as a suspension system for carriages were large and uncovered, with time would age and rust, and thus older carriages were often quite noisy.

Here, though, the sentences are juxtaposed to infer that the grand duchess herself was noisily creaking as she approached. The author should have said "Вдруг Герман услышал скрип рессор кареты" (Suddenly, German heard the creak of carriage springs.)

10. Кабаниха нащупала у Катерины мягкое место и каждый день давила на него.

Translation: Kabanikha groped for Katerina's bottom and pressed upon it every day.

Explanation: In Гроза, a play by Alexander Ostrovsky, Kabanikha is an overbearing mother-in-law who seeks out weaknesses in Katerina and preys upon them to make Katerina's life miserable. The student-critic who wrote the above sentence, however, has mistaken the Russian phrase "слабое место" which means "weakness" or "weak point" for "мягкое место" which literally means "soft spot," but is also used as a euphemism for "buttocks."

11. Поэты XIX века были легкоранимыми людьми: их часто убивали на дуэлях.

Translation: Poets of the 19th century were thin-skinned people: they were often killed in duels.

Explanation: The word "легкоранимый" means "thin-skinned," which means that they were easily insulted. However, the above phrase seems to imply that if poets had thicker skin (or maybe better armor), they would not have been so vulnerable to bullets.

12. При виде Татьяны Онегин углубился и расширился.

Translation: In Tatiana's presence, Onegin grew deeper and wider.

Explanation: In Pushkin's epic poem Evgeny Onegin, the title character undergoes a significant character transformation after meeting the character of Tatyana as the two are placed in situations in which societal norms are called into question. However, the sentence above seems to imply that Onegin actually inflated after meeting Tatyana, physically becoming wider and deeper. The thought would be better expressed with the sentence "Онегин стал глубже и шире мыслить после встречи с Татьяной" (Onegin began thinking more broadly and deeply after meeting Tatiana). 

13. Армия бежала, а впереди бежал Hаполеон, теряя свое величие и честь поминутно.

Translation: The army was running away, and Napoleon was running at the front, losing his greatness and chastity with every minute.

Explanation: In this sentence from an essay on history, the comic effect is created by the phrase "теряя честь," which literally means "losing one's honor" but which is often used to say that someone has become promiscuous. The addition of "поминутно" (every minute) further implies that Napoleon was promiscuous on an absurdly regular basis.

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Dismissal – Увольнение

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Employees in Russia may be fired if appropriate причины для увольнения (reasons for dismissal) are present. For example, in the current financial climate it often happens that работник может быть уволен (an employee can be dismissed) because of ликвидация предприятия (the liquidation of a business) or сокращение штата (staff reduction; downsizing; redundancy). In the case of сокращение штата, an employee might state that "меня сократили" ("I've been laid off"). Each of these instances can be referred to as "увольнение" (dismissal) in Russian.

Компания (the company) must письменно уведомить (notify in writing) the employee about увольнение in advance. In addition, компания is legally obligated to pay the employee a minimum пособие в размере двухмесячного оклада (a severance of two months' salary).

There have been complaints that some работодатели (employers) have tried to avoid paying пособие by pressuring workers to submit увольнение по собственному желанию (a voluntarily resignation), отпуск за свой счет (take extended unpaid leave), or accept увольнение по соглашению сторон ("termination by agreement"), in which they must sign a document agreeing to conditions other than those stated in their work contracts.

All three of these instances are illegal if there is pressure from the side of the работодатель. There have been several cases reported of сотрудники (employees) отстаивать свои права (standing up for their rights) and улаживать с помощью переговоров (settling the matter by negotiations) with their employer or обращаться в суд (taking the company to court).

Трудовой кодекс (The Russian Labor Code) gives extensive rights to сотрудники and limits instances when сотрудники can be fired. For instance, if two сотрудники have equal квалификация (qualifications), the one who has two or more иждивенцы (dependents) should be retained by the company. Pаботодатели also have certain rights. For example, if a работодатель fires a сотрудник, the работодатель can insist that the сотрудник continue to отработать 14 дней (work for 14 days). 

Уволенный (the laid off worker) can receive пособие по безработице (unemployment benefits) for a maximum of twenty-four months if he/she зарегистрировался в службе занятости (has registered at the public employment service). Минимальная величина пособия по безработице (the minimum size of the unemployment benefit) is 720 rubles, and максимальная величина (the maximum size) is 4,900 rubles - about $150 - per month. The maximum was raised on January 1, 2009 from 2,880 to the current level as part of measures passed in response to the current финансовый кризис (financial crisis).

In Moscow, the city government will additionally pay every безработный (unemployed person) 850 rubles in пособие per month, according to law passed in the Moscow City Duma December. Also, безработные can receive yet another 850 rubles each if they sign up for профессиональное обучение (professional training) organized by Служба занятости.

Currently under consideration is a new bill balled "Законопроект о поддержке уволенных" (The Bill on Supporting the Unemployed"). The bill establishes a special federal fund to help the безработные move to another region of Russia where there is дефицит рабочей силы (workforce shortage). The fund can also finance общественные работы (public works) to create jobs for безработные. In addition, the bill provides funding to those people who resigned voluntarily and try to самостоятельно найти рабочее место (find a job on their own) for a maximum of 12 months. The government has additionally promised to create ссуда (grants) for безработные who want to start their own  мелкий бизнес (micro-businesses).

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Выборы Патриарха – Election of the Patriarch 

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Russian Far East

In the 20th century, Русская Православная Церковь (the Russian Orthodox Church) избирала Патриарха (elected a Patriarch) 5 times, and each time the elections procedure was different. However, выборы (election) of the 16th Patriarch, which are scheduled for the end of January, will be held in accordance with the same procedure which was used in 1990 when Alexy II was elected as Патриарх.

Первое выдвижение кандидатов (the first nomination of candidates) to be considered for election will take place at Архиерейский собор (Council of Bishops) on January 25-26, 2009 in Moscow. This council, made up of the 190 bishops serving under the Moscow Patriarchate and representing dioceses from around the world, makes an initial selection of three candidates.
After that, Поместный собор meets. "Поместный собор" is usually translated as "The Local Council," although that can be slightly misleading as it consists not of people from one locality, but rather an amalgamation of various representatives chosen locally in numerous locations around the world. This council, which in 2009 is expected to be attended by more than 700 delegates, is высший орган власти (the highest body of authority) in Русская Православная Церковь (The Russian Orthodox Church).

Поместный собор will take place on January 27-29, 2009, and there архиереи (bishops), священники (priests) и миряне (laymen) will elect the new Patriarch. The decision is made большинством голосов (by majority vote) and на закрытом заседании (at a closed meeting). Reforms made in 1990 allow the elections to be conducted by тайное голосование (secret vote) and also give the Поместный собор the power to use what is known as "альтернативная система выдвижения кандидатов" (an alternative system of nominating candidates), whereby, simply put, this larger delegation can put forward additional candidates for consideration before voting.

Each diocese (currently, there are 156 of them) elects three delegates to Поместный собор. Patriarchal parishes in the United States, Canada and Scandinavia will be represented by two delegates each. The official site for the Russian Church in the USA lists nearly 40 patriarchal parishes in the US. Also, a special delegate quota will be assigned to the 38 seminaries and the 25 monasteries that are directly managed by the Patriarch, so that these institutions will also be represented.

While the соборы (councils) have the power to nominate, there are many требования (requirements) that кандидат в патриархи (a candidate for Patriarch post) must meet. He should быть архиереем Русской православной церкви (be a bishop of Russian Orthodox Church); иметь высшее богословское образование (have a higher theological education), иметь опыт епархиального управления (have experience in diocese management), иметь приверженность к каноническому правопорядку (must have obeyed canonical law),  иметь добрую репутацию (have good reputation) и пользоваться доверием иерархов, клира и народа (enjoy the confidence of bishops, the clergy and the people) and быть не моложе 40 лет (to be not younger than 40 years old). Currently, there are more than 100 bishops in Russian Orthodox Church who satisfy these requirements.

Интронизация (The coronation) of new Patriarch is scheduled for February 1. Интронизация takes place during liturgy. Возведение новоизбранного патриарха на патриаршую кафедру (The coronation of the new Patriarch) consists of a ceremony in which the Духовенство (clergy) облачает (dresses) him in патриаршие одежды (the patriarchal clothes) and вручает (hands) him патриарший посох (the patriarchal staff).

The patriarch is elected пожизненно (for life). In the course of Russian history, no patriarch has ever voluntarily отрекался от престола (abdicated their position).


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