What should you say when Russians ask ‘How are you’?

Evgenya Novozhenina/Sputnik
The rules of social interaction in Russia are quite different from what you might be used to in Europe and the U.S. Here are tips about how to be successful in personal communication in Russia.

Russians like to ask about your mood: How do you feel today? How is everything? In American culture, however, it’s not quite accepted to respond to these questions in detail. In contrast, when a Russian asks about your mood, he’s ready to hear the full story. 

1. Brief and formal

There’s a short answer to the question, “How are you?” (“Kak dela?”). “Khorosho” means “fine” in English. You can also say: “Luchshe vsekh” (“Better than everyone”); “Vsyo normalno” (“Everything is ok”); “Otlichno” (“Super”); and “Kak obychno” (“As usual”). 

Sometimes, older people might say “Vashimi molitvami,” which means that they are fine thanks “to your prayers.” Often, these answers are followed by the formal, “Spasibo, a u vas?” (“Thanks, and you”?). All these brief answers are accepted between people who don’t know each other well, or during a business meeting. 

If you know the interlocutor well, or it’s a caring person, he may consider such an answer insincere, or think that you’re hiding something. When he asks what exactly is “fine,” you should add something. You don't need to make a full confession; you can just say, “fine, I feel cold today,” or add an emotion. 

2. Tell about your emotions

Russians are rather emotional people, and they always share their feelings with everyone. That’s why it’s a good idea to try to learn some phrases that will help you express your emotions in Russian. The answer like: “Fine” + emotion will be the same short polite answer that you can use in order to respond to “How are you?”

“I am happy” – “Ya rad(a),” and you should add the reason you are happy: “I have a new car,” (“U menya novaya mashina”); or “I won the lottery,” (“Ya vyigral(a) v lotereyu”).

“I am tired” – “Ya ustal(a).” Add the reason for your condition: “I worked hard today” (“Ya segodnya mnogo rabotal”).

“I’m worried” – “Ya volnuyusj.” Because of: “exam” (“eksamen”), or “a future trip” (“buduschey poezdki”).

“I’m surprised” – “Ya udivlyon(a);” or “I’m amazed” – “Ya porazhen(a).” What amazed you? “A new film” (“Novy film”), or “new job” (“novaya rabota”).

“I’m sad” – “Mne grustno.” Why do you feel so? “Because of the weather” (“Iz-za pogody”); or “I heard a very sad song” (“Yauslyshal(a) ochen grustnuyu pesnyu”).

“I’m hot” – “Mne zharko.

“I’m cold” – “Mne kholodno.” These are two phrases that don’t require continuing the conversation. Everybody understands that feeling. 

3. Feel the irony

Russians who know each other well often create humorous answers that might make no sense to foreign friends. Don’t use these phrases with people who you don’t know very well; otherwise, you might sound impolite. These phrases are too colloquial.

Poka ne rodila” (“I have not given birth yet”) – a woman may jokingly respond this way, meaning that everything is ok (this rhymes with the word “dela” in Russian). 

Kak sazha bela” (“Things are all right as soot is white”) – also a joking rhyme used mostly by seniors.

Vsyo v shokolade” (“Everything is in chocolate”) – everything is super and you want to show it.

Vsyo puchkom” (“Everything is in the form of a bunch”) – means you’re fine and feel like a bunch of dill; Russians love dill and it’s good when your things are like a bunch.

Ne dozhdyotes” (“Don’t expect”) – meaning "If you think things will go bad for me, don't hold your breath".

4. Be polite and honest

Sometimes, even strangers here can behave like your best mates, especially if you spend a long time together. Don’t be surprised if absolutely unknown people on the overnight train share their food with you and ask why you’re not married or have no kids; just try to be polite, even if you don’t want to discuss it. 

If you know the person and your friend opens up, you can also tell your story. What did you do before meeting him; how did you spend the day and what problems do you have in life? In Russia, it’s normal to share private emotions with friends and to find a way to solve the problem together.

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