How to speak Russian in 5 words Part 1/5

I had a friend who was leaving for Russia, and wanted a very quick crash course to help survive “I’ll not remember more than five words – what are the ones to know?”. This is what I taught him… so if you’re pressed for time and you want to make yourself understood in Russia, here is our basic survival course – Russian in 5 words.

Originally written by Frank Althaus and reproduced with permission.

1: How to say sorry in Russian

My first choice goes to IZVINEETYE.

It is one of the ways of saying ‘excuse me’ in Russian. That is not all, however: the key to izvineetye is the facial expression that goes with it, and with the correct expression, its uses are limitless.

Anyone who has ever been to Sheremetevo Airport in Moscow will know of the problems: your luggage appearing on the carousel that claims to come from Bahrain, trolleys rented for roubles only, with not a rouble exchange office in sight, and so on.

These are, regrettably, difficulties beyond the scope of the foreigner with five words of Russian. But not so with passport control and customs.

Here, if you are asked any awkward questions, you should find that izvineetye, with a blank expression and shake of the head, will see you safely through.

Adding meaning through gesture and vocal pitch

Likewise, when a native accosts you in the street or metro, izvineetye with a shrug of the shoulders should say “I’m trying, but I’m a stupid foreigner and really don’t have a clue what you are on about“.

Another important use of izvineetye, this time with a slightly foolish, questioning look, should convey “Could you repeat that please, and if possible, a little more slowly and clearly?“.

A slightly more brusque and determined izvineetye, preferably accompanied by a scowl, is useful when you find yourself rammed up against the opposite side of a metro train with your stop fast approaching.

Finally, an apologetic izvineetye is a good catch-all whenever you get the feeling that you have said the wrong thing, or that you are not quite where you are supposed to be.