Home Education Language Learning Trials and errors of understanding Russian
Last update on February 18, 2020

This Moscow mom shows the importance of understanding the local language, and the humorous run-ins attached to the learning ladder.

Pozhaluysta is a very important word to know in Russia, and it’s one of those cool words that has multiple meanings.

Pozhaluysta is “please.” It’s also “you’re welcome.” And “there you go.” Or also “here you go.”

The multi-purpose word

A fun example in the gym took place between the receptionist (administrator) and I:

Me – Pozhaluysta (here you go. handing over my membership card)
Admin – Spasibo (thank you), na kakom etazhe? (what floor?)
Me- Pervyĭ etazhe, Pozhaluysta. (first floor, please)
Admin – Pozhaluysta (Here you go, handing me towels)
Me – Spasibo (thankyou)
Admin – Pozhaluysta (you are welcome)

…maybe I could have thrown in another Pozhaluysta after the first spasibo…

I don´t say the first Pozhaluysta, because, “Pozhaluysta!”, enough is enough. I just smile and say hello (zdravstvuyte), which is not as easy a word as it looks.

A schoolgirl Russian language error

On the topic of my Russian-speaking skills, I lately made a major mistake but I think I recovered. I was heading out one morning, and as I was walking out the gate our lovely Commandant was yelling at the guards. She sees me, turns, points and yells in Russian, “I know you understand Russian!”

I stop, look at her, panic for a minute, and blurt, “Ne nado, ya ne govoryu po-russki.”

She talks to me for a while, but all I catch is eto ne det·skiĭ sad (this isn’t a preschool) and nado tiho tiho (need quiet quiet). She says spasibo and stomps off, and I am left sort of speechless. As I walk away I realise when she said she knew I understood Russian, I had replied, “No need to (or I dont need to), I dont speak Russian.”

What? That’s not what I wanted to say! I wanted to say I can’t speak Russian. Ugh.

In need of Russian lessons

So I spent the day stewing about what to do, and I decided that when I saw her again I would explain (at the risk of making myself look like a bigger fool). When I was outside playing with my kids I saw her leaving for the day. I said in Russian, “In the morning, you and I talk, I speak word not correct, I speak no need, I want speak I can’t. Excuse me please.”

She actually laughed and said she understood. Phew.

After this I decided I needed Russian lessons. A neighbor gave me a recommendation, so I think I will call her up and have her come over because I hate to speak like Tarzan. I feel like I need to speak the language of the country I live in, and speak more than enough to squeak by. I really want the kids to learn, and I should, too.

We will see how it goes.

Katbat / Expatica

Katbat is a mid 30s mom of three living in Moscow, Russia. When she is not hanging with her kids she likes to read, cook, and listen to music. Read Katbat’s blog, “The Wind Of Change”.