Thursday, June 3, 2010


It is priceless to have real Russian friends to test things on and to know when you were fooled by your Russian teacher into behaving in a quite ridiculous manner. Yesterday, we went to the Russian Museum of Political History, where you can see Lenin's desk and the balcony from which he held his speeches. After listening to the (Russian) guide for 2 straight hours and getting about as much as we would've probably figured out without guide (but it was hilarious to see how excited he got... And how he called the end of Communism the 'Second Bourgeois Revolution'), we went to walk around one of the smaller recreational islands with our new-found friend Gleb (actually, a friend of mine was set up with him by her host mom. Another funny story for another time). Gleb now tried to speak Russian to us to make us practice, which was super nice of him, but obviously sometimes I didn't understand, so I said 'что-что?', which translates as 'what-what?', but which we were taught to use as 'Excuse me?' if you didn't get what the other person says. Well, Gleb burst out laughing and asked me: 'Did you just say what-what?' So apparently the 'excuse me' sense isn't that well known in Russia itself. And we have been saying what-what?? to all kinds of different people, including customs officers and the officials at our university. I start to understand why we have been treated like morons so much here. Because we sound like them.

P.S. Also, in our unit on home remedies, my Russian teacher swore on hot milk with honey and baking soda as a trusted Russian home remedy. And I tried it. It didn't really work. And Gleb had never heard of it either. So, apparently half of our Russian education is not to be relied on anymore. Uh-oh.


  1. You say "what-what" when you couldn't quite hear (understand) what a person was saying. So, in a somewhat liberal translation, an expression "what-what" can mean "pardon me" (which in turn could mean "excuse me").
    So, I would not go as far as saying that your teachers were "fooling you"; however, you certainly would look stupid if you say "what-what" all the time.

    Simply say to a friend "прости,я не поняла". if it is a stranger, older person or a prof. say: "простите, я не поняла".

    P.S. Also, I advice to use expression "what-what" only with people close to your own age and/or friends--not with strangers, older people, or profs. An expression "what-what" has a slightly disrespectful tone to it.

  2. You know its so much more fun when you actually have no practical knowledge to help you out! You know it to be true Janina! Best,


  3. Thanks Yuri, that is super helpful. I believe though I'll leave the 'what-what'-ing in general for a while. =P