In the Soviet Union, there were 3 signs of being well off and successful in life - 3 keys: 1 for a flat, 1 for a car, and 1 for a dacha. And if the first two are clear, what is that mysterious word dacha (да́ча), which wouldn’t even translate to English language?
Да́ча derives from the word дава́ть (to give): in the times of Peter the Great (18th century), he was giving да́чи, or country estates, to his trusted people for a great service for the state. These да́чи had to be landscaped and the building of a typical house was compulsory.
In the 19th century many rich people have да́чи in settlements, where they would go for summer. From that time the tradition of empty cities during the summer began.
The action of many plays/novels of Че́хов (Chekhov), Турге́нев (Turgenev) and many other Russian classic writers is на да́че (at dacha).
In Soviet times, да́чи (dachas) became available for a wider circle of people; and they were given by different state organizations.
For example, my dacha was given to my ба́бушка (grandmother) as she was a doctor, and the whole settlement was for doctors and their families. Nearby there are settlements for geologists; pilots; car factory workers; disabled people etc.
There are all kind of да́чи: for rich and for poor, with palaces and quite modest homes, with water, heating and sewage inside and without (my husband Mark was incredibly impressed with the “shit pit” at my да́ча). Some of да́чи are also built to become all year residence, unlike the traditional summer ones.
There can be a swimming pool and ба́ня (banya), table tennis table or other entertainments.
Many people grow vegetables, fruits, berries, herbs, flowers на да́чах.
In Soviet times, people worked hard на да́чах. Nowadays, my generation prefers to keep it simpler and not to work hard 10 hours a day on the allotment with a bum up (по́пой кве́рху – because you have to bend your back and expose your bottom to the Sun).
Since 1990s, when the Capitalism arrived to Russia, people start selling and buying да́чи, and the boom of building began.
People usually go на да́чу on Friday night and come back on Sunday night, creating terrible traffic jams around the cities.
The most fun is for children - who get to spend their summer holidays outside stuffy cities (usually with ба́бушки), with a place to play, hang out all day long, go to the lakes and rivers to swim and sunbathe (remember, the summer in Russia exists and the average temperature in the daytime would be 25 degrees).
It’s a place of first adventures, a place where new friends are made (my best friend is from dacha, btw she lives in Glasgow and it’s her who introduced me to my husband), first loves are experienced, first cigarettes are smoked and first sips of alcohol are swallowed.
I am a strong adherent of learning the culture away the tourist worn-paths, and if you ever have a chance to stay at dacha for a couple of nights - don’t miss such great opportunity to get a step closer to getting to know the mysterious Russian soul.
If you want to learn the Russian language, face to face or by Skype, don’t hesitate to contact me.