SRAS students meeting local peers in St. Petersburg at a special SRAS event. Most interactions with strangers in Russia will be a bit more formal.

Russian MiniLessons: How to Address Strangers in Russia

Published: October 6, 2020

The following bilingual Russian MiniLesson is meant to build your vocabulary by providing Russian phrases within English text. Hover over the bold Russian to reveal its English translation.

When addressing strangers in Russia, it is important to maintain an appropriate level of politeness. The address should be in a formal manner, a person should apologize first, by saying “простите” or “извините”. One can also say, “извините за беспокойство”. Another way to address a stranger is to ask for information in a very humble manner, for example: “Не подскажете….?” or “Вы не скажете….?” (Note: both of these translate the same in English, though “подскажете” is slightly softer. Also note that Russian prefers negative questions to the positive questions that English prefers.)

One can also preface requests with “будьте добры” or “будьте любезны” in settings such as shops and restaurants to make their orders more polite.

There is a more direct way to address strangers, which is used when the matter requires more urgent attention, by saying, “молодой человек!” or “мужчина” when addressing a man and “девушка” when addressing a female. The address “девушка” is typically used very frequently to females of almost any age, except for very old ladies when the address “женщина!” is more appropriate.

People of very advanced age can be addressed as “бабушка” or “дедушка”. While the use of these may sound informal to most Westerners, they are generally a title of respect in Russia.

Rarely used but still sometimes heard are the terms “господин, госпожа, господа”. This form of address was commonly used in Russia’s tsarist days, until it was replaced by “товарищ” during the Soviet period. It came back into use when Russians were searching for an appropriate form of address to replace “товарищ” in the immediate post-Soviet period, but is not a very commonly used form of address.

There is a more direct way to form questions when in a hurry such as, “скажите…”, but the speaker should keep in mind to add “пожалуйста” immediately after their request to keep their manner polite.

Gypsies addressing people on the streets in the hope to get some money for fortune-telling may address passers-by in broken Russian, “можно спросить?”

A less cultured manner, which is sometimes used to be intentionally confrontational or to directly contradict someone is to preface requests with “послушай” or “эй”. A very rude form is ““Слышишь, ты?” It may be used by a person who intends to start fighting.

Young children may address adults they don’t know as “тётя! дядя!” Adults wishing to address children they do not know may say “мальчик! девочка! ребята!”

If you want to make sure that someone is indeed addressing you, you may respond by saying “Вы ко мне (обращаетесь)?” “Вы меня зовёте?”

Examples From Literature and the Press

Но, послушайте, что же я могу вам дать? Какие у меня места?
А. Chekhov

“Извините меня, пожалуйста’, заговорил подошедший с иностранным акцентом, но не коверкая слов, “что я, не будучи знаком, позволяю себе… но предмет вашей ученой беседы настолько интересен, что…'”
М. Bulgakov

“Эй, Толстой,” опять заговорил Костыль, “ты чего молчишь-то?”
V. Pelevin

“Ваш билетик, молодой человек,” – сказал контролер, нервно пощелкивая никелированными челюстями.
A. Ivanov

About the author

Andrei Nesterov

Andrei Nesterov has reported on political and social issues for the Russian press as well as American outlets such as Russian Life, Worldpress.org, and Triangle Free Press. He has travelled Russia extensively and penned many stories on the "real Russia" which lies beyond the capital and major cities. Andrei graduated from Ural State University (journalism) and Irkutsk State Linguistic University (English). He studied public policy and journalism at Duke University on a Muskie Fellowship and went on to study TESOL and teach Russian at West Virginia University. He is currently working on an PhD from West Virginia University in Political Science. Andrei contributes news, feature stories, and language resources to the SRAS site, and is an overall linguistics and research resource.

Program attended: All Programs

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Josh Wilson

Josh Wilson is the Assistant Director for The School of Russian and Asian Studies (SRAS) and Communications Director for Alinga Consulting Group. In those capacities, he has been managing publications and informative websites covering geopolitics, history, business, economy, and politics in Eurasia since 2003. He is based in Moscow, Russia. For SRAS, he also assists in program development and leads the Home and Abroad Programs

Program attended: All Programs

View all posts by: Josh Wilson

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