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View Full Version : Russian proverbs, naming and other cultural tidbits



Redpieper
2010-02-02, 04:47 PM
I'm trying to write a story in which one of the protagonists is russian. However seeing as I'm not russian myself I'm having some trouble making it right.
So I was hoping any russian playgrounders here were willing to help me out.
Specifically the following things.

Proverbs, what are commonly used russian proverbs? And by extension what are their meaning.

Naming, what are common names? How is the second name given? For example would the following name be proper? Viktor Davidovich Romanov. (Just an example)

Other cultural tidbits, anything really. I'd love to hear about the culture. :smallsmile:

Thank you for your time,

(You can PM if you want, apologies if the name is offendingly dumb)

Mando Knight
2010-02-02, 05:02 PM
Here you go. (http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/UsefulNotes/Russia) Don't stay too long.

Flickerdart
2010-02-02, 05:16 PM
That would indeed be a legitimate name, except that David isn't the most common name in Russia, and the Romanov last name implies some pretty hardcore nobility if not (former) royalty, with its own pile of cultural intricacies.
The "second name" is called a patronymic (Russian: otchestvo) and is basically the father's name (always the father's, even for girls) plus the appropriate suffix, which can change depending on the name.
There are a ton of proverbs, and even more jokes, so you will have to be a tiny bit more specific. Time period would help. Really, I would not advise doing this unless you're at least superficially familiar with the culture and language.

Redpieper
2010-02-02, 06:16 PM
Mando Knight, oh dear tvtropes, there goes my night :smallwink:
Much appreciated though!

Flickerdart, yes I realise David isn't a common russian name and that Romanov has it's implications. However this was merely an example as I do not have a name figured out yet.

I also realise it would be hard if not impossible to write a realistic seeming russian protagonist without doing the research. However in my story a major point is the fact that the character tries his best to hide his nationality. So he'd only show slight hints of it. Doesn't mean research isn't key here though. :smallsmile:

As for the proverbs, basically cynical sayings about danger and trust and such. As the character will be fairly cynical/deadpan.

Thank you for the help so far.

Flickerdart
2010-02-02, 07:09 PM
Mando Knight, oh dear tvtropes, there goes my night :smallwink:
Much appreciated though!

Flickerdart, yes I realise David isn't a common russian name and that Romanov has it's implications. However this was merely an example as I do not have a name figured out yet.

I also realise it would be hard if not impossible to write a realistic seeming russian protagonist without doing the research. However in my story a major point is the fact that the character tries his best to hide his nationality. So he'd only show slight hints of it. Doesn't mean research isn't key here though. :smallsmile:

As for the proverbs, basically cynical sayings about danger and trust and such. As the character will be fairly cynical/deadpan.

Thank you for the help so far.
Cynical and deadpan? You've come to the right language. The two that immediately pop to mind are "a bear's help", meaning something that caused more problems than it solved (usually through overkill), and "we tried to make things better, but they turned out same as always", a more recent and more popular quote. Loosely translated, sounds much better in the original, but there you go.

Don Julio Anejo
2010-02-03, 02:32 AM
An absolutely essential run down (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russian_jokes) of one of the most important elements of the Russian culture. Proverbs as such (e.g. "slow and steady wins the race") are actually used much less often when compared to meta-jokes (or more exactly, quotes from old and well known jokes).

A few expressions (should also be present on the wiki page I posted a link to) you might like to use:

"Go dig a trench from fence and to lunchtime," or just "from fence to lunch." It means useless, menial work with no clear goal in sight, such as, well, digging a trench starting at that fence and ending when lunch rolls around.

"Hussars, not a word!"
I think you can get the meaning from this little joke:
"Countess Maria Bolkonskaya celebrates her 50th anniversary, the whole local Hussar regiment is invited, and the Countess boasts about her presents. "Cornet Obolensky presented me a lovely set of 50 Chinese fragrant candles. I loved them so much that I immediately stuck them into the 7 seven-branch candlesticks you see on the table. Quite fortunate numbers! Unfortunately there is one candle left, and I don't know where to stick it..." The whole Hussar regiment takes a deep breath... And the Hussar Colonel barks out: "Hussars, not a word!!!
Bonus points if you can figure out where the Hussars wanted her to... ehm.. stick it. If not, it should be on the wiki.

"The doctor says "to the morgue," well then, to the morgue it is"
"Nurse, where are we going?"
"To the morgue."
"But I'm still alive!"
"The doc said "to the morgue," well then, to the morgue it is"
"But why?!"
"The autopsy will show."

There's also quite a few idioms, but most (or at least the ones I'm thinking of) are very hard to translate and will probably lose their meaning, unless you use a similar English one, which kinda beats the point of using a Russian idiom in first place.

PS: in case you're curious, the most common names in Russia are Alexander (Sasha for short), Maxim (Max), Ivan (Vanya) and Dmitry (Dima), in roughly that order. Also, Vladimir is actually not as common as people think.

Grey Paladin
2010-02-03, 05:49 AM
What he said. The best way to check if someone is actually Russian is through finding out if he knows Stirlitz (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stirlitz) and the source of the iconic phrase of Russian culture: Hussars never take money!

EDIT: Mainstream Russian culture is rather paradoxical - on one side you have the 'national akashic records' containing a library of thousands of crude jokes, anecdotes and idioms often focusing on how the entire world is a bleak, horrible place and everyone suck, and on the other hand you have about everyone from every class writing poetry as their hobby, and getting called 'uncultured' being the highest insult.

The national hobbies are getting drunk, poetry, story/joke telling, chess, fighting, and gardening. Women tend to do less fighting and chess.

Flickerdart
2010-02-04, 11:14 PM
Stirlitz (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stirlitz)
"Stirlitz was surprised to see so many coloured people working at Gestapo."

Don Julio Anejo
2010-02-05, 12:01 AM
"Stirlitz was surprised to see so many coloured people working at Gestapo."
:biggrin:
Stab at the new series I take it?

Bob_the_Mighty
2010-02-05, 04:38 AM
I actually took an intro to russian class in high school, so I have a very, very limited knowledge of the language and culture. From what I was taught about patronymics the suffix is -ovich if you're male and -ovna if you're female. There were a couple stories that would probably be considered proverbs, too, but my brain can't find them right now. I'll post them later if I can think of them.

Grey Paladin
2010-02-05, 02:38 PM
"Stirlitz was surprised to see so many coloured people working at Gestapo."

You killed me. I have been killed. By you.

Flickerdart
2010-02-05, 04:12 PM
I actually took an intro to russian class in high school, so I have a very, very limited knowledge of the language and culture. From what I was taught about patronymics the suffix is -ovich if you're male and -ovna if you're female. There were a couple stories that would probably be considered proverbs, too, but my brain can't find them right now. I'll post them later if I can think of them.
There's also some stuff that happens to the last syllable of the name, most often with vowels (Pavlovich, Andreyevich, Ignatyevich, Nikolayevich) but most of the time, it's as simple as adding that on.


:biggrin:
Stab at the new series I take it?
At the recolour, yeah.

Lycan 01
2010-02-05, 04:13 PM
I'm afraid I don't have much to add... I've got a British joke about Russia during World War 2, but other than that, I've got nothing. Sorry...


Btw, that link to the wikipedia article on Russian jokes is great. I love the Hussar jokes... I wish they had more. :smallfrown:

Flickerdart
2010-02-06, 02:38 PM
Btw, that link to the wikipedia article on Russian jokes is great. I love the Hussar jokes... I wish they had more. :smallfrown:
A hussar is flying on a plane with another man and woman. The engine stalls, and when everyone goes for the parachutes they find out that there is only one. The hussar starts putting it on, but the other man interjects:
"Sir, but there is a woman among us!"
The hussar stops and looks down at the rapidly approaching land. "Do you think there's enough time left for that?"