Russian Phrases For Dummies
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Every culture has a way of taking familiar words and turning them into something else. Russia is no exception. These uniquely Russian expressions don't translate literally to English and aren't essential to everyday conversation, but recognizing these expressions in speech and using them with ease can make you sound like a real Russian!

  • Tol'ko Poslye Vas! (tohl'-kuh pohs-lee vahs; Only after you!)

    Russians still believe in opening doors for each other and letting others go first. Whenever you do this, you should use this phrase. In fact, you'll often see two people standing outside a door, both saying Tol'ko Poslye Vas! and trying to get the other person to go first.

  • Vy Syegodnya Pryekrasno Vyglyaditye! (vih see-vohd-n'uh pree-krahs-nuh vihg-lee-dee-t'eh; You look great today!)

    Russians are less worried about being politically correct than people in the United States tend to be. So, if you start a conversation with a Russian woman by saying Vy syegodnya pryekrasno vyglyaditye!, she may actually treat you nicer instead of reporting you to the authorities.

    If someone says Vy syegodnya pryekrasno vyglyaditye! to you, you should say Nu, chto vy! (noo shtoh vih; Ah, what are you talking about!) You have to show your modesty and disagree.

  • Zakhoditye Na Chaj! (zuh-khah-dee-t'eh nuh chahy; Stop by for some tea!)

    When you make a new friend in Russia, you can say this phrase to let them know you'd like to get together sometime. Don't worry; the person won't think you're a freak or a serial killer; however, unlike "Let's do lunch," Russians take Zakhoditye na chaj seriously and usually accept your offer.

    Because Russians do take the offer of Zakhoditye na chaj seriously, you should actually have some tea and cookies at home for when your friends stop by.

  • Ugosh'ajtyes'! (oo-gah-sh'ahy-t'ehs'; Help yourself! [literally: Treat yourself!])

    Use this phrase when you're going to serve treats. Besides being friendly and polite, this word is just long enough to scare off foreigners. Which is, of course, a good enough reason to learn it and stand out in the crowd.

  • Priyatnogo Appetita! (pree-yat-nuh-vuh uh-pee-tee-tuh; Bon appétit!)

    Say this phrase to friends and strangers alike anytime someone is getting ready to eat.

  • Syadyem Na Dorozhku! (sya-deem nuh dah-rohsh-koo; Let's sit down before hitting the road!)

    Before departing on a trip, surprise everybody by looking around thoughtfully and saying Syadyem na dorozhku! Essentially a superstition, this tradition is actually useful; sitting down and staying silent for a minute before you head out the door gives you an opportunity to remember what's important.

  • Sadis', V Nogakh Pravdy Nyet (sah-dees', v nah-gahkh prahv-dih n'eht; take the weight off your feet/it is as cheap sitting as standing)

    Russians would never leave someone standing, even if the person is only going to be there for a minute. So, if you're sitting with somebody else is standing, or when somebody stops by and hangs out in the doorway, claiming to be leaving in a minute, you can say Sadis', v nogakh pravdy nyet.

  • Ni Pukha, Ni Pyera! (nee poo-khuh nee pee-rah; Good luck! [literally: Have neither fluff nor plume!])

    This expression is kind of the English "Break a leg" that's used in theatre. Russians, on the other hand, never let anyone depart on a mission — whether a lady leaves to interview for a job or guy goes to ask a girl out — without saying Ni pukha, ni pyera!

    If someone says Ni pukha, ni pyera! to you, the appropriate response isn't spasibo (spuh-see-buh; thank you) as you might think. Instead, you should say K chyortu! (k chohr-too; To the devil!)

  • Tseluyu (tsih-loo-yu; kisses [literally: (I am) kissing (you)])

    Russians use this as an affectionate way to sign letters, e-mails, and cell phone text messages. You can even say Tseluyu at the end of a phone conversation.

  • S Lyogkim Parom! (s lyokh-keem pah-ruhm; literally: Congratulations on a light steam!)

    Russians say this when they see someone who just came out of a shower or a sauna, but you can also use it as a joke when you see someone who got caught in the rain or who spilled a drink.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book authors:

Andrew Kaufman, PhD, is currently a Visiting Lecturer in the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures at the University of Virginia. He holds a PhD in Slavic Languages and Literatures from Stanford University, and he has recognized success as both a published scholar and an innovative, award-winning teacher of Russian language, literature, and culture at some of the country’s top universities. To learn more about Dr. Kaufman, please visit his website at

Serafima Gettys, PhD, earned her doctorate degree in Foreign Language Education from Gertzen State Pedagogical University, Leningrad, USSR. She is currently a Coordinator of the Foreign Language Program at Lewis University, where she also teaches Russian. Prior to coming to Lewis University, she taught Russian at Stanford University. Gettys is also a member of a number of professional language associations.

Nina Wieda is a doctoral student in Slavic Languages and Literatures at Northwestern University in Chicago. A trained linguist with an MA in Social Sciences, Nina also has a book of poetry published in Russian, and a number of scholarly articles on Chekhov and contemporary drama published in English.

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