How to speak Russian in 5 words (2/5)

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.

Word 2: Say hello and greeting a business partner

The next phrase is OCHIN PREEYATNA.

It means ‘very pleasant’, and is the simplest way of saying ‘pleased to meet you’ in Russian. I would recommend it over the Russian for ‘how do you do’, not least because it is easier to pronounce. The ritual for using ochin preeyatna is, at least initially, quite straightforward.

When you meet a Russian, both of you will say your own names as you shake hands; you will then say ochin preeyatna. This, however, is only the first stage in what is the thoroughly murky business for Russian forms of address.

1 2 3: Christian, patronymic and surname

Russians – indeed, the vast majority of citizens of the former Soviet Union – have three names: a Christian name, a patronymic (indicating the name of their father) and a surname.

From the point of view of the foreigner, there are two broad problems with this system; first, how to remember all three names at once, and secondly, which of the names to use. Not that long ago, you could safely ‘tovarisch’ (comrade) it about the place, but this is now highly inadvisable.

The problem is that, as with many things in life, the Russians have yet to come up with a post-soviet alternative. lf you want to accost a stranger on the street, you can shout out ‘man’, ‘woman’, ‘young man’ etc. But this is not recommended for high-level business negotiations.

Ask for a repetition

The key to what to call a Russian really depends on how good you are at remembering names. You will probably only get one chance to hear all three names at once; this will be when introductions are made.

Of course, armed with your izvineetye you should now, at least, manage to get the name repeated. lf you think you can only remember one name, then go for the surname. You should then address the Russian as Gaspadin or Gaspazha So-and-so (Mr or Mrs So-and-so).
This form of address is how Russians will address you, and is entirely acceptable from foreigners who don’t know better.

Show what you know

Gaspadin So-and-so is not, however, ideal.

The proper way to address a Russian with whom you have a fairly formal relationship is by their first two names, the Christian name and patronymic. So if, when introduced to a Russian, you think you have the capacity to remember two names, go for the first two, and forget about the surname. The use of the Christian name and patronymic is the single best way to make a good impression in a business – or indeed any other – situation in Russia.

EXAMPLE: Vladimir Putin would be best addressed as Vladimir Vladimirovich, as opposed to Mr Putin or Vlad. Vladimirovich signifies that his father was called Vladimir – the ‘ovich’ is like the Scots’ ‘mac’ meaning ‘son of’. For a woman with a father called Vladimir, an example would be Olga Vladimirovna – the ending changes, as the subject (Olga) is feminine.

Showing you understand Russians

Using the patronymic name when addressing a Russian is not just a question of being polite and correct. By using this form of address, you will show that you have some understanding of the way in which Russians do things. But remember: either the Christian name or the patronymic on its own are useless.

One final tip on ochin preeyatna: if you ever hear a Russian say it to you, it is probably a good policy to say it back.