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Monthly Newsletter - February 2013



 How to show winter the door in Russia

Spring is coming! The sunbeams are still rather indecisive at the end of February, but some of us wish to show winter the door and have some fun before 40 tiring days of Lent, which is observed in both the Orthodox and Anglican Church. For this reason, our ancestors invented a variety of spring celebrations and holidays. So please forgive us at Russia Local for stepping away from our usual business-style newsletter in order to share some more cultural information with you this February.

The Russian spring carnival season is called Maslenitsa, and it enjoys greater popularity than spring carnivals do in other European countries. It lasts an entire week, and the majority of the population takes part in the celebrations. During the Maslenitsa, Russian cities and villages are crowded with singing and dancing people; in parks you can see ice skaters with carnival masks, stalls selling handicrafts, and groups of people burning Maslenitsa figures. This is to show winter that it really has no chance to continue its reign. During Maslenitsa, you should also take advantage of the opportunity to taste Russian traditional pancakes (blinis), which are served with a wide variety of fillings from jam or chocolate to the fish and even caviar.

This year’s Maslenitsa carnival will last from March 11 until 17. You don’t even have to board the plane to Russia to enjoy it, because on Saturday 16, the Maslenitsa festival is held on Trafalgar Square, London. From 1.30pm - 6.30pm you can welcome the approaching spring, fill up with blinies and sample Russian culture, music and food.

As mentioned above, Maslenitsa precedes the 40 days long Lent, during which we should prepare our soul and body for Easter. In Russia, it is still quite common to observe the fast, and increasing number of restaurants and cafes offer a Lent menu nowadays (to the great joy of vegetarians, too).

The dates of Lent and Easter in the Orthodox Christian Church are usually different from those in Anglican Church, because of differences between the Gregorian and Julian calendars. The Julian calendar was in predominant use in most of Europe from 45 BC, until it was superseded by the Gregorian calendar commencing in 1582. But it continued to be used as the civil calendar in some countries into the 20th century. Russia adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1918, but the Russian Orthodox Church continued to use the Julian. Problematically, however, the Julian calendar is delayed by 14 days compared to the Gregorian one, and the difference increases every 100 years.

So the Easter holiday, celebrated in the UK from March 29 to April 1 this year, clearly doesn't mean holiday for Russians. At that time, they will still be starving in the middle of Lent, and won't chill out until May 5, when Easter (Paskha in Russian) begins its rule.

Talking about traditional Russian spring holidays, we mustn’t forget about more recent ones that are associated with the Soviet era, yet still observed to this day. March 8 is known globally (or so they say) as International Women's Day, which is considered much more important in Russia than in other countries. Women's day in Russia is a public holiday, and not only women, but men too get a day off. Women's day is celebrated by giving flowers and gifts to women.

Of course, Women's day tends to overlap with Lent, and the Orthodox Church has criticized the unfortunate timing of this celebration. Some Russian journalists are also critical of the concept of Women's day in the former USSR, as despite its original meaning, it promotes sexist stereotypes.

Maybe for the sake of balance, a so-called “Меn's Day” has been introduced in Russia (it is, however, officially called “Defender of the Fatherland Day”). This holiday marks the date in which the mass draft into the Red Army was introduced in Petrograd and Moscow in 1918, during the Russian Civil War. It is celebrated with parades and processions in honour of the veterans, and women give small gifts to the men in their lives, especially their husbands (or boyfriends), fathers and sons. As part of the workplace culture, women frequently also give gifts to their male co-workers.

You may want to congratulate your fellow workers in Russia: they will certainly appreciate it!  You can learn how to do this in one of our language courses.

Mysterious etymology

We know that the Russian language has plenty of words that have been borrowed from English, and very often their etymology is quite clear. No one would doubt, for instance, that the Russian word компьютер (komp'juter) originates from the English computer. But with the Russian word вокзал (vokzal), meaning “train station”, it’s another story altogether. Its etymology is a lot more vague, but also a lot more interesting. Try to work it out. Doesn't it sound a bit like the English Vauxhall? It does, and this is indeed the origin of вокзал! Initially, the word for “train station” was пассажирское здание (passazhirskoe zdanie) in Russian, but the long and quite tedious word was later forced out by the more exotic-sounding вокзал. The pilgrimage of the English word “Vauxhall” to Russia is as long as the Trans-Siberian Railway, so we will leave you to find out about it yourself. You can also look for other potential origins of this word on Google.

But it's not only the Russian language that borrows words. In French, but also in English and other European languages, a small restaurant can be called bistro. Some say that this may be derived from the Russian bystro (быстро), meaning "quickly". According to an urban legend, it entered the French language during the Russian occupation of Paris in 1815. Russian officers or cossacks (казаки), who wanted to be served quickly, would shout "bystro."

So, do pay attention to etymology! Not only will it help you expand your vocabulary, but you can also learn a lot about history and culture. And moreover, you can have a lot of fun!



"The Story Sensation: for learners of the Russian language (and not only for Guadeloupians!") by Ignaty Dyakov has now been published and is available on Amazon in the UK, the US and Europe and in selected London book-stores. It is a short sarcastic story, a detective line, written as an aid to making the Russian language study process a little bit more bearable for adult learners. The story uses approximately 800 words from such topics as clothes, food, politics, office, sports and gym, transport and business that are required for everyday communication. We are extremely pleased with the recent press coverage of the book and proud that it has been selected to get to the World Language Exhibition in Newcastle in March 2013.

For the Russian language textbook webpage - click here.



Grigory Leps in London

Known for his low, strong voice with long-range vocals, Russian rock and pop singer Grigory Leps is coming to London to perform in the Royal Albert Hall for the first time. Leps is rightly known for his wide vocal range. He has a low growling voice. His style is mixed rock music, pop music, and previously he used to sing chanson - click to learn more about this Russian concert





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