Tag Archives: russia

Russian Proverb about a Broken Wash Basin

“Do you want to go back to your broken wash basin?”

This Russian proverb comes from a fairytale, which my informant recounted to me:

“This is a story about a golden fish. An old man, very poor, lives in a cottage next to the sea. He goes to fish, and he catches in his net a golden fish. And she talks to him in a human voice, and she says, ‘Old man, let me go, I’ll give you whatever wish you want.’ The old man is a kind person, and he says ‘Oh, go little fish, swim in the sea, I’ll find other fish to eat.’ He doesn’t ask for any wish. So he comes home, and he sees his wife, an old woman, sitting near their cottage, which is falling apart, and she’s trying to do a wash, but she washes the clothes in a wooden basin and it’s falling apart, there is a big hole in it, it’s broken. And he tells her the story about how he caught the golden fish, and how she said that she can do any wish he wants. And the old lady is furious; she says, ‘I can’t even wash the clothes, the basin is broken, and you let her go!’ So, he wants to make his wife happy, he goes to the ocean and calls for the fish, and he says, ‘Can you make my wife happy, can you give my old woman a new basin, which is not broken?’  He comes, and he thinks his wife will be very happy because she got a new wash basin. But she’s furious—she says, ‘You could ask anything you want, why do you ask for a basin? Ask for a new house, don’t you see the house is falling apart, there are holes in the roof?’ So he goes back, and he says, ‘I’m sorry, fish, can you please give us a new, nice house?’ The fish says, ‘Okay, you go to your wife.’ So he goes home, and instead of his old, falling-apart cottage, there is a beautiful new house. He thinks his wife would be happy, but she is furious. She says, ‘Why do you ask just for a regular house? Ask for a palace with servants! Nice clothes, nice dishes, everything. I want to be a noblewoman!’ So, as you can expect, he goes back, he gets her a palace with servants and all that, but even that is not enough. After some time, she wants to be a queen.  Okay, she became a queen, to cut the story short. The old man doesn’t recognize her. She doesn’t want to associate with him, she doesn’t want any of the servants and all of these people to know that he is her husband. So, he is some lowly worker in the yard, sweeping the yard, while she is the queen in the palace, with servants and all that. So, some time passes, and she calls him again, and she says, ‘I’m tired of being a queen. I want to be a Tsaritsa of all of the seas and I want the golden fish to be my servant.’ The old man goes, and he says, ‘There’s nothing I can do. That’s what she wants.’ Suddenly, there is a horrible storm, and the fish just went away. So he comes back, and here is his old house, falling apart, and his old woman is sitting with a broken wash basin.”

Q. When would somebody use this proverb?

A. Let’s say a person did something for you, or did you a favor, and you demand more and more and more—he could say it. It’s like saying, “Look. Stop it.” Instead of pointing out that a person demands too much, this is a nicer way to say it. Usually, people like their childhood memories and fairytales, so they won’t feel antagonistic.

Q. Do you feel that in Russian society, people use proverbs more than they do here?

A. Yes—Russia doesn’t have much mobility, and in a society that’s very stable, it’s easier to have proverbs that move from generation to generation. The culture is homogeneous, so people know what you mean.

Annotation: Russian writer Alexander Pushkin wrote a poem about the story of the golden fish, entitled “The Fisherman and the Golden Fish.”

Pushkin, Alexander. “The Fisherman and the Golden Fish.” Trans. Irina Zheleznova. Russian Crafts, 1998-2007. Web. 26 April 2012. <http://russian-crafts.com/tales/golden-fish.html>.

This tale has also been featured in multiple works of Russian art, including lacquer boxes:


Women Day

My informant told me of a holiday that his family celebrated. The following is a transcript of our interview:


“informant: Every year on March 8th, we celebrate Women Day. Its from Ukraine, where my family is from. Basically men get the important women in their lives (wives, girlfriends, sisters, daughters, etc) flowers. Like valentines day but you just honor women. Our family does more than flowers though; gifts to show our appreciation for women. It is pretty big over in Europe, like if you don’t celebrate it as a man you’re the biggest piece of shit. It is very important over there to celebrate women.”


My informant  reveres the holiday, and says honoring women is important to his family and their culture, claiming they are all brought up as “momma’s boys.”


This holiday empowers a underprivileged group (women do not share equal rights with men in many places). Thus, the outrage towards men who don’t celebrate it aimed towards their insensitivity and disregard for the female gender. This celebrates the female identity, reinforcing women’s identities.


An article on this can be found on wikipedia : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Women’s_Day

Russian Proverb about Driving Slowly

“Driving slower, you will advance further.”

Transliteration: “Tishe edesh – dalshe budesh.”

Q. What does this proverb mean?

A. The meaning is that if you do things slower, you will get further. It’s like saying, “Wait a minute, don’t hurry.” My brother would always say this, for instance, if I did a math problem and wanted to skip steps—if you do everything slower, part by part, you will do better in the end.

This proverb has an English analogue: “Slow and steady wins the race.” Yet, comparing these two versions, we can see that the American version has a much more competitive spirit than the Russian version, as it focuses upon winning. According to my informant, the Russian version refers to riding a horse; if one rides a horse too fast, the horse may become fatigued or sustain an injury. Thus, the Russian proverb focuses not upon winning, but rather upon not losing, not overtiring one’s horse.

Annotation: Writer Mikhail Zeldovich utilizes this proverb in an article concerning Russia’s entry into the World Trade Organization (WTO), commenting upon Russia’s slow, snail-paced progress of accession to the organization:

Zeldovich, Mikhail. “Slowly Going Nowhere: Russia’s Entry to the WTO Falters as Major Exporters Fight Shy of Membership.” The Russia Journal, 19 Nov. 2002. Web. 26 April 2012. <http://russiajournal.com/node/12071>.