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Russian

There are a number of ways you can learn more about Russian language and culture at UCLan. Watch a brief webcast with an interesting introduction to the fascinating world of Russian Language and People!

Apart from attending the Elective/Certificate classes for Beginners' and Intermediate Russian taught by our very popular Svetlana, there is a whole host of things you can do at this portal: play with the very informative tests on Russian language and culture, check out the latest news about Russia and about Russians at UCLan, watch a webcast or listen to one of the podcasts covering a variety of subjects and themes.

Wikipedia: Russia, Russian language

Red Square - Moscow

Language

You may think that Russian is a difficult language to learn because of its different alphabet, but you may be surprised how quickly you can learn to recognise the letters.

Spoken by the tsars and by well-known people like Dostoevsky, Pushkin, Tolstoy, Pasternak, Chaykovskiy and Prokofiev, Russian is the native language of some 142 million citizens of the Russian Federation. Russian still remains an unofficial language of the former Soviet republics, an indispensable communication tool across the areas north of the Black Sea, all of the Caucasus and Central Asia.

The number of Russian speakers worldwide could be in the region of 220 million. It is one of the Slavonic languages, 10 per cent of the world's population communicate in Slavonic languages and of these 60 per cent speak Russian.

Culture

We thought long and hard about how we could present the Russian culture on these pages, realising that just like all other cultures it is too rich and diverse for our humble portal. Elsewhere we have put together a comprehensive list of sources of information on various aspects of Russian culture.
We then thought: why don't we start exploring the Russian culture with the traditions, everyday customs, social 'etiquette' and perhaps even superstitions here?
These 'traditions' are often taken for granted by the Russians themselves, as they have become their way of life, however for others who wish to know more about Russian people and culture it is extremely useful to be aware of these practical, interesting, sometimes mysterious and obscure 'ways Russians do things over there’.

Selected Russian Customs and Superstitions

For a Journey

  • Before leaving for a long journey the travellers, and all those who are seeing them off, must sit for a moment in silence before leaving the house. It is often conveniently written off as a time to sit and think of anything one may have forgotten.
  • It is also recommended to pin a French Pin inside your clothing to avoid the curse of evil eye on your journey.
  • If it’s raining when you leave a place, it means you’ll return, and it is considered a generally good omen.
  • After someone has left the house on a long journey, their room and/or their things should not be cleaned up until they have arrived.
  • Returning home for forgotten things is a bad omen. It is better to leave it behind, but if returning is necessary, one should look in the mirror before leaving the house again. Otherwise the journey will be bad.

For Special Occasions

  • Birthday parties should be celebrated on or after one’s birthday, not before. So when one’s birthday falls during the week, it’s best to celebrate the following weekend.
  • On an exam day, you shouldn’t make your bed, wear anything new or cut your fingernails. It’s good luck.
  • And talking about future success, especially boasting about it, is considered bad luck. It’s better to be silent until the success has been achieved or to even sound pessimistic.
  • Many Russians consider giving sharp objects, like knives or scissors, as gifts, to be taboo. You can avoid this taboo taking symbolic little money, for example one Russian ruble, in exchange as if it is a trade, not a gift.
  • Things bought for a new born baby (such as clothes, toys, furniture, etc.) should only be purchased after the baby is born. This is usually done in a big hurry.
  • Unmarried people should not sit at the corner of the table. Otherwise they will not marry. This mostly applies to girls, and often only young girls. Sometimes it is said that you will not marry for 7 years, making it alright for young children to sit there.
  • A purse (or any other money holder) as a gift requires a little money inside. Given empty it causes bad financial luck.
  • A funeral procession brings good luck. But one should never cross its path or it is bad luck.
  • A stranger should not look at a new born baby before it is a certain age (between two months and one year). If one looks at the baby it is considered bad luck to compliment it. Instead, one could say, “Oh, what an ugly child!”

Other superstitions

  • Knocking on wood is practiced in Russia as in other countries. However Russians tend to add a symbolic three spits over one’s left shoulder (or simply with the head turned to the left), and Russians will often knock three times as well. Traditionally one was spitting on the devil (who is always on the left)
  • Breaking a mirror is considered bad luck in Russia, especially looking at one’s reflection in a broken mirror. And the effect is more severe than 7 years of bad luck.
  • It is often considered taboo to step over people, or parts of their body, who are on the ground. It is often said that it will prevent the person from growing (if they are not fully grown already). It is better to politely ask the person to move or to find a way around them. If one accidentally steps over a person (or people), it is sometimes standard to step backwards over them.
  • A woman with empty water buckets coming towards you is considered a bad omen.
  • A group of two or more people should not walk on either side of a tree. They should all keep to one side or the other.
  • It’s good luck to trip on your left foot.
    If one person accidentally steps on another person’s foot, it is common for the person who was stepped on to lightly step on the foot of the person who stepped first. It is said that they thus avoid a future conflict.

Russian Etiquette

  • Men in Russia will always shake hands when they greet for the first time during the day. However, it is taboo to shake hands with your gloves on. A glove must be removed, no matter how cold it may be. Russia is one of the many countries where this handshake tradition is rigorously upheld.
  • Shaking hands and giving things across the threshold of a house is taboo. Usually a guest will come inside before shaking a host’s hand when arriving and shake it before leaving the threshold when leaving. Sometimes people will even avoid saying “hello” and “goodbye” across the threshold.
  • It is traditional in Russia for men to give flowers to women on nearly every occasion, but only an odd number can be given. Giving an even number of flowers is taboo, because even numbers are brought to funerals.
  • You should never go to someone else’s house empty handed. Alcoholic beverages and/or dessert is a common gift to bring when invited to someone’s home.
  • You should not forget to “Thank” the hosts for the welcoming and the dinner.
  • You must remove the shoes in the house, because many people keep icons at home and according to Russian Orthodox religion it is a bad custom wear shoes in front of an icon, or even to say something bad about someone. It brings bad luck.
  • It is traditional to always propose some kind of toast when drinking. Refusing to drink vodka on certain occasions or to a certain toast may sometimes be considered rude. For instance refusing to drink vodka at a funeral banquet is considered unacceptable. However you never toast in honour of those who have died or on Easter (for the same reason). Your glass cannot touch the table from the time a toast is proposed to the time you drink. Your glass should remain on the table when it is being refilled.
  • Many Russians consider it bad form not to finish a bottle of vodka once it has been opened, no matter how few people there are left to finish it.
  • It is also considered bad form to drink alcohol, including relatively mild beverages such as beer, without eating something between sips or shots. For this reason, Russian cuisine is particularly rich in appetizers and finger-foods (zakuski), as they are used as chasers.
  • When pouring wine, you should never pour back handed. This was a way of doing away with your enemies. You wear a ring full of poison, as you pour the wine out backhanded the poison drips into the glass un-noticed.
  • It is impolite to point with your finger. But if you must point, it’s better to use your entire hand instead of your finger.
  • It is impolite to put your feet up on furniture with your shoes on. Sometimes, simply showing the soles of your shoes is considered rude.
  • Whistling indoors is taboo. Russians sometimes say superstitiously that you will “whistle away your money”. The origins of this are in superstition, as it used to be considered a sin: it was believed that when you whistled you were entertaining the devil. In general it is considered rude.
  • Traditional Russian cheek kissing is done using three kisses, but it is not widely upheld all the time.
  • When someone sneezes you tell them ‘Bud’te zdorovy’, which literally means “Be Healthy”. It used to be believed that saying this would help the sneezer keep from getting sick. Russian speakers will say it just as freely as an English speaker will say, “Bless you”, but the superstitious origins of the phrase have been widely lost in both languages

Compiled from: http://paganism.msk.ru, http://en.wikipedia.org

General Resources

Russian Lancashire: A blog for the Russian speaking communities of North West England
General Russian Information (in Russian): Gives you information in Russian on films, music and more
Rambler (in Russian): Russian Search Engine
Yandex (in Russian): A Russian Search engine. Works best if search terms are entered in Russian.
The Society for Co-operation in Russian and Soviet Studies (SCRSS) : A unique educational centre, based in London, which aims to promote knowledge of the culture, language and history of Russia and the former Soviet Union. The Society caters for students, teachers, researchers, designers and all other individuals interested in Russia. It offers a reference and loan library, information service and unique photographic collection. It also organises lectures and film shows, and facilitates professional contacts between individuals and organisations in Russia and the United Kingdom.

Educational

Foreign Languages for Travelers : Russian Teaching web page.
USA Pittsburg University Online Resources : Find out about events, news and more from this website.
Online Translation : Translate text from Russian to English or English to Russian.
An Online Russian Reference Grammar : Useful information about word formations in Russian.
Aatseel: A website promoting the teaching of Eastern European Languages.
The Russian Program at Cornell University : Links to a range of online resources including 'Beginning Russian Through film' and internet radio stations in Russian.
Russian Grammar Exercises : University of Denver site.
Master Russian.com : More information on how to read, speak and write in Russian.
Shared Talk : Find the perfect partner for your language exchange, practice your oral skills and get more fluent than ever.
Russian language learning on the web : Helps you learn Russian via the internet.

E-Libraries and Literature

From Ends to the Beginning : A Bilingual Anthology of Russian Verse. A collection of 750 poems from 18th through the 20th Century. For some of the poetry, this site also provides audio recordings by the authors.
The National Library of Russia : Online exhibits, extensive catalogues, bibliographies, etc. All information is available in English and in Russian.