Russian language tourist cheat sheet

Alexander Kislov
Although most Russians are forced to learn English at school, no one can force them to remember any of it, so we put together this list of the most basic Russian words and phrases you need to make your Russian vacation both fun and language barrier free! Print this out and take it with you! Russians, like most people around the world, appreciate when foreigners try to learn their language.

1. Yes - Да - Dah

No - Нет - Nyet

None - Нету - NYE-too

“Yes” and “no” are completely universal words but there is another form of the word “no” that could be useful.

It is no surprise that “no” and “none” are very similar in English and the same is true for Russian. Although "NYE-too" is often used, the 'word' itself is a hot topic among Russians - whether it's actually a real word or not!

Saying “nyet” makes it seem like you refuse even though you have money and cigs, NYE-too implies that you don’t have any to give, but you would do so if you could, which is super polite of you.

2. Where? - Где - Gdyeh

To where? - Куда - Koo-DAH

Russian is not crazy for having two words for “where”. If you are looking at a map trying to find where a metro station is, you would ask “gdyeh”.

However, if you are hopelessly lost and don’t know which direction to go in to get to the Kremlin you should ask “Kreml, Koo-DAH”. “Essentially which way should I go?”

In multiple syllable words on our Russian Cheat Sheet, the capitalized syllable gets the “emphasis” meaning it pronounced most strongly. So the “dah” in Koo-DAH needs some real pep when you say it.

This “punchiness” inherent to the Russian language is why Russians sound very agitated speaking English.

3. This/That - Это - EH-tah

This is the word that will help you get what you want at any store or draw someone’s attention to something you want in general. Just point at what you want and let out a hardy “EH-tah” and they will know that you want “this/that” instantly.  

4. Allow (me) - Разрешите - Raz-reh-SHEE-tyeh

May (I)? - Можно? - MOZH-nah

Just yelling the single world “allow” will magically make Russians in the Metro start to separate giving you the chance to escape a crowded train during rush hour. It is a long word that is hard to say but it sure gets the job done!

If you say MOZH-nah in an inquisitive way people will know that you want to walk past them, take a photo of them, pick up something from a store shelf etc. In Russian questions must sound like questions so use your best acting skills to add some powerful emotion of inquiry when saying this.    

5. (I) don’t need (this) -  Не надо - Nyeh NAH-dah

If someone is trying to offer you questionable food from the back of a truck, perfume that smells toxic or something you just plain don’t want, then bluntly say “Nyeh-NAH-dah”. This sends a clear signal that you are not going to buy this item no matter what the seller tries to say. 

This can also mean “don’t do this (to me)” in the sense that you don’t need any hassle, trouble, etc.

6. How much (does this cost)? - Сколько? - SKOL-kah?

You don’t need to know how to say numbers in Russian, most people can show you the price on a cash register or their smartphone’s calculator. But in order to get them to show you the price you have to ask for it so just say “SKOL-kah?” while pointing at the relevant item.

7. Please - Пожалуйста - Pah-ZHAL-stah

 Thank you - Спасибо -  Spah-SEE-bah

We should all mind our manners and these two words are more or less used like they are in English. The term Spah-SEE-bah has an interesting historical origin. Over time the expression "save (us) God" got said faster and faster until it smashed together into a single common word.

8. It’s Delicious! - Вкусно! - VKOOS-nah

Despite Russia having amazing food from all corners of its imperial past, there is surprisingly really only common one word for ‘tasty’, ‘delicious’ or ‘yummy’ in the Russian language. This is why Russians always say everything is “tasty” when they speak English.

9. I’m Sorry!/I Beg Your Pardon - Простите! - Prah-STEE-Tyeh

If you bump into someone, knock something over, or just do some typical awkward public foreigner mistake, just use this word to ask for forgiveness.

The “Tyeh” ending is removed when speaking to children, because Russian is a hardcore language with different endings on words to indicate who is equal/unfamiliar and who is inferior/familiar… and no snot-nosed kids are your equal! Take off that ending and show them who’s boss.

10. Check Please! - Cчёт, пожалуйста! - Shyot, pah-ZHAL-stah

Just saying the word “check” while gesturing that you are writing something is good enough for any waiter to understand what you want across a crowded cafe. Don’t be afraid to get their attention by force with wild arm waving because otherwise they just won’t bring you the bill.

If you drink a nice mug of kvass then you can ask “где туалет?” Gdyeh too-ah-LYET? (Where is the bathroom) so you can find relief. In Russian, the “toilet” refers to the entire bathroom, not the physical porcelain object. Also the “М” on the bathroom door means male (Мужской туалет - Moozh-SKOI  too-ah-LYET) and “Ж” means female (Женский туалет - ZHEN-skee too-ah-LYET).

11. I am from…  - Я из… - Yah Eez…

Russians are obsessed with foreigners and are a very curious sort. If you live in Russia, then literally every person you meet will immediately ask what country you are from. You will be asked this by every new person that you meet, which is fine for a short vacation but gets really annoying for expats who have been here for a decade.

So to answer where you are from you should say “Ya Eez + #NameOfCountry”

The name of your country in this context should have one of the Russian language’s cool case endings put onto it, but that is a topic for another day. As a tourist it is okay to say “Ya eez Amerika” and not the correct “Ya eez Ameriki”.

12. Hi! - Привет! - Pree-VYET!

Good-Bye! - Пока! - Pah-KAH!

Of course! - Конечно - Kah-NYESH-nah

Saying “hi” and “bye” requires no explanation, but the cool thing about Russian is that you can answer any reasonable question with a blunt “of course” regardless of the situation and it is surprisingly not rude at all to do so. This is a must-know word for those who don’t like answering questions.  

Print this out and take it with you! 

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