How to Make Small Talk in Russian
Making small talk in Russian is just the same as in English. Touch on familiar topics like jobs, sports, children — just say it in Russian! Small talk describes the brief conversations that you have with people you don't know well. Small talk is where relationships begin.
Small talk generally consists of greetings and introductions and descriptions of personal information and interests. If you're able to hold your own in each of these areas, you'll be able to handle most small talk situations.
Greetings and introductions
Greetings and introductions in Russian are a bit more formal than in English. There is a right way to greet people and a wrong way. In fact, if you botch your greeting, you may get a funny look or even offend the person you're addressing.
As you'd expect, you should use a polite greeting when you run into someone you know or want to know. To greet a person you know well, say zdravstvuj (ZDRAH-stvooy) (hello) or privyet! (pree-V'EHT) (Hi!). To greet anyone else (or a group), say zdravstvujtye (ZDRAH-stvooy-t'eh) (hello).
Russians like to begin with first suggesting that you become acquainted. They usually say Davajtye poznakomimsya! (duh-vahy-t'eh puhz-nuh- koh-meem-suh!) (Let's get acquainted). The most common response is Davajtye! (duh-vahy-t'eh!) (Okay! [literally: Let's!]).
The following phrases will help you make introductions.
Myenya zovut (Mee-N'AH zah-VOOT) + your name.) (My name is . . .)
Kak vas zovut? (kahk vahz zah-VOOT?) (What is your name? [literally: What do they call you?])
When you want to introduce someone, all you need to say is Eto . . . (eh-tuh . . .) (This is . . .). Then you simply add the name of the person.
Exchanging personal information
After the necessary introductions, small talk is really just a question of talking about yourself and asking the other person questions about themselves. The following phrases will come in handy when you're chitchatting with someone new.
Ya iz Amyeriki (ya eez uh-MYE-ree-kee) (I am from America)
Vy iz kakogo goroda? (vih eez kuh-KOH-vuh GOH-ruh-duh?) (What city are you from?)
Ya zhivu v Siyetlye (ya zhih-VOO f see-YET-l'eh) (I live in Seattle)
What you do for living is crucial for a Russian's understanding of who you are. Be prepared to answer the question Kto vy po profyessii? (ktoh vih puh-prah-F'EH-see-ee?) (What do you do for a living? [literally: What's your job?]). To tell someone what you do for a living, say Ya + your profession. Here's a list of the most common professions:
agyent po nyedvizhimosti (uh-G'EHNT puh need-vee-zhih-muhs-tee) (real-estate agent)
aktrisa (ahk-TREE-suh) (actress)
aktyor (ahk-TYOR) (male actor)
archityektor (uhr-khee-T'EHK-tuhr) (architect)
bibliotyekar' (beeb-lee-ah-T'EH-kuhr') (librarían)
biznyesmyen (beez-nehs-M'EHN) (businessman)
bukhgaltyer (bookh-GAHL-t'ehr) (accountant)
domokhozyajka (duh-muh-khah-ZYAHY-kuh) (homemaker)
inzhyenyer (een-zhee-N'EHR) (engineer)
khudozhnik (khoo-DOHZH-neek) (artist, painter)
muzykant (moo-zih-KAHNT) (musician)
myedbrat (meed-BRAHT) (male nurse)/myedsyestra (meed-sees-TRAH) (female nurse)
myenyedzhyer (MEH-nehd-zhehr) (manager)
pisatyel' (pee-SAH-t'ehl') (author, writer)
predprinimatyel (preht-pree-nee-MAH-t'ehl) (a businessman or a businesswoman)
programmist (pruh-gruh-MEEST) (programmer)
pryepodavatyel' (pree-puh-duh-VAH-t'ehl') (professor at the university)
studyent (stoo-D'EHNT) (male student)/studyentka (stoo-D'EHNT-kuh) (female student)
uchityel' (oo-CHEE-t'ehl') (male teacher)/uchityel'nitsa (oo-CHEE-t'ehl'-nee-tsuh) (female teacher)
vrach (vrahch) (physician)
yurist (yu-REEST) (attorney, lawyer)
zhurnalist (zhoor-nuh-LEEST) (journalist)
zunbnoj vrach (zoob-NOY vrahch) (dentist)
Talking about personal interests
Many friendships are forged on the bond of common interests. You can use the following phrases to compare interests when making small talk. To discover someone's likes or dislikes, you can ask one of the following:
Chyem ty lyubish' zanimat'sya? (chyem tih LYU-beesh' zuh-nee-MAHT-suh?) (What do you like to do? [informal singular])
Chyem vy lyubitye zanimat'sya? (chyem vih LYU-bee-tee zuh-nee-MAHT-suh?) (What do you like to do? [formal])
Vy lyubitye . . . ? (vih LYU-bee-tee . . . ?) (Do you like . . . ? [formal singular) (plural]) + the imperfective infinitive of a verb or a noun in the accusative case