My grandmother loved quoting someone when I was a child: "French is a language of love, English is a language of business, German is a language of war, and Russian is a language which works brilliantly for everything".
You might agree or disagree with it, depending on your cultural code, I am not going to judge it. What I really never thought of - is that the Russian language in fact might sound quite rude (at least for a British ear).
The first bell rang (I first noticed) when my husband Mark (boyfriend then) showed his resentment in seemingly harmless situations:
“На!” ([na], meaning "here you are") - is the perfect example. In Russian you can stretch your hand and give something saying just “на!”, at least to your friend, and this would be a standard thing. With Mark, he sometimes answers me:
Ha! - Ha yourself!
The next reason why Russian might seem very strange, is how people address each other. It is totally normal to say: “Woman!”
Well, actually, there are some unspoken rules:
Де́вочка/Ма́льчик! - to address a female/male child
Де́вушка/Молодо́й челове́к! - to address a young girl or young man. However be careful with this, everyone wants to be young, so this form would be used for most people from 14 to 40 or 50 years old.
Же́нщина! - For me personally it does sound rude and not correct, but you will hear this address a lot, towards women of 50 and older.
Мужчи́на! - Again, I wouldn't say this, but you will hear this a lot said to men from 14 to 100 years old, and nobody will be offended.
The Russian language uses a lot of imperative (it’s a form of the verb used for order, commands, requests etc.), for example:
Переда́й соль! - pass me the salt!
Выходи́! - Get out!
Ешь! - Eat!
These imperative forms, even without “please”, sound alright (as long as they are pronounced with a calm voice and no aggression). You don’t need to say many more words like the super polite British or American “could you please…’”, - save your time.
Russian is quite straightforward. When I give instructions to my parents-in-law about my baby, it sounds to them as if I was a commanding officer.
I would compare this to a surgeon asking for his tools. Straight to the point, he/she doesn’t have time for politeness, at the same time he/she wouldn’t be considered rude. But to my British In-Laws, it sounds as if I am ordering them about!
Russian people do make comments (замеча́ния) when someone misbehaves. On transport, in public places, in swimming pools etc. This is both good, because it prevents disorder; Russian teenagers wouldn’t dare to do what some of them dare in Britain, cause they would be “eaten alive”. But also sometimes the tradition of making comments goes way over the top, people (especially older) might scold your parenting, if a child cries for example; criticise your clothes, or give you unneeded advice.
I remember when I was swimming in Glasgow, while I was pregnant. Many people wouldn’t see the sign showing the direction of movement in the lane, and just confused the whole swimming in that lane. What do British people do? They just move to another lane. No way this would happen in Russia :) To be honest, I was paying lots of money for the gym just for using that lane, so I made some gentle comments to people. And you know what? These people disappeared from the lane straight away. Maybe it’s a disgrace here, but not in Russia.
So, when you are in Russia, don’t judge people too strictly. Remember: you don’t go with your own regulations to somebody else’s cloister (when in Rome do as the Romans do).
And remember that Russians in your country probably are not all bonkers - we work hard to assimilate into your society, but we still carry in us too many national features which are hard to hide :)
Want to know how to communicate effectively in Russian - this culturally different language? Get in touch for a 1-2-1 Russian lesson, in person or by Skype.