Old Tatar Man in Kazan (picture from wikipedia.org)

Russian MiniLessons: Aging

Published: February 5, 2013

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.

Most Russians feel uneasy talking about aging. There are many Russians proverbs that express a negative attitude towards old age, such as “Старость – не радость”, or “Жизнь протянется – всего достанется”, or “Молодость – не грех, старость – не смех”. The general Russian outlook to old age, whether positive or negative, is usually fatalistic.

In certain cases, there is a tradition of уважение к старости. Younger people often уступать места старикам in public transportation. They may also переводить старикa через дорогу. There are some Russian expressions that convey respect to the physical signs of old age, such as “благородная седина”, as well as some expressions that associate older people with wisdom: “мудрый старик” or “мудрая старая женщина”.

However, many Russians say, “Так не хочется стареть!”. Some people say, “Жизнь клонится к закату”. This attitude is partly caused by a feeling of insecurity, since for many people in Russia, в старости становятся острее финансовые проблемы. This is mainly due to the fact that пожилые люди retire and have no substantial savings, unless they are successful businessmen or executives who состоялся в жизни.

While in many countries, уходить на пенсию, is often viewed as something pleasant, in Russia state pensions were decimated by the финансовые кризисы and гиперинфляция of the 90s. While they are now beginning to recover, most still say that it is “невозможно жить на пенсии”. To make matters worse, the кризисы also destroyed any savings that people had and Russia had not yet developed corporate or personal pension funds (which are still, for the most part, underdeveloped). In part because of this, the elderly are the main support for the Communist Party, because they remember a USSR slogan, “пенсионерам – достойная жизнь”.

Also, some expressions in Russian reveal a sarcastic attitude towards old people, such as pejorative collocations like “старый хрыч”, “старикашка”, or “песок сыпется из него”, which refers to men’s loss of strength. Another common conception of old age in Russian is “Седина в бороду – бес в ребро”. This describes older men who начинают бегать по молоденьким девочкам to prove their manliness. In dating younger girls, some men want to get rid of their страх дряхлости. Other men just гонят от себя мысли  when thinking about the effects of старость.

At the same time, some older people have a wise and calm outlook on their age. A старушка/бабушка may talk about her plans for the future with the remark, “Если доживу”. A very old lady can say, “Пора на покой”, meaning she has accepted the fact that she will die soon and will rest after she dies. Many modern Russians have a special respect for старушки, because many people were brought up by their grandmothers while their parents were busy working; for this reason, some people feel closer ties with their grandmothers than with their parents.

About the author

Josh Wilson

Josh Wilson

Josh has lived in Moscow since 2003, when he first arrived to study Russian at MGU through SRAS. He holds an M.A. in Theatre and a B.A. in History from Idaho State University, where his masters thesis was written on the political economy of Soviet-era censorship organs affecting the stage. At SRAS, Josh assists in program development and leads our Home and Abroad Programs. He is also the editor-in-chief for the SRAS newsletter, the SRAS Family of Sites, and Vestnik: The Journal of Russian and Asian Studies. In addition, he serves as Communications Director to Alinga Consulting Group and has served as a consultant or translator to several businesses and organizations with interests in Russia.

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Andrei Nesterov

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.

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