Many people often think of the ice and snow when they think of Russia, but others could argue you’ll never see a more celebrated spring and summer than in a country with a long winter. Whether you’re heading to Moscow or St. Petersburg, you’ll be happy to note that Russian accents are all roughly the same, keeping you safe from most problems with dialect. Here are some useful words and phrases that will make the interactions you face on your trip that much easier:
1. Привет! (Priv-ee-yet)
Meaning: Hi! This is a great greeting that is much less formal than Здравствуйте (Zdras-voy-tye), so make sure to use it with people your own age and never use it with little old ladies – they’ll be very offended.
2. Хорошо. (Hor-a-show)
Meaning: Good. This is a fantastic little word that will get you through all sorts of situations. How are you? Is this enough? Do you need to stop here? Would you like some more Vodka? You can pair it with Да (‘da’- yes) and you’ll find it incredibly useful. You’ll also hear it quite a bit, and you can even phrase it like a question if you’re unsure of something.
3. Пожалуйста. (Puh- zhal-stah)
Meaning: Please. Add this onto any verb and it becomes automatically polite. Often in Russian the imperative is used (Give me, Do this, Go here) but if you add please onto the end, it becomes something more like “Could you please give me…”
4. Извините! (Iz-vin-ee-tye!)
Meaning: I’m sorry! Pronounce the ‘tye’ sound on the end with a soft t. You can use this whenever you do something wrong, or you think someone may have taken offense to something you’ve said. You can also use it when passing someone in the street and bumping into them. Try not to say it with a smile though, as smiling too much can often make you seem slightly strange in many Russian speaking places.
5. Спасибо! (Spa-si-ba!)
Meaning: Thank you! Say this as much as you can, as being polite never hurts, though don’t be surprised if Russian friends think you’re strange for saying it to them. Generally friends don’t thank each other nearly as much as they do in North America.
6. Это (Ehta)
Meaning: This. It seems very simple but this got me through 8 months in eastern Ukraine. Often things that you may want to purchase are behind a counter or glass display case. You can try saying the name of the thing you want, but a simple Это, will get you what you want much faster.
7. Можно (Mohz na)
Meaning: Can. This is another helpful word much like Это, which can really come in handy. It basically asks permission to do something, or if something is possible. Depending on tone and inflection (as well as some hand gestures) you can pretty much use this to check the possibility of anything: if you are allowed on the train now, if you can take your purchases, if you could have a bag for your purchases, if you can use the rest room, if you can move ahead of someone in line… the possibilities are endless!
8. Очень приятно (Ochin pri yat-na)
Meaning: Pleased to meet you. Throw this out when you meet someone who knows you’re a foreigner and you’ll score major points for being able to remember and say a pretty classy phrase in Russian. It’s also incredibly polite. Generally for greetings it’s best to shake men’s hands but not women’s, though it depends on your relationship with them. Do as the person you’re being introduced to does for safety’s sake.
9. До свидания! (Das vi-dawn-ya!)
Meaning: Good bye! Though this is more formal, it’s almost always better to stick with formal phrases if you don’t know the person you’re speaking to personally. Otherwise, with friends use Пока (Pa-ka).
10. Я не понимаю (Ya nee pah-ni-my-u).
Meaning: I don’t understand. This can very often be pared with the previous phrase of “Do you speak English,” as often people may just rephrase what they originally said in Russian. Don’t be too worried if people seem exasperated with you, they may not have encountered a language barrier before. Russian speakers are generally quite obliging when you take the time to learn a few phrases.
Want to check your Russian capabilities before jetting off to Moscow? Try one of our free Russian level tests here!