Fun with Russian

The longer we live here in Russia the more certain Russian words become permanently ingrained in our vocabulary to such a degree that we sometimes even forget the English word. Before we moved here I had heard of that happening and often thought it such a strange thing. “How could someone actually forget a common word in his or her own native tongue?” I would ask myself. Now I’m beginning to understand. Take for instance around our house. We go to the store about every other day for food, and so a grocery list is constantly being added to. Here’s a sample of what a typical list might look like.


Now, unless you speak Russian, I’m certain that some of those words were unfamiliar to you, particularly the words “farsh, smetana” and “slivki.” What make it even more interesting is that these words are normally written using the Russian letters, so the list actually looks like…


So what are these mysterious objects? Well, they’re really nothing strange. “Farsh” (фарш) is simply ground meat. It can be any kind of ground meat like ground beef, pork or even chicken and turkey. Yet the word has become ingrained into our vocabulary to such a degree that the other day when I was talking to a friend back in the States I couldn’t think of what to call it in English. To us it’s just “Farsh.”

“Smetana” (сметана) is simply sour cream. Over here it tends to be a bit more soupy than typical sour cream one finds in the States, but it can be bought in different percentages, and most people prefer it in the liquidly 15% form. If one buys it in the 40% it’s basically identical to American sour cream. But again, for some reason we’ve simply come to call this substance by it’s Russian name.

Finally there’s “slivki” (сливки). This is simply cream, very similar to “half-and-half.” It is sold in different percentages of creaminess also. The 11% kind is basically identical to half-and-half, and the 44% is pretty much like heavy whipping cream. I’m still clueless as to why the smetana comes in increments of 5% creaminess and slivki in increments of 11%. I’m sure there’s a reason for this, but as a friend warned me, “Don’t ask such questions, you’ll live longer.”

There are lots more words that have entered the word bank that I could describe here if I had time. But here’s just a few more…

chai (чай) – tea (chai is simply regular tea, not the Starbucks version of chai)
shkaf (шкаф) – a closet or cabinet
syr (сыр) – cheese
yolka (ёлка) – Christmas tree
kolyaska (коляска) – baby stroller
shapka (шапка) – cap or hat
probka (пробка) – a traffic jam or blockage

So one of these days if we’re ever talking to you and suddenly a strange and unusual word slips out you’ll know why.

One comment

  1. So, so true!
    Ah, that’s why you love talking with former Russian missionaries, is that we understand your Englissian 🙂 And will even speak it back to you!

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