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      The VICE Guide To Russia

      April 1, 2006

      By Mark Ames


      The mummified corpse of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin. Photo by AP


      (A)—AZITHROMYCIN)
      Russia is poisoned. It’s poisoned from shitty old cars running on leaded 76-octane fuel and it’s poisoned from decades of Soviet waste. Its capital is the largest city in Europe and the most polluted. The weather is usually raw, cold, and damp, while the apartments are boiling hot. The food ranges from sickly to dangerous (last February they found a bunch of meat with anthrax in it), but the biggest reason you get sick a lot in Russia isn’t the environment. It’s you. You will live a life that invites illness. That’s because Muscovites party extremely hard in bouts that can last several days, and they could give a shit about condoms.

      So thank god for Azithromycin, sold under the brand name Sumamed. It’s the neutron bomb of antibiotics, wiping out every living organism from the back of your throat to the tip of your urethra and all points inbetween, while leaving the major structures (you) still standing. In America you’d have to see a doctor every time you wanted some, but in Russia you can just pop into any apteka [pharmacy] and buy a box for $15.

      We recommend taking these even if you don’t feel symptoms, as a just-in-case following a rough weekend. Let the careful, squeamish Westerners worry about not overprescribing antibiotics for fear of creating resistant superbug strains. That’s not your problem. What you need to do is make sure you didn’t catch anything from the chick you met at Propaganda because you’re an irresponsible dipshit and you were too horny and high to reach for the Durex box.

      Babushka

      photo by AP


      (B)—BLYAD’
      If you’re a guy and you hang out with Russian guys, the word you will hear most often will be blyad’. You’ll think it means something like “um,” and you’ll be technically right in the sense that it’s a speech dysfluency. In fact, blyad’ means “whore.” It’s a filler word that also actually means something.

      So a Russian guy might say in a typical conversation, “Whore! Yesterday-whore, I wanted-whore to get tickets-whore to the Bolshoi Ballet-whore for you. But, whore! The faggots-whore at the box office-whore tried to tell me they didn’t-whore have any good seats, whore.”

      It’s fitting that the word for whore should be used so commonly, as Russia is both a major producer and major consumer of whores.

      B is also for babushka, which is what the blyadi will eventually turn into. Beware of babushkas. They’re the toughest bitches you’ll ever come across in your life. They’ll spy on you, plow into you on the metro, and if you speak in English in front of them, they will bite your head off and scream that Stalin was the greatest thing to ever happen to Russia. They do make excellent soup though.

      Vodka



      (V)—VODKA

      Nearly every young Russian you meet, particularly the chicks, will tell you that they can’t stand vodka and they never drink it. They’ll insist that they only drink Tanqueray or Johnnie Walker Black. They are lying. They drink vodka by the shitload; it’s just that they’re kind of embarrassed to admit it to foreigners because they think it makes them look like a cliché.

      The best vodka now is Russkii Standart Platinum. We’ve hung out with minigarchs who prefer this brand, which is owned by a semigarch named Rustam Tariko. So if you must order vodka, order Russkii Standart and you’ll look like you know what you’re doing.

      Remember one more thing about vodka: Russians don’t put caps back on open bottles. If you open a bottle with anyone—friend, colleague, business partner, landlord, cop—you MUST finish it.

      Gogol



      (G)—GOGOL

      The reason why Russians rule world literature is Nikolai Gogol. He was Russia’s first great prose writer. Dostoevsky wrote that “all Russian literature came out of Gogol’s Overcoat,” referring to one of his most famous stories. If you don’t give a shit about Dostoevsky, then just know that Mark E. Smith is also a big Gogol fan.

      You should read Gogol not just to become a Renaissance Guy, but because it is the best way to make sense of Russia. His seminal novel Dead Souls is a mind-blowing, hilarious book about the grotesquerie, corruption, slavishness, and cruelty of Russian life. The book will seem caricatured and surreal, even cartoonish, to the uninitiated Western reader. But once said reader spends a little time in Russia, he will realize that the novel is not grotesque and cartoonish, but a perfect mirror of Russian life. Gogol was deeply fucked-up from writing Dead Souls, which is one of those rare works of lit in which there is not a single redeeming character. After spending nearly ten years working on a sequel, he threw the entire manuscript into a fire, refused all food, and died nine days later. So long, funny man.


      (D)—DYEVUSHKA

      Speaking of souls, the word for soul in Russian is dusha. You’ll hear a lot about the “mysterious Russian soul” that’s supposed to make them deeper than us. You know, like Winston Churchill’s overused line about how Russia is “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma,” which we regard as the “Free Bird” of op-ed clichés about Russia.

      Forget all this “Russian soul” guff and focus on the more important D—dyevushka. It means “girl.” One of the most cruelly kept secrets of the Cold War was that Russia has the hottest, willingest-to-do-fucking-anythingest girls on earth.


      (E)—EGYPT

      If you want to meet Russians where they really party, your best bet is to see them on vacation in Egypt.

      Since Russians are openly prejudiced against both dark-skinned people and each other, and since they view vacations as a time to drink and fuck at levels that make even their wildest weekends at home seem like Christian retreats, we recommend Egypt as the ideal way to mainline concentrated Russianness.


      (Yo)—YOLKA

      A yolka is a Christmas tree. Except that Russians don’t celebrate Christmas on December 25th, but rather according to their old, fucked-up calendar, which puts it on January 7th. So Russians put their yolkas and presents out for New Year’s.

      And December 31st isn’t their only New Year’s celebration either. Since they still kind of respect their old calendar, they celebrate “Old New Year” on January 13th as well.

      In fact, the entire period in Russia from December 31st through January 14th is such a blowout of alcohol poisoning, rape, and accidental fires that last year the government decreed a ten-day-straight official holiday from January 1st through 10th. They had to.

      Zhirinovsky

      photo by AP


      (Zh)—ZHIRINOVSKY

      Vladimir Zhirinovsky first made a name for himself as an extreme nationalist just when the Soviet Union was collapsing. In the first post-Soviet parliamentary elections in 1993, Zhirinovsky’s party, the hilariously misnamed Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, won in a landslide. He threatened to use nuclear weapons against any adversary, promised to retake Alaska from the United States, suggested setting up giant fans to blow all of Russia’s waste to Germany, and talked about invading and occupying Iran so that Russian soldiers could “wash their boots in the warm waters of the Indian Ocean.” He even posed in his underwear for Playboy.

      Zhirinovsky was also a great friend of Saddam Hussein. The Iraqi dictator paid the LDPR millions through the oil-for-food program and in return Zhirinovsky steered the Duma on a pro-Hussein course and denounced the U.S., calling on Iraq to bomb American targets.

      A scandal erupted a few years ago when it was revealed that Zhirinovsky’s party members—a vile collection of thugs who bought themselves a seat on his ticket—had such violent, wild parties that they were literally destroying parts of the Duma building. Not only did the walls have holes in them, but security and cleaners found everything from blood, needles, and vomit to piles of human shit on the couches and tables.

      Just this year, Zhirinovsky made headlines in America by going after Condoleezza Rice. How’s this for a quote? “The true reason of Ms. Rice’s attack against Russia is very simple. Condoleezza Rice is a very cruel, offended woman who lacks men’s attention… Condoleezza Rice needs a company of soldiers. She needs to be taken to barracks where she would be satisfied. On the other hand, she can hardly be satisfied because of her age.”


      (Z)—ZAGS

      If you’re an American guy marrying a Russian chick, you’ll need to deal with ZAGS, the wretched Soviet-era government agency that registers marriages, even in these post-Soviet times. Think of it as the DMV, only a hundred times worse in terms of hassle, rude civil servants, long waits, and impersonal atmosphere.

      After leaving ZAGS, you can join the other couples by laying some flowers at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the Kremlin. Then take some cheesy photos on Red Square. After that, it’s the wedding party, where you’ll be forced to drink until you vomit. And then, once you actually get your spouse back to America, well, my friend, let the magic begin. As in disappearing-act magic. As in “Where the fuck is my Russian wife at five in the morning!?” magic.

      Ikra

      photo by AP


      (I)—Ikra (Caviar)

      The UN doesn’t have much clout in Russia. For example, you can buy the United Nations-banned Beluga caviar in any supermarket. Russians don’t have a very highly developed concept of conservation, so when the UN warns them that eating Beluga sturgeon eggs is wiping the fish off the planet they shrug their shoulders and say, “So?”

      Iyoshkar-Ola

      photo by Kommersant


      (short I)—Iyoshkar-Ola

      Iyoshkar-Ola is the capital city of the Mari El Republic on the Volga River. It’s literally the shittiest, most depressing city you’ll ever visit in the Russian provinces—quite an amazing feat considering the vast archipelago of squalid, doomed, small-to-mid-size cities scattered across those 11 time zones.

      The locals think it’s pretty shitty too. That explains why Mari El has the highest suicide rate in the entire world. Some experts have tried to pin the astronomical suicide rate on something cultural. The Mari are a Finno-Urgic people and it’s true that Finns are particularly susceptible to suicide (witness the high rates in other Finno-Urgic countries like Hungary, Estonia, and the Russian republic of Udmurtia), but the Mari rate is roughly triple that of Hungary or Finland, with about 17 suicides a week in a population of just 750,000.

      Others say it’s because the Mari still widely practice paganism rather than good ol’ soul-supporting Christianity. Since the Mari were just about the last pagans in Europe to be converted a few hundred years ago, Mari El is the only republic on the European continent where pagan rituals and shamanism are still commonplace.

      Of course, the real reason is simple: Mari El is the poorest republic in European Russia outside of the Caucasus region, and its capital, Iyoshkar-Ola, is a pocked-cement pit of a city. Who the fuck in their right mind wouldn’t throw themselves out of a window there?

      Kalashnikov

      photo by AP


      (K)—Kalashnikov

      The AK-47 is one of the greatest—and onlyest—inventions by the Soviets that the rest of the world wanted for themselves. Let’s face it, the Kalashnikov beats America’s M-series assault weapons. It’s built for the filth, dust, and sloppiness of war, unlike the M-16, which was designed to win over easily-dazzled politicians in order to secure lucrative contracts. The proof is in the marketplace: Until the day comes when the Somalis start pirate-producing and hoarding M-16s, you gotta give it to the Kalashnikov.

      Lubyanka

      photo by AP


      (L)—Lubyanka

      Everyone thought that when the Soviet Union collapsed and Yeltsin took over, the KGB (Russia’s CIA) was gone forever. Crowds pulled down the statue of Felix Dzerzhinski, the founder of the NKVD (the old name for the KGB).

      Yet, the more things change—as in the name of the state security apparatus, which is now the FSB—the more things stay the same. The KGB is far from gone. Russia is once again being run by its own security apparatus. President Putin, after all, was a KGB lieutenant-colonel and headed the FSB just before taking over Russia in late 1999.

      Most would say things have become even scarier since Putin. FSB headquarters, for example, are in a building called Lubyanka, a menacing granite structure right in the center of Moscow, across the street from the Children’s World toy store.

      A lot of people were executed in the Lubyanka’s basement: The famous Swedish Holocaust hero Raoul Wallenberg and many of Stalin’s top Bolshevik rivals, like Bukharin, Kamenev, and Zinoviev. Stalin’s henchman Yagoda, the one who helped start the Terror, was killed there. So was Yagoda’s successor, the midget Yezhov, who ramped up the Terror and finally died in it. In fact, during the Terror, so many people were being shot on a round-the-clock basis at Lubyanka, they parked trucks around it and had them rev their engines all through the night to muffle the sounds of gunshots and screaming.

      Militsia

      photo by AP


      (M)—Menti, Militsia, Musor

      These three words all refer to one organization—the cops, or “the trash” in slang. These guys are completely different from the cold-blooded goons in the KGB. Their main business is to suck bribes out of people. One branch of the militsia, the traffic police or DPS, can pull you over for anything under the sun, including having too much dirt on your car (this is the filthiest city on Earth, remember?). When you’re pulled over you have two options: Either pay the official fine, which involves a horrible wait, paperwork, and hassle; or “settle the matter on the spot, in the human-style.” Such a bribe will cost you anywhere from five to twenty bucks, sometimes more.

      Last year two traffic cops pulled over an SUV in Moscow and demanded a $100 bribe. The driver didn’t have the money, so they handcuffed him to the back, beat him severely, and drove his car to one of the cop’s brother’s house. Along the way, they picked up several bottles of liquor, and upped the bribe to $100,000. Miraculously, they were pulled over by one of their colleagues, whom they shot and killed when he wouldn’t get in on the gittin’.

      Cops also prey on foreigners. The best racket is catching them with unregistered visas. If they catch you with drugs—or if they plant drugs on you—it can cost you anywhere from $100 to $1,000 or more.

      That’s the good news. If you can’t pay your bribe or if you run into drunken cops or if you’re a dark-skinned immigrant from the Caucasus, then you might wind up kissing their truncheons and boots with your whole body. There was even a full-on militsia-wilding in the Urals-region town of Blagoveshchensk where, in 2004, cops went on a three-day rampage, detaining over 1,000 15- to 30-year-old males and torturing many of them, including fathers walking their babies in strollers.

      Daryl Gates ain’t shit.


      (N)—Nyegr

      Newcomers are shocked to see Russians call black people nyegr right to their faces. Everyone does it, even blacks.

      Nyegr is an older Russian word derived from “Negro.” It’s still the best word available. They can’t use a term like “African-Russian” since most blacks in Moscow are not Russian but African students who forgot to go home. “Black” doesn’t work because “black” in Russian is chyorni and it refers disparagingly to people from the Caucasus. Actually, they’re called “black-asses.” After you see all the options, nyegri is actually pretty good.

      Being black in Russia is good and bad. While skinhead violence is so rampant that it makes East Germany look like a hippie commune, Russian chicks have the hots for Africans because they’re such good dancers. Seriously. If you’re an African, best to hang out in a nightclub like Cabana or Karma Bar. Of course, you’ll have to zip in there from the taxi because running into skinheads or cops when you’re black is never good.

      Going to clubs in Russia is expensive, so a lot of Africans will augment their income playing the role of a “Negro” for a restaurant. Specifically, standing around in a monkey costume to attract, let’s say, “old-fashioned” Russian customers who like gawking at Africans. If you’re not into that, there’s always drugs. African students are the most reliable smack dealers in town.


      (O)—OLIGARCHS

      Russians are single-handedly responsible for reviving this old Greek word, which until recently was a favorite pejorative of Marxist-types looking to whip up class warfare.

      In the 1990s, a small clique of well-connected businessmen took control of Russia’s largest “privatized” assets in rigged auctions. One guy, Vladimir Potanin, was put in charge of a privatization auction for a company controlling one-third of the world’s nickel and 70 percent of its platinum. Guess what? He won. Paying just $170 million for a company which at the time earned $2 billion a year, Vladimir and a few of his pals became some of the richest men in the world overnight.

      These newbie billionaires needed a name to describe who they were, since “thief” didn’t go down well with their new international banking friends. First they came up with “robber baron,” to try to make them seem like Rockefeller, Carnegie, and the other ruthless-yet-respected titans of American industry. Then everyone started complaining that the analogy didn’t quite hold, since America’s robber barons actually built entire industries from scratch, whereas Russia’s robber barons merely stole already-built industries and stripped them bare.

      So then they just decided, “Aw fuck it, who are we kidding? We control the country, the economy, and the president. Let’s just shove it in everyone’s faces.” Thus were born Russia’s oligarchs. A recent Forbes survey found that Moscow has the largest number of billionaires of any city on earth.

      Things are changing however. Even though some oligarchs still have warehouses full of rubles, Putin has made it very clear that the second they fuck up they will end up in exile, in jail, or on ice.

      Putin

      photo by AP


      (P)—Putin

      Sort of like Pablo Picasso, Putin is only five-foot-five but girls cannot resist his stare. They also can’t resist his jails.

      Putin came to power by methodically working his way up the ladder behind the scenes and proving his loyalty to his venal masters in the Kremlin. In 1999, Yeltsin and his cronies were shitting bricks because there was a real chance they might lose power to opposing clans and find themselves on trial or in exile. In a moment of panic, they plucked the slippery Putin from the FSB, killed a few hundred people by blowing up some apartment buildings, and then blamed the whole thing on Chechen terrorists. With anti-Muslim sentiment raging Putin invaded Chechnya, and lo and behold, his ratings soared from under two percent to over 70, where they’ve stayed ever since.

      Why is Putin so popular? First, he doesn’t drink, which after Yeltsin was no small feat. Second, he’s ended the chaos of the 90s by clamping down on both “democratic elections” and the “free media.” We use quotes there because both democracy and the media were so corrupted at the end of Yeltsin’s tenure that all that was left when Putin took power were the trappings of these institutions. Finally, Putin doesn’t suck up to America the way Yeltsin did.

      Russians love and Americans hate that Putin hasn’t let Western multinationals wet their beaks at the Russian oil trough. When oil baron Khodorkovsky tried to hook up his oil major Yukos with Exxon and Chevron, Putin wiped him out. Today the American media has rebranded him the second coming of Stalin, which to Russians is not necessarily a bad thing. He is due to step down in 2008, but whether he will or not is the 64,000-ruble question.


      (R)—Rublyovka

      Every weekend, Russians head out to their countryside dachas. For most people this means a crumbling shack on a small plot of land. “Rest” involves either never-ending work to make the dacha marginally inhabitable, or hopelessly growing a few tomatoes and cucumbers in the dacha plot. No matter how it starts, it always ends up as getting drunk off your ass and letting nature take its course.

      For those who own a dacha on the elite Rublyovskoe Shosse, however, life is a bit different. Even though there’s nothing unique about this region—the landscape is the same flat, birch-infested setting that repeats itself over thousands of miles of European Russia—what matters is that everyone thinks it’s the best stretch of land Russia has to offer. For $5 million you can probably get yourself a modest plot of mud. Then there’s the actual house to build. Oligarchs, corrupt government officials, and the assorted high-end crooks who live here are fond of multi-themed structures combining turrets, classical columns, Spanish-tiled roofs, fountains, and helipads. Many Rublyovka estates include little Orthodox churches in their backyards for good luck.


      (S)—Siberian Express

      Many an enterprising trekker has harbored a romantic notion of taking the Siberian Express across Russia to Mongolia or Beijing. This is what is known as “retarded.” Try it and see.

      Here is what your seven days will be like. Day One: Train takes off. Shitty Moscow apartment blocks give way to birch-tree forests. Guy in your compartment gets drunk and won’t stop asking, “America good? Yes?” Day Two: More drunks in tracksuits pour into your compartment, one guy passes out on your backpack. Day Three: Mongolian shuttle-traders board the train. They pile huge bags full of cheap goods they’re taking back to Mongolia. They stink like BO, vodka, and dried fish. Day Four: Mongolians start drinking heavily. They fight and yell at each other. You ask to be moved. The conductor demands a bribe which you don’t have. You go back to your room and guard your shit by sleeping on your pretty new Jansport. Day Five: Your camera is missing. The stench in your room is so bad you can’t even sleep. You move into the corridor where the air’s slightly less fetid and sleep while sitting on a little stool. A cop jabs you with his stick and makes you move back to your room. A Mongol woman and her two babies are now asleep on your bed plank. Day Six: The bathroom in your wagon looks like Bobby Sands’s prison cell, with shit and vomit sprayed everywhere and the toilet backed up. Your iPod is gone and so are your Pumas. Day Seven: You can’t take it anymore. You disembark somewhere near Khabarovsk. Only then do you realize that your passport, wallet, credit cards, and underwear have been stolen. It’s time to call mom and dad and ask them to spot you a ticket back home.


      (T)—Techno

      Even though Russia’s the toughest country with the toughest homophobes in the world, they love faggy music. Even Italians can’t match Russians’ gay love of Eurotrash pop and techno.

      Unti

      photo by Kommersant


      (Oo)—Unti

      Napoleon and Hitler lost their empires to Russia—or more specifically, to “General Winter.” If you go to Siberia in the winter, when temperatures can easily drop below -50°C (-122°F) you’ll need superwarm boots. That’s why you’ll want a pair of unti, or deerskin boots. Sometimes unti will come with a mix of dog and deer fur.


      (F)—Fireworks and fountains

      Put up a fountain with some water squirting out of it. Then stand back, pop open a Smirnoff Ice, and wait. We guarantee you that within an hour, the fountain will attract crowds of gaping Russians, as mindlessly drawn to it as the zombies to the mall in Dawn of the Dead.

      It’s the weirdest fucking thing we’ve ever seen, but Russians love fountains. For example, the filthy fountain at Manezh mall next to the Kremlin always has hordes of people from Moscow’s outskirts gaping at it like it’s doing something.

      Fireworks are another big favorite. Every night in Moscow you’ll hear fireworks going off. It’s either to celebrate some obscure holiday, like Railroad Workers’ Day, or because some minigarch has paid off a city official to set them off near the Kremlin for his mistress.


      (Kh)—Khachi

      Khachi is one of the main pejorative words for people from the Caucasus, such as Chechens, Azeris, Armenians, and Georgians. If you have dark Mediterranean features and dark eyes, you will be targeted by cops for document checks and shakedowns, while chicks will shun you and skinheads will stomp you.

      Pale-skinned Slavs believe that khachi are responsible for most of the crime in Russia. It’s true that Caucasian gangs were incredibly ruthless and successful in the 1990s, but today Caucasians are far more on the receiving end. The only thing keeping them in Moscow is the fact that life is even shittier back in the homeland.

      Tsereteli

      photo by AP


      (Ts)—Tsereteli

      The single worst artist in the entire world—and perhaps mankind’s history—is Zurab Tsereteli. For some reason he’s a close friend and favorite of Moscow mayor Yuri Luzhkov. It’s easy to see what a corrupt politician would like about Tsereteli’s humongous, high-price-tagged projects. Tsereteli is Georgian, and if Georgians know one thing it’s the art of charming people and making sure that in any corrupt deal all the right people walk away happy. The result being that Moscow in the last decade has been transformed into a giant exhibition hall for the collected works of Zurab Tsereteli.

      Easily the most notorious of his creations is his $25 million, 15-story-high statue of Peter the Great, which looks like the old Van de Kamp’s frozen fish sticks mascot: A monstrously oversized buffoon in a three-pointed-hat holding an oversized Minnow-like steering wheel and brandishing a rolled-up map with his other arm atop what looks like a grotesquely undersized toy boat. A group calling itself the Revolutionary Military Council of Russia tried blowing up the statue with three kilograms of dynamite, but they were caught in the act and subsequently jailed for terrorism.

      Tsereteli has tried his luck several times in America but with less success. He built a 300-foot-high statue of Columbus as a “gift from the people of the Caucasus,” but it was rejected by five states for being a “monstrosity” and an “inaccurate behemoth” (Miami city council’s words) and today sits in disassembled storage in Puerto Rico. He also tried to foist a 9/11 statue, a 100-foot-high nickel-plated vagina called “Tears of Grief,” on Jersey City, but horrified residents rejected it after it was unveiled. A scaled-down version of it found a home in lovely Bayonne on a remote waterfront.

      Chikatilo



      (Ch)—Chikatilo

      The greatest serial killer of the 20th century is without a doubt Andrei Chikatilo. What makes him stand out among the fierce competition isn’t just the body count—52 victims, mostly children, most of them partially eaten—but the circumstances. He was the first modern serial killer to be recognized as such in the Soviet Union, starting his murder spree in the late 1970s and continuing on until his capture in 1990. It took the police 12 years and a ton of mistaken executions to finally nab him.

      Russia is the serial-murder champion of the world, and Rostov, a city of 1.5 million, is their star franchise player. Rostov is where Chikatilo did his deeds. Following Chikatilo’s capture, about 30 more serial murderers and rapists were caught over the next ten years in Rostov. That’s just one city we’re talking about. Multiply it by 11 time zones and 144 million people, and you begin to see why serial murderers rarely make big news in Russia. Chikatilo raised the bar too high. These days, you have to score a body count well into the double digits just to break out of the “news in brief” section.


      (Sh)—Shucks

      False modesty and affected self-loathing are not good strategies to win over people of any strata in Russia. You don’t want to be the type who says “shucks,” even in coded irony. In the West, false modesty, proving that you can laugh at yourself, and self-loathing are all just strategies intended to show how strong, cool, and self-aware you are. It’s one of those coded social lies that come naturally to us, but which are exposed for what they are in a culture as direct and fearless as Russia’s. Only a loser would tell people that he’s a loser. If you hate yourself, then why the fuck should anyone else waste their time on you?


      (Shch)—Sound you’ll never distinguish

      The letter for “shch” sounds to our ears just like “sh.” It’s used in words like borshch and Khrushchev. Ask a Russian to say “borsh” and then “borshch” and see if you can tell the difference. If you can, you’re a liar. There’s a cluster of letters that make no sense to the Western ear as you move down to the end of the Russian alphabet, and this one’s the first.


      (Hard sign)—A letter used to fool you

      The hard sign is put after a consonant to make sure it’s pronounced with its full, “hard” sound. It’s one of those old letters you put on a word to make it look antiquated, like how we use “Ye Olde Shoppe” to make a business seem more old-fashioned.

      Today lots of banks spell the word “bank” with the old-fashioned hard sign at the end of the word, as if to say, “Hey, we know we just started this bank a few years ago because it was illegal to do banking for 80 years, but we’re going to call ourselves by its 19th century spelling so that you think we’ve been around a long time, and forget about the fact that we’re going to wire your cash to Aruba and disappear tomorrow.”


      (iy)—Vowel sound you’ll never make

      It’s impossible to imitate this sound. Sort of like an “uh”-“oo”-“ee” combined, but mostly “ee,” and you say it with your lower jaw jutted a bit forward and your mouth wide and slightly ajar. It’s one of those quintessentially Russian sounds that make their language so beautiful (when spoken by girls).


      (Soft sign)—Sound you might be able to make

      This letter softens the consonant before it. For example, say the name Larry. Hear the way you say the L in Larry? That’s a hard L. Now try doing a kind of “la-la-la-la-la-la-la-la” trill, fast and in falsetto. Hear how you have to soften your Ls to make it sound melodic? Notice how the tip of your tongue is pressed a little farther back against the roof of your mouth than with a hard L? That’s what the Russian soft sign does to an L.

      Ekranka: Crushing pirated DVDs

      photo by AP


      (Eh)—Ekranka

      Ekranka means “little screen,” and it refers to pirate DVDs that were shot by a goon inside a movie theater. It’s nice knowing that your money is going to some track-suited thug rather than some greasy Hollywood titan’s offshore bank account, but the movie’s are pretty hard to watch. Especially when silhouettes get up to go to the bathroom.


      (Yu)—Yulia

      Another way Russians are unlike Americans is in the name department. The entire country has six names for guys and six for girls.

      The girls are all named one of the following: Natasha, Nastya, Lena, Sveta, Ira, or Yulia. The guys are all either Sasha, Sergei, Vlad, Igor, Alexei, or Dima.

      So far the younger generation doesn’t seem to be showing any desire to move away from the six-name model. As soon as we start seeing “Courtneyvitch” and “Jeffolvavlad,” we’ll let you know.


      (Ya)—“Ya Sam” hand cream

      The creepy thing about Ya Sam is that it’s marketed as children’s lotion, with all kinds of kiddie-writing on the bottle. At least those kiddie-drawings give you something to think about while you’re ya-samming. Sorry to end this whole thing with a lame kiddie porn joke but I’m horny.

      -

      Topics: Russia, VICE Guides, A-Z, travel, corruption, politics, vodka

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