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RUSSIAN LANGUAGE LESSONS  / RUSSIAN MINI LESSONS 2011
15.01.2012


Russian MiniLessons
for intermediate and advanced students
2011 Archives
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   More Language
Resources

Click the Russian keyboard for recommended resources for language learners! Click the Russian
keyboard for texts, audio, video, and
other resources for students of Russian!

Below is an archive of the Russian MiniLessons featured in the SRAS newsletter over the 2011 school year. Please see our FULL TABLE OF CONTENTS for a list of all lessons, arranged by subject. To subscribe to the newsletter, and receive a free Mini-Lesson each month, simply sign up.  

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Rigging Elections - Подтасовка результатов выборов

During предвыборная кампания (election campaigns) over the past decade, война компроматов (wars of "dirt" or discrediting evidence) or черный пиар (black PR) were key ways to get better election results in Russia. Most often in Russia, this involved showing that a political opponent had been involved in dirty business deals or government corruption.

Today, more attention is paid to the actual rigging of voting results and the role of административный ресурс (administrative resources) have in the elections.

Here is a list of the most frequently used methods, according to zaks.ru magazine:

Внедрение своих управляемых людей в участковые избиркомы (embedding “your own, controllable people” into the district election committees) allows a number of rigging tricks. These types of махинации (fraud) include вброс бюллетеней (stuffing ballots), голосование по чужому паспорту (voting with another person’s passport), and выдворение наблюдателей во время подсчета голосов (expelling observers during vote counting).

 
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In order to вбросить бюллетени (stuff ballots), it is first necessary to compile списки “мертвых душ” (lists of “dead souls”)—people who don’t live in the district, or people who are not going to vote in the elections. Sometimes these people are those who have actually died between the time that the voter lists were formed and the election was held. After that, these names end up on the voter list, and their ballots are filled out with votes for the required political party.

Blank бюллетени (ballots) are always sent to election districts with a few extra copies. By the time the elections start, the exact amount of ballots should be заверены (certified), and extra ballots should be уничтожены (destroyed). Sometimes, officials will уничтожают не все чистые бюллетени (not destroy all the blank ballots) and instead use some as additional votes. This can create problems as it can result in very high and suspicious voter turnouts, including those of more than 100%.  

The extra ballots can be вброшены (stuffed) through various schemes, for example, перед опечатыванием урн для голосования (before sealing the ballot box) or во время перевозки мешков с бланками и итоговыми протоколами (while transporting the bags with completed ballots).

Sometimes, давление на избирателей (pressure is put on voters) by руководители учреждений (heads of institutions). For example, school principals might require teachers and other personnel, and sometimes even students’ parents to принять участие в выборах (take part in elections), and require teachers to голосовать за определенного кандидата (vote for a certain candidate). The military and state-owned corporations are also sometimes accused of using this trick. Russian media pointed out after the 2007 and 2011 Duma elections that the partients of psychiatriac wards across the country voted overwhelmingly for United Russia.

There is a trick called a хоровод (circle dance), where the same person goes from one election area to another, obtaining a ballot from “their” член избиркома (election committee member) and голосует (voting). In this way, the person отдает “свой голос” (casts “his vote”) several times in different places. Generally, this requires that the член избиркома be involved as well as Russian voter lists are compiled based on passports and place of residence.

A similar trick is голосование по чужим паспортам (voting using another person’s passport). Here, people are paid or pressured to give their passport to someone on election day and the член избиркома is paid or pressured to not notice that the picture in the passport is not on of the person asking for a ballot.

Another rigging method is called карусель (carousel), where a voter получает бюллетень и выносит его за пределы участка (gets a ballot and takes it outside the voting area). The people who paid the voter to take the ballot, then fill it out for a нужный кандидат (desired candidate). The next voter опускает этот бюллетень в урну (puts that ballot into the ballot box); in turn, he takes his own ballot outside for the next person.

Finally, to doctor a vote count, one can also use откровенно неприкрытые и грубые махинации (openly blatant and flagrant fraud), such as simply приписки голосов нужным кандидатам (adding votes for a desired candidates) during the подсчет голосов (tallying of votes).

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Kindergarten - Детский сад
Part 2 - Часть вторая

 
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Финансирование (Funding)

According to the law, детский сад (kindergarten) - государственное (affiliated with the state) финансируемое (funded by state) образовательное учреждение (educational institutions). The state платит зарплату сотрудникам (pays salaries to employees), покрывает (сovers [the cost of]) коммунальные услуги (utilities) and отчасти покрывает (partly covers [the cost of]) текущие расходы (operating expenses), such as мебель (furniture), ремонт помещения (redecorating/repairs the house), and игрушки (toys).

In reality, the state frequently недофинансирует (underfunds) детские сады, and the заведующая (principal) собирает деньги с родителей (collects money from parents) на добровольно-принудительной основе (on a mandatory basis which is made to appear voluntary). This occurs despite the fact that Russian legislation only allows добровольные пожертвования (voluntary donations) to детский сад to cover дополнительные образовательные услуги (additional educational services), which are provided as a supplement to the core education program.

In fact, some parents are required to bring household items to детский сад, such as туалетная бумага (toilet paper), стиральный порошок (washing detergent), канцтовары (office/art supplies), or салфетки (napkins), and many parents are required to pay взносы (financial contributions). Meanwhile, the official monthly fee is low, about 1,200 roubles per month (~40 USD), and discounts are given to parents with three or more несовершеннолетние дети (children under 18).

Учебный план (Curriculum)

The учебный план (curriculum) in kindergarten varies, with more sophisticated classes in частный детский сад (a private kindergarten), which can have additional teachers, such as a логопед (speech therapist), психолог (psychologist), инструктор по физической культуре (physical education instructor), and others.

However, the core curriculum is the same in all kindergartens: занятия по физическому воспитанию, творческому и интеллектуальному развитию (classes on physical, creative, and intellectual education), and they include such activities as лепка (modelling with clay/wax), аппликация (appliqué), развитие речи (oral speech development) and, at later stages, обучение грамоте (studies in reading and writing).

Children begin in ясли (class for children 1.5-2 years old) and then graduate to младшая группа (children 3-4 years old); in средняя группа (children 4-5 years old), classes last longer, each class is 25-30 minutes as opposed to 20-25 minutes in the younger groups. In старшая группа (children 5-6 years old), classes last for 30-35 minutes.

The образовательные стандарты (education standards) are set by the Министерство образования (Ministry of Education), and they are enforced by местный департамент образования (local education authority).

Первые дни в детском саду (First Days in Kindergarten)

Ребенку нужно привыкнуть к новому ритму жизни (a child needs to get used to the new routine of life), therefore, for первые несколько дней (the first few days) children should attend детский сад for only 2-3 hours. At first, a child can skip meals in детский сад, and later, once he/she starts having meals there, parents can leave their child in детский сад until after lunch. Still later, parents will leave the child until after сон (the nap) which is generally taken after lunch. 

Such adjustments займет неделю, самое большее 10 дней (will take one week to 10 days maximum). However, полное привыкание к детскому саду (complete [psychological] adjustment to kindergarten) often occurs only after 3 months. Parents should набраться терпения (be patient).

Что дети должны знать после детского сада (What Children Are Expected to Know When They Leave Kindergarten)

By the age of 7, when children оканчивать детский сад (graduate from kindergarten), they are expected to master the following skills: строить сложные предложения разных видов (compose complex sentences of various types), составлять рассказы по картинке (create stories based on pictures), составлять рассказы из опыта (make stories from their own experience), находить слова с определенными звуками (find words having certain sounds), определять место звука в слове (find the position of a sound in a word), составлять предложения из трех-четырех слов (compose sentences of three-four words), членить слова на слоги (divide a word into syllables), передавать содержание небольших литературных текстов (convey the content of short literary texts), and драматизировать небольшие произведения (dramatize short works of literature). Most importantly, a child should уметь читать и быть подготовленным к письму (be able to read and be prepared for writing).

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Kindergarten (Detskyi Sad) - Детский сад

 
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Детский сад (Kindergarten) is sometimes referred to as "садик" (little garden) in Russian. It is a form of образовательное учреждение (educational institution) or детское дошкольное учреждение (preschool institution) for children ages 1.5-6.

Most parents prefer to send their children to детский сад when their child is 3 years old, but it is possible to enroll a child in детский сад when he/she is 1.5 years old, provided that the child умеет есть самостоятельно (is able to eat by himself/herself.)

There are several types of детский сад. The most common is муниципальные (municipal), which is funded by the state, but usually has a small fee to attend. Those in Moscow generally charge about $250 per semester. There are other types as well: ведомственные (affiliated with a certain company) and частные (private).

Before enrolling in детский сад, kids should have a certain set of skills. First of all, a child should be aware that the воспитатель (kindergarten teacher) is a person to be obeyed. In addition, a child should be able to use utensils to eat soups and main courses by himself/herself, as well as drink out of a cup. Also, a child should be able to проситься в туалет (ask to go to the bathroom).

For younger children, a няня (nanny, this is effectively an assistant to the воспитатель) can help with some actions such as менять одежду ко сну (change clothes before taking a nap). The child should also at least be able to участвовать в надевании верхней одежды и обуви на прогулку (assist in putting on street clothes and shoes to go out for a walk), and the малыш (small child) should not interfere with the nanny and should rather assist her. Also, a child should to be able to активно взаимодействовать с другими детьми  (actively interact with other kids) and уметь занять себя игрой (play independently). 

In Russia, the first prototype of детский сад was opened in 1837 in the village of Demidov by a factory owner of the same name (Demidov), who was following a request from his female employees. At first, the daycare center had only 17 students but a year later had 112. However, there were no clear pedagogical principles for forming a curriculum at that time.

The term “детский сад” (which literally means "child’s garden") came to Russian from German. The famous pedagogue Friedrich Fröbel founded his first kindergarten in Germany in 1837, stating that children are сходны с растениями, которые требуют умелого и тщательного ухода (similar to plants, which require skillful and careful care). More детские сады were open in the 1860s, but most of them were expensive and рассчитаны на детей из состоятельных семей (designed for children from wealthy families), although there were some that were бесплатный (free of charge). In the Soviet era, the majority of children aged 2-6 years old attended детский сад, which was considered a good place for подготовка к школе (preparation for school).

Currently, Russian parents are facing a shortage of детские сады. During the демографическая яма (sharp demographic decline) of the 1990s, many kindergarten buildings were sold or given away to be converted into stores and offices. Nowadays, since the birth rate has grown, there are not enough kindergartens, and those who are able to устроить ребенка в садик (place a child in детский сад) are considered to be счастливчики (lucky people). According to Dengi magazine, there is currently a shortage of 2 million openings in kindergartens in Russia, and in some regions each second child is left without a place in садик.

For this reason, it is recommended that parents вставать в очередь (register on the waiting list) for детский сад immediately after their child is born, because each day of промедление (delay) means that, in some areas, a minimum of 10 more people register ahead of you.

In many cases, the очередь (waiting list) for a место в детском саду (opening in a kindergarten) is so long that the parents either have to wait for several years or they even don’t receive a seat in a kindergarten at all. Problems can also occur if a parent moves to a new city or even a new neighborhood and needs to устроить ребенка в садик (place a child in детский сад) in a new place.

There are some ways to solve this problem. The first might be to дать взятку (give a bribe), which оформляться (takes the form of) a "voluntary contribution," often officially for new paint or equipment or books for the school. The amount asked for can vary greatly but might amount to 80-100 thousand rubles ($2,500-3,200).

A second solution might be to find a частный детский сад (private kindergarten). Meanwhile, certain people are eligible for внеочередное право приема (priority acceptance) in детский сад, such as дети-сироты (orphans), дети прокуроров и следователей (children of prosecutors and investigators) of the Investigation Committee affiliated with the Office of General Prosecutor of Russia, дети судей (children of judges), and дети «чернобыльцев» (children of people who were exposed to radiation in the Chernobyl disaster).  

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Giving and Accepting Bribes - Взятки

 
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Bribery and corruption is often cited as one of biggest impediments to doing business in Russia. However, bribery can be a part of everyday life for Russian citizens and migrants to Russia as well. For many migrants, the most common case where they may need to предлагать взятку (offer a bribe) would be to a policeman because of some problems with their registration. All internal migrants in Russia must встать на миграционный учет (register with migration record keeping) within three months of their arrival to a new city, and foreign visitors must do so within seven business days of arriving to Moscow.

If a policeman checked a person's passport and sees no registration, some people offer a bribe rather than  be доставлен в отделение (transported to the police station) for further investigation. Such a payment is not even usually called a взятка (bribe) in everyday conversation, probably because it is a небольшая сумма (small amount) and a common occurrence. It is more often simply called дать денег менту (giving money to a cop).

Once caught, a person usually says, “Давайте договоримся” (Let’s come to an agreement), “Может, можно договориться?” (Perhaps, we can come to an agreement?), or “Давайте проблему уладим без протокола” (Let’s settle the problem without protocol). Another way to indicate a willingness to pay is by saying “Разойдемся?” (Shall we part?), which implies that a person is welling to settle the problem in an informal way. A person offering the bribe, might ask, “Пятьсот рублей устроит?” (Will 500 rubles do?), and the policeman might say, “Хорошо” (OK) or “Надо добавить” (You need to add some more) if he is not satisfied with the amount.

Of course, if one knows that one's документы в порядке (documents are in order), one can also argue one's case by using options provided under Russia's anti-corruption legislation. For instance, a person might say “Можно посмотреть ваше удостоверение?” (may I see your identification?). A person is legally entitled to ask for an officer's identification at any time during an interaction with an officer. This is often a good way to make them rethink asking for a bribe when there has been no offence because they know the bribe giver can then easily уведомить власти о нарушении закона (report the crime to the authorities). If further resistance is offered, one can also take one's cell phone and state “Я позвоню в мое посольство” (I'm going to call my embassy).

In other settings, the language for giving bribes is different. For instance, if a person intends to give a bribe to a government official, he/she might say, “Нельзя ли ускорить решение моего вопроса?” (Is it possible to speed up solving my problem?). The official might reply, “Нужно отблагодарить” (You need to show your gratitude). Or the visitor might take initiative by saying, “Я отблагодарю” (I will show you my gratitude).

One person who gave a bribe to try to speed up a documentation process with the state described the process to an official Communist publication in the following way:

He asked, “Можно ли ускорить дело за тысячу?” (Is it possible to speed up the solution for a thousand rubles?).

The official replied, “Нет, мне же надо к другим обращаться, с ними тоже делиться надо.” (No, I need involve others, I have to share with them too).

The man asked, “А сколько?” (And how much?)

The response was: “Две!” (Two thousand).

The visitor disagreed, “Не, не пойдет, за две я решу этот вопрос другим способом. Давайте за полторы.” (No, that won’t do, I can solve the problem another way for two thousand. Let’s do it for one and a half.)

The official considered the terms and said, “Ну, хорошо.” (Well, OK).

There is also a joke about a man who came to an official to solve a problem. After hearing  from the official, “Надо ждать” (You need to wait), the man ask how long he should wait, the official clarified himself not with a measure of time, but by pronouncing his phrase more clearly: “Надо ж дать” (You really need to give (some money)).

Different phrases are used for every setting. In courts, it is common to say, “Занести судье” (to bring (something) to the judge). When a person want his/her child to be accepted to a good school, he/she might say, “Могу оказать спонсорскую помощь” (I can provide sponsor aid). Sponsor aid is an officially legal gift to the school, but gifts sometimes are split among officials or teachers instead of being used to purchase equipment or make repairs to the school. At clinics, doctors might ask a patient “Заплатить мимо кассы” (To pay “beyond” the cash desk, by handing money to the doctor directly). Often a discount is offered to the patient on the official price of the procedure for doing so. Some bribe seekers might say, “Потребуется вознаграждение” (A reward will be needed) to complete the task a person are asking about.

Unfortunately, one reason that corruption is pervasive in Russian society is because many Russians see it as обычное дело (normal) or even as a good way ускорить бюрократический процесс (to expedite a bureaucratic processes) and ускорить волокиту (to cut through red tape).

To read more about bribery in Russia, see this article.

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Гостиницы в России - Hotels in Russia
Vocabulary

Part 2 - Часть вторая

 
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Here are some basic phrases for checking in and staying in a hotel in Russia:

Checking in:

У вас есть свободные номера? Do you have vacant rooms?

Сколько стоит номер в сутки? What do you charge per night?

У вас есть что-нибудь подешевле? Do you have a cheaper room?

Я заказывал двухместный номер. I have reserved a double room.

На каком этаже моя комната? What floor is my room on?

Во сколько я должен выселиться? What time should I check out?

Making a reservation

Я бы хотел забронировать номер на __ суток.  I’d like to reserve a room for __ days.

Я бы хотел заселиться __ числа, а выехать __ числа  I’d like to check in on….date and check out on…date

Staying over

Подскажите, где я могу поесть? Could you tell me where I can get a meal?

У меня в номере не работает телевизор. The television in my room does not work.

Не могли бы разбудить меня утром в….часов? Could you give me a wake-up call in the morning at…o’clock?

В моем номере нет полотенца. Дайте, пожалуйста, полотенце. There is no towel in my room. Could you give me a towel, please?

Не подскажете, как вызвать такси? Мне нужно ехать в… Could you tell me how to call a taxi? I need to go to…

Можно я оставлю вещи до вечера? May I leave my belongings till evening?

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Гостиницы в России - Hotels in Russia
History

Part 1 - Часть первая

If you have to переночевать (spend the night) in a Russian provincial town, you might stay in гостиница в советском стиле (a Soviet-style hotel). As a rule, it is a многоэтажное здание (multi-storied building), constructed sometime between 1950-1980, c огромными площадями (with large, spacious areas), with тяжелые деревянные двери (heavy wooden doors) and гранитный пол (a granite floor). Inside there is минимальный комфорт (minimum comfort; a minimum of amenities): Номер оборудован кроватью, столом, стулом и зачастую раковиной (The room is equipped with a bed, table, chair, and often with a sink). There is an общий туалет (communal toilet), and the санузел (bathroom unit) is often в плохом состоянии (in bad condition).  Sometimes вход ночью запрещен (entry is not allowed at night) to the hotel.

In the Soviet epoch, provincial hotels были предназначены для обслуживания (were intended to serve) командированные (business travelers) or артисты (artists/actors), but in the depths of the country, there were not many such travelers, and provincial hotels often пустовали (stayed empty). Meanwhile, the hotels in bigger cities always had табличка «Мест нет» (a small sign reading “No vacancy”) on the reception desk.

Common complaints at such hotels often include: "Персонал хамоватый и не доброжелательный!" (The staff is dreary and ill-tempered). Будьте бдительны и не бросайте ценные вещи даже при закрытых дверях!" (Be careful and don’t leave valuables unattended, even if the room is locked!).

A similar невежливое отношение (impolite attitude) can sometimes be found in smaller hotels in Moscow's outskirts where Russian travelers from the province like to stay because of the cheaper rates. It is hard дозвониться до гостиницы (to reach such a hotel by phone), and it is often impossible to забронировать номер (to reserve a room).

However, this is not always the case. Often, the staff in a provincial hotel can give you a hand and explain the directions, as well as to help settle some problems you might have in a new place.

Frequently, женщины предпенсионного возраста (women of preretirement age), work in provincial hotels as дежурная (floor attendant; a sort of "front desk" placed at each floor of the hotel) or администратор (receptionist), while bigger cities’ hotels employ younger staff.

Many popular туристические места (tourist destinations) also have частные гостиницы (private hotels) which provide удобства и лучшее обслуживание (conveniences and better service).

Nowadays, many hotels in Moscow, St. Petersburg and other major cities of Russia, offer комфорт и роскошь (comfort and luxury) and have the rates which often exceed those of similar US hotels. For instance, the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Moscow where US President Obama stayed during his visit in July 2009, has rates from 16,500 to 150,000  rubles (~$600 - $5000) per night for a room or suite. Its room facilities include окна высотой от пола до потолка (floor-to-ceiling windows), пол с подогревом (heated floors), ванная комната, отделанная мрамором (marble bathrooms), and легкие закуски 24 часа в сутки (snacks 24 hours a day).

The hotels of the Western hotel companies are currently considered the best in Russia by most Russian and foreign travelers. Meanwhile, hotels in the Soviet style are rapidly becoming морально устаревший (obsolescent).

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Earthquakes - Землетрясения 
 

Землетрясение (an earthquake) is defined in Russian as подземные толчки (an underground tremor) of поверхность земли (the earth's surface). They can be triggered by natural causes such as тектонические процессы (tectonic processes) or by man-made processes such as explosions, mining works, and others.

Physicists explain that a землетрясение is caused by сейсмические волны (seismic waves) which are generated by a sudden release of energy in the Earth’s crust. Тектонические землетрясения (tectonic earthquakes) most often зарождаются (begin) at a depth of no deeper than several dozen kilometers within зоны разлома (fault lines). Here, горные породы (bedrock) goes through a violent process. First, there is разрыв (cracking) and перемещение (displacement). This place is called очаг землетрясения (the earthquake center).

If the землетрясение is powerful enough, it разрушает здания и сооружения (destroys buildings and infrastructure). While there are about 10,000 earthquakes per year worldwide, only 100 of them are разрушительные (destructive).

Earthquakes of cила/магнитуда 7.5 баллов по шкале Рихтера (a magnitude of 7.5 points on the Richter scale) or more can cause other природное бедствие (natural disasters). For instance, цунами (a tsunami) is a series of water waves caused by the перемещение большого объема водных масс (displacement of a large volume of water), usually in an ocean.

Japan is situated in the so-called "Тихоокеанское вулканическое огненное кольцо" (Pacific Ring of Fire), where earthquakes occur frequently. The recent Tohoku earthquake which occurred on March 11, was a 9.0-magnitude undersea earthquake which triggered чрезвычайно разрушительное цунами (extremely destructive tsunami waves) of up to 30 m that struck Japan minutes after the quake, in some cases traveling up to 10 km (6 mi) inland.

The Japanese National Police Agency officially confirmed 11,232 убитые (dead), 2,778 раненые (injured), and 16,361 people пропавшие без вести (missing). The tsunami caused значительный ущерб (major damage), and destroyed entire towns.

Russia took part in the rescue operation in Japan, sending самолет с 50 спасателями на борту и техникой (an aircraft with 50 rescue workers onboard and equipment). Later, another 130 Russian rescue workers were sent.

On March 16, a Russian aircraft с грузом гуманитарной помощи (with a cargo of humanitarian aid) arrived in Japan.

Russian media additionally reported that the management of the Luzhniki Olympic Complex in Moscow пожертвовал (donated) over one million rubles to the Japanese Embassy.

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The Russian Bath House - Баня 
Safety at the Banya - Безопасность в бане
Part 2 - Часть вторая

 
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Russians are known for making their баня experience extreme, with long заходы followed by snacking on pickles, vodka, and beer in the sessions of отдыхать после парной (relaxing after the steam chamber). However, all of these products are dehydrating and ill-advised. If you ever feel light headed or ill in the баня, excuse yourself and leave, explaining if needed that вы плохо себя чувствуете и вам нужно сходить за водой (you do not feel well and need to get some water).

While a visit to the баня can leave one feeling refreshed and invigorated, there are obviously health risks as well. Such sudden shifts in temperature can be опасны для людей с болезнями сердца (fatal to people with certain heart conditions), as can prolonged exposure to high temperatures. Заходы should be kept to under 15-20 minutes. Отдых между заходами (rest between sessions) should last at least 15-20 minutes. Мочить голову (wetting one’s head) is prohibited before entering the парная (sauna chamber) for the first заход, as a wet head can heat too quickly, causing stress to the brain.

One should париться (take a steam bath) not earlier than 1-2 hours after having meal but also not an empty stomach. Drink often and stick to water or at least juice and квас (kvass, a traditional brewed Russian drink that is very hydrating). Soda and strong tea are also not preferable in the баня. For food, stick to sausage, cheese, and bread and avoid the salt.

A баня session is usually ended with помывка (washing). There is a tradition of правило трех помывок (“rule of three washings.") The head should be washed in one washbasin, the body in another, and a third is used for ополаскивание (rinsing). However, many modern Russians will just shower or take one last plunge in the cold water.

Also, one should not сразу ложиться отдыхать (lie down to relax immediately) after leaving the парная. Stroll around for several minutes first to allow your circulation to come back down to equilibrium.

Mythology of the Banya

Given these health issues, and given that the баня is usually a small wooden structure where a fire is kept and alcohol often consumed, it is not surprising that the баня figures in some of Russia's most horrific mythology.

While Russians believed in the целебная и очистительная сила бани (healing and cleansing capability of banya), and generally associated it health with purity, it was also inhabited by the банник (banya spirit; all places from homes to fields had their own spirits residing in them) who was perhaps the most fickle and easily offended of all the spirits that Russians once believed in.

To gain the favor of the банник, Russians would sacrifice a black hen to it after constructing the баня and before using it the first time. The hen was suffocated and buried under the entrance. While Russians typically wear crosses, many would remove them before entering the баня as it was thought that the holy object would upset the evil spirit. Water intended for the баня should not be drunk. Loud, sudden noises should be avoided and cursing is not allowed in the баня, as is thought that any damnation pronounced in the баня will come true and often come true sooner rather than later.

Guests were also supposed to be treated with great respect at the баня. The guest should enter first, be given plenty of food and drink, and offered a bed and rest after the session. Not abiding by rules of hospitality would offend not only the guest – but possibly the банник as well. Those who upset the банник were often maimed or killed by this powerful spirit.

While safety should be remembered at all times when using the баня, it can be an invigorating, healthy experience and a great taste of Russian culture. If you'll be in Moscow, treat yourself to a trip to Sanduni Banyas, an 18th century palace of a banya complex that catered to (and still caters to) Moscow's business elite. They also have pictures on the wall of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, John Travolta, and Scotty Pippen using their facilities. However, they have facilities within the price range of even students if you go as a group. Of course, many will tell you that you should go to a "real banya" – one in the country with a river or pond to jump into outside – there are also commercial opportunities to do this, but again, it's best to go as a group, and best to have a Russian guide you. So ask around, make some friends in Russia, and go do it!

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The Russian Bath House - Баня 
Introduction to the Banya - Введение в баню
Part 1 - Часть первая

Баня (bath house) has always played an important part in Russian culture.

Since ancient times, Russians have said that баня может очистить не только тело, но и душу (the bath house can purify both body and spirit). The баня was also thought in previous times to be highly medicinal for nearly ailments. Russians once said that если больному не помогла даже баня, то ему уже никто не поможет (if even the banya failed to help the sick man, nothing can help him). While today it is not usually recommended for sick people, the баня is still regarded as a powerful way to maintain one's health and keep one's spirits up.

A traditional баня, whether private or public, will consist of several parts. The предбанник, which literally translates to "before the banya" is a dressing room for stripping down before entering the chamber. There is also a washing room or space called "моечное отделение," (washing section) "мыльное отделение" (soap section) or sometimes even just "помывочная" (washer). Sometimes the предбанник and помывочная are in a single room with the комната отдыха (the relaxation room), where one takes breaks from the high heat and humidity, socializes over drinks and snacks. Sometimes all three rooms are separate compartments.

The main part of the баня is, of course, the heat chamber which is called the "парная" or "парилка." Both derive their names from the Russian word "пар" or "steam."

Banya

A basic floor plan for a banya. See more (in Russian) here.

 

Most frequently, the level of жар и влажность (heat and humidity) is manually regulated by pouring water on stones which are traditionally разогреты дровяной печью (heated by a hardwood stove). The Russian баня is known as one of the most extreme of the world's heat baths, with temperatures that range from 150-200F and humidity often approaching 80%. Most saunas in America, for instance, very rarely exceed 150F and 25% humidity. Russians  поддают пару  (add steam) by pouring water on the stones often and in small amounts, which allows this even, high steam to coat the room. They call this легкий пар (soft steam). Just be careful while pouring, as the stones are heated to well over 1300F!

In Russian баня culture, it is customary to say с легким паром!” to those who have just returned from the баня. This literally translates to "with soft steam!" and means, loosely, "I hope you enjoyed the banya!" The phrase is perhaps best known as the subtitle of the classic Russian film Ирония судьбы, или С лёгким паром!, about a man who gets drunk at his traditional new year баня celebration and ends up going home to the wrong apartment in the wrong city.

To allow the body to sweat freely, the баня is typically used in the nude. While there are sometimes male and female compartments (or sessions), the баня is often coed. Modest people can cover up with a простыня (bedsheet) and in fact, most commercial баня facilities recommend that you wear a простыня for sanitary reasons. Other common supplies to take to the banya include сандалии (sandals), махровое полотенце (a terrycloth towel; good because it can be used several times), шлёпанцы (rubber slippers or flip flops; the floor is hot!) варежки (mittens) to hold the веники, which are bunches of small, leafy birch or oak branches tied together.

The process begins by simply sitting in the баня and пропотеть (sweat). After about seven minutes, one should exit to the комната отдыха, rest, and preferably drink water. On the second заход (session), the truly Russian tradition of парить друг друга веником (beating each other with the branch bundles) begins, but to be truly effective, the sweating process should be well underway. This "massage" helps lift impurities from the skin and adds a pleasant fragrance to the person and room.

Заходы can be numerous and a visit to the баня can often last several hours. Заходы are interspersed with sessions of отдыхать после парной (relaxing after the steam chamber) or прыгать в холодную воду (jump in cold water) or even кататься по снегу (roll oneself onto the snow). Russians believe that these sudden shifts in temperature improve circulation and cause the body to release endorphins that improve the functioning of nearly all organs.

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