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  • Writer's pictureYelena McCafferty

Very Russian Problems

Updated: Nov 13, 2022

Have you heard of Very British Problems? It’s a humorous book by Rob Temple about Britain and Brits. And one of the things the British are great at is being able to laugh at themselves.

Russians, too, have their idiosyncrasies. They love criticising their own country but hate foreigners criticising it!

Russians also have this habit of telling jokes. These are specific funny stories called анекдоты ("anecdotes"). But not in the English sense of “a short amusing story about a real situation”, no – such anecdotes are completely made up. So Russians like having an “anecdote” for almost every situation – you just have to have a good memory for them and tell them at an appropriate moment. "Anecdotes" about Russians, Ukrainians and Belarusians were popular in the USSR and they are somewhat similar to jokes about an Englishman, an Irishman and a Scotsman.

How to welcome the New Year is a very Russian problem. Many Russians put a lot of thought into how to spend the New Year’s Eve: where, who with and what to wear on the night! The last predicament is to do with good luck. These are important issues since it’s the most popular holiday of the year: we say good-bye to the outgoing year and see in the next. The British tend to make New Year resolutions, Russians like drawing conclusions from the past year and making wishes when the Kremlin Chimes strike midnight.

Why is New Year more important than Christmas? Because it comes first: Russian Christmas is celebrated on 7th January as the Russian Orthodox Church follows the Julian calendar, unlike other Christian denominations it never adopted the Gregorian calendar.

Christening a child in Russian church is also a little complicated. A person can only be baptised after a saint and until recently it had to be a Russian saint. For example, you may call your son Artyom but will have him christened as Artemy after St Artemy. Here in Britain you can have your child christened the name you gave him when you officially registered his birth: Josh or Joshua, Max or Maximilian.

Russian diminutive forms of first names are a separate problem. How come Sasha is an endearing form of Alexander, Lyokha is a pet name for Alexey and Zhenya is an affectionate form of Evgenia? You will get used to them after a while just as you take Ted to be Edward.

And then there is the patronymic, another Russian problem. It’s a middle name in addition to the first name and surname. A patronymic is an adapted version of the first name of the person’s father. Male forms have the endings -ovich or -evich and female forms have -ovna or -evna”. The son or Nikolay will have the patronymic Nikolaevich and the daughter of Alexander will have the patronymic Alexandrovna.

Interestingly patronymics are not included in the English version of international Russian passports. International? - I hear your question. Yes, because Russians have two passports: internal for use in the Russian Federation and international – for travelling abroad.

The word Russian itself has two translations: русский (as of Russian ethnicity) and российский (having Russian citizenship), so for a passport you will have to use the second option: российский паспорт, and its holder may not be of Russian ethnic origin at all. Russia has around 190 ethnic groups.

Enjoyed this post? You may want to watch Russia 1985-1999: TraumaZone: what it felt like to live through the collapse of communism and democracy. It's a series of films by Adam Curtis based purely on previously unutilised archival footage of the Soviet Union and Russia. There is no audio commentary, only on-screen captions.

[For all your Russian translation requirements, get in touch with us via or call 0207 0436940.]


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