Tag Archives: russian

Russian Urban Legend

Name: Баба Яга

Transliteration: Baba Yaga

Description: Informant describes it as an Urban Legend that became a fairytale, but presented more like a legend. It is a witch who lives in a traditional log cabin. The cabin sits on either two or one giant bird feet. She is a cannibalistic witch. Her house is decorated with the decapitated heads of her victims. She flys in the sky on a butter churner. She lures children if they are not sleeping and kidnaps them. Described as an ugly old lady with a big hook nose. People have expressed memorates of how they have seen her and how disturbing she looks.

Background Information: Russian legend whose story is told by adults to children or spread from children to children. Also spread and kept alive through memorates.

Context: The informant had originally told me this story when we were children. She recently reiterated it to me through video call. She is of Russian and Armenian descent. She was originally introduced to Baba Yaga by her cousin who was living in a small town named Stary Oskol, which is located in Russia.

Thoughts: Classic example of stranger danger. This legend is used as a lesson to children to sleep and not to wander (especially into the woods). Informant told me that Russia is very forested, so Russians try to warn children to not go into the woods because it is very dangerous. Baba Yaga is used as a cautionary tale to not go into the woods because the witch lives there. Adults need to make a fear that the children will understand instead of telling them the reality of the danger of the woods. Fantasy is more effective for children in contrast to reality.

Russian Proverb about Work Ethic

Если вы спешите, вы будете смеяться всех

Transliteration: Yesli vy speshite, vy budete smeyat’sya vsekh

Translation: If you rush, you will make everybody laugh

You shouldn’t rush when working on something because you will end up being laughed at.

Background Information: Russian proverb used in colloquial conversations.

Context: The informant told me this proverb during a video call in which I asked her to tell me a popular Russian proverb.

Thoughts: I think that this proverb represent the kind of work ethic that Russians appreciate. It is not about the quantity of the work, but the quality. I also think that it is an example of the importance of self presentation in Russian society. It is more important to take your time and not look like a fool than to rush and embarrass yourself by being hasty.

Russian Holiday


Transliteration: Maslenitsa

Translation: Butter Week

Description: This is a spring equinox pancake holiday. During the festival everyone eats pancakes, burns dolls made of hay (effigies). The burning of the dolls is mostly done in villages. They also jump over a pit of fire. Maslenitsa is a Pagan holiday. The holiday is a way of celebrating the coming of spring and a way to sacrifice to the gods for a fruitful spring/rest of the year.

Background Information: It is a Russian and Eastern Slavic religious and folk holiday. It is celebrated the last week before Lent.

Context: The informant told me this holiday during a video call in which I asked her to tell me about a Russian holiday that she knows about.

Thoughts: As a religious holiday I think it is celebrated to prepare for lent and to get ready for the spring. Russia has had a long history of war, government overturnings, famines, etc. I think this holiday was made as a way to ensure a safe and healthy year. As a pagan tradition, I think it is interesting to observe its lasting effects to the present day. It shows that life hasn’t become simpler and that people are still trying to ask for prosperity and peace.

Russian Proverb About Unreliable People

7 пятниц в неделю

Transliteration: 7 pyatnits v nedelyu

Translation: 7 Fridays in a week

Proverb used to describe a person who has a lot of plans, but they never get the work done.

Background Information: Russian proverb used in many parts of Russia. The informant told me that back then, Friday was the market day in which people could collect the goods one week and the next they would pay for them. Sometimes people would not pay and make excuses as to why they didn’t pay.

Context: The informant told me this proverb during a video call in which I asked her to tell me a popular Russian proverb.

Thoughts: I think this proverb is used to describe unreliable people who make too many excuses. I believe this shows that Russian’s appreciate reliability and detest fickle behavior.

Russian Spirit

Name: Домовой

Transliteration: Domovoy

Translation: Household Lord

Description: House spirit that exists for every household/ family. Spirit of hearth, family fortune, and mischief. Known to move things around the house such as furniture. Also known for breaking things in the house such as plates. If someone in the house is misbehaving, then he might bring bad fortune to the house/family. He can also protect the house. He is not usually seen. Has been described as gnome-like and made out of hay. Not described as a harmful spirit. If the Domovoy falls in love with a woman from the houshold, then she will not get married. Make sure you respect the Domovoy.

Background Information: Russian spirit whose story is told by adults to children or spread from children to children.

Context: The informant had originally told me this story when we were children. She recently reiterated it to me through video call. She is of Russian and Armenian descent. She was originally introduced to the Domovoy by her cousin who was living in a small town named Stary Oskol, which is located in Russia.

Thoughts: I believe that the Domovoy is used to explain weird occurrences in the home, such as a missing sock. Purpose is to bring a sense of comfort for the unexplainable things in life. Also used as a way to keep members of the family behaving and disciplined. This could especially apply to small children who are misbehaving. They are warned about the Domovoy to remind them to behave or else the spirit will bring bad fortune to them. When it comes to the idea of the Domovoy falling in love with a woman in the household, I think that this is done as a way to scare the woman into getting married.

For Another Version See:

Ivanits, Linda J. Russian Folk Belief, 51-62. M.E. Sharpe, 1992

Russian Holiday: Ivan Kupala

Иван Купала

Transliteration: Ivan Kupala

Description: This is a traditional slavic holiday. It is the celebration of the summer solstice when nights are the shortest (around June-July) although, every year is different. It is an incorporation of a number of pagan rituals. On the eve of Ivan kupala there are ceremonies conducted which symbolize elements such as fire, grass, and water. They jump over fire, circle dances around fire, swim in rivers, use grass to weave wreaths, and fortune telling. They believe that on the eve of Ivan Kupala, by swimming in the river the water will have some healing properties. On the night of Ivan Kupala people shouldn’t sleep because the evil spirits are awakened.

Background Information: A Slavic festival celebrated in parts of Ukraine, Poland, Belarus and Russia.

Context: The informant told me about this festival through a video call. She told me this after I asked her about Russian festivals/holidays.

Thoughts: I believe this holiday was made a long time ago as a way to make sure that there was no evil spirits and that the rest of the year would be prosperous and fruitful. I think now it is celebrated as a way to respect old traditions and ways of living and to never forget your culture.

For another version see:

Tuite, Kevin. “Lightning, Sacrifice, and Possession in the Traditional Religions of the Caucasus” in Anthropos, 481-497. Bd. 99, H. 2, 2004.

Link: https://www.jstor.org/stable/40466394

Russian Joke

Text: So my grandfather told me this joke that there were two old Russian guys driving through the forest. And, the guy in the passenger seat told the driver, “Hey, you need to pull over.” And the driver’s like, “Well, we can’t pull over, we’re not, we’re not where we’re supposed to be yet.” The passenger goes, “Look,” he goes, “I need you to pull over.” The driver goes, “But we’re in the middle of nowhere.” The passenger goes, “Look, I have to go to the bathroom. You have to pull over.” So, the driver pulls over, the guy gets out of the car, and he heads into the woods. A few minutes later, the passenger comes back to the car, and his pants are soaking wet. The driver looks at him and says, “What’s a matter? You didn’t make it in time?” He answers, “Nah, the wind was blowing in the wrong direction.”

Context: AT is a child of Russian and Italian immigrants that grew up in Queens, New York. He would spend the summers in Maine surrounded by dense forest and vast natural landscapes, with is Russian grandparents who insisted that he learn Russian so that they could converse in their native language with their grandson. He has been a fluent speaker ever since then because of their teachings. His grandfather used to tell him this jokes as they were driving through the forests during the harsh main winters. I was told this joke over coffee one afternoon.

 Interpretation: Jokes area very popular form of folklore that can take on different forms in different societies.  The use of punch-lines in the telling of jokes can be largely recognized as an American behavior, for a lot of cultures don’t do punch-lines, rather they just tell funny stories. I expect that this is the case here, for when AT told me the joke for the first time, I didn’t really laugh because I thought the punchline was weak. I expected that perhaps the punch line was funnier in Russian, but now I expect that there is no punchline, only a funny story.

This joke still employs the cognitive switch technique that all jokes share. It sets up something in the beginning only to turn it on its head by the end. The entire story builds the idea that the passenger needs to use the bathroom, and that he will wet himself if the driver does not pull over and let him go into the woods to do his business. However, when the passenger finally gets his chance, he makes a mess anyways, cognitively switching the joke on its head.


Spitting on the Devil


“Whenever you talk about something good happening, like if you mention you’re doing good, you have to spit over your shoulder three times. The Russians believe that’s where the Devil is, so you’re spitting on the Devil real quick, just to make sure that he doesn’t, uh, to make sure that nothing negative happens. Speaking of that, you usually don’t want to talk about anything good happening in the future or anything, you wanna be pessimistic. Or else it means that it won’t happen, if you talk about it a lot.”


I asked the informant about his Russian culture, and he proceeded to tell me a lot about Russian superstitions and things that his family practices. He said that he first encountered this when he was very young, because when he was young he wanted to talk about what he wanted to do when he was older, but his mother would always remind him to spit on his shoulder, as outlined above.


This is interesting to me because as someone who grew up without “culture” aka, my family is generations removed from its original culture from wherever in Europe, I never encountered the idea that talking about the future could be bad. I think this says a lot about Russian temperament that a lot of people talk about — I’ve heard that Russians are in a bad mood all the time, etc. I like the idea that something could be ruined by talking about it, as I’ve had good news that is almost true, but didn’t want to share it with people in case it didn’t actually end up happening.


Russian Folk Tale about a Chicken with Golden Eggs

Main Piece: Russian Folk Tale


Однажды жили-били дед и бабушка, и у них была курица по имени Ряба. Курочка Ряба однажды снесла золотое яйцо. Бабушка попыталась сломать его кастрюлькой, но потерпела неудачу. Дедушка пытался сломать его молотком, но не смог. Затем пробежала мышь, ударила яйцо хвостом, и яйцо упало на пол и разбилось. Бабушка и дедушка плакали и плакали, а затем сказала Курочка Pяба. «Не волнуйся, я снесу столько золотых яиц, сколько захотите». И жили они долго и счастливо.



Odnazhdy zhili-bili ded i babushka, i u nikh byla kuritsa po imeni Ryaba. Kurochka Ryaba odnazhdy snesla zolotoye yaytso. Babushka popytalas’ slomat’ yego kastryul’koy, no poterpela neudachu. Dedushka pytalsya slomat’ yego molotkom, no ne smog. Zatem probezhala mysh’, udarila yaytso khvostom, i yaytso upalo na pol i razbilos’. Babushka i dedushka plakali i plakali, a zatem skazala Kurochka Pyaba. «Ne volnuysya, ya snesu stol’ko zolotykh yaits, skol’ko zakhotite». I zhili oni dolgo i schastlivo.


Once there lived a grandfather and grandmother, and they had a chicken named Ryaba. Ryaba the Chicken once laid a golden egg. Grandmother tried to break it with a saucepan, but failed. Grandfather tried to break it with a hammer, but could not. Then the mouse ran, hit the egg with its tail, and the egg fell to the floor and broke. Grandmother and grandfather cried and cried, and then Ryaba the Chicken said: “Do not worry, I’ll lay as many golden eggs as you want.” And they lived happily ever after.


Background Information:

  • Why does informant know this piece?

This was told to her by her mother.

  • Where did they learn this piece?

The Soviet Union

  • What does it mean to them?

It’s a simple children’s tale that doesn’t make much sense but is fun to tell because it is short.



This is usually performed for children in order to distract them or get them to go to sleep.


Personal Thoughts:

This is a very simple and common Russian folktale. It is also makes no logical sense that the grandparents would cry if the egg was broken since they were trying to break it in the first place. It seems that after a lot of retellings of this folk tale some of the information got lost.

Dirty Dentist Joke

Main Piece: [Dirty] Joke


Женщина идет к дантисту в местной клинике. Когда она идет по коридору, она ошибочно входит в кабинет гинеколога, понимает, что это не то место, и идет к следующей двери. Она садится на стул дантиста. Входит доктор, сильно пахнущий водкой. Он подходит к ней и говорит: «Ок, открывай!» Она открывает рот. Он говорит: «Ок, немного шире!» она открывает рот шире. Он восклицает: «Эй, у тебя там зубы!»


Zhenshchina idet k dantistu v mestnoy klinike. Kogda ona idet po koridoru, ona oshibochno vkhodit v kabinet ginekologa, ponimayet, chto eto ne to mesto, i idet k sleduyushchey dveri. Ona saditsya na stul dantista. Vkhodit doktor, sil’no pakhnushchiy vodkoy. On podkhodit k ney i govorit: «Ok, otkryvay!» Ona otkryvayet rot. On govorit: «Ok, nemnogo shire!» ona otkryvayet rot shire. On vosklitsayet: «Ey, u tebya tam zuby!»


A woman goes to the dentist at the local clinic. As she’s walking through the hall, she mistakenly walks into the gynecologist’s office, realizes it is the wrong place, and goes to the next door. She sits down in the dentist’s chair. A doctor walks in, smelling strongly of vodka. He comes up to her and says “Ok, open wide!” She opens her mouth. He says, “Ok, a little wider!” she opens her mouth wider. He exclaims, “Hey, you have teeth down there!”


Background Information:

  • Why does informant know this piece?

He likes to tell jokes and learns them wherever he can.

  • Where did they learn this piece?

He learned this joke at a party.

  • What does it mean to them?

He thinks this is a hilarious joke.



  • Where?

At a party or other social gathering.

  • When?

Whenever it is appropriate to tell a joke.

  • Why?

In order to amuse people and make some people uncomfortable


Personal Thoughts:

I’ve heard this joke since I was a small child, but I only understood that a drunk gynecologist accidentally ended up in the dentist’s office and why that is amusing when I grew a lot older. These kinds of jokes are very common at Russian parties and gatherings. The most popular jokes are as always, the most inappropriate.