A few days ago I had to explain the meaning of the colloquial Russian saying, вешать лапшу на уши to my girlfriend, who is foreign. While this is quite a normal expression in Russian, it literally means to “hang noodles on one’s ears” when translated into English. You might now be thinking, what a bizarre expression!
However, its true meaning is simply “to fool someone in a skillful manner, and make them naively believe what you’re saying.” A good example of this would be when politicians brag repeatedly about the latest improvements in our lives and say that they are purely due to the politicians’ wonderful efforts. Well, when we hear that, we better check for something stringy hanging from our ears!
A similar example would be if I told my girlfriend that I was late because of an extremely long meeting at work, but I, um, actually had lipstick on my cheek and a blonde hair on my shoulder (my girlfriend is a brunette). If this were the case, well, noodles would be slipping off her ears too, being that she unfortunately took my words at face value.
- Ты опять не был на контрольной по математике! You were absent for your math test again!
- Но я болел… Well, I was sick…
- Не вешай мне лапшу на уши, Петров! Ты снова прогуливал. Don’t put noodles on my ears, Petrov! You were truant again.
This example spurred me to try and think of other popular sayings related to food. I believe these idioms might be useful for my foreign friends to better understand colloquial Russian, 80% of which is simply irony and bantering.
So here are four more of my top sayings that fall into the above mentioned category:
как в масле сыр: like cheese in butter
Usually when people are extremely satisfied with their workplace and quality of life, they feel very comfortable, lucky to be well-paid, and appreciated. This expression is used in such situations.
- Эй, приятель! Слышал, твои карьерные дела продвигаются успешно в последнее время? Hey buddy! Heard your career has been looking up recently?
- Точно! Мне повезло оказаться в нужном месте в нужное время, и теперь я как сыр в масле. Exactly! I was lucky to be in the right place at the right time, and now I’m just like cheese in butter.
You get it?
хлебом не корми: don’t feed him/her bread
Stop reading for a moment and try to guess what this phrase could possibly mean in a sentence.
I bet you’d never guess, but the full context is something like “don’t feed him bread, just let him (do something)…”. What it means is that if someone has a strong and passionate desire to do something, they will try to do it again and again, at any opportunity they have.
Try to understand it more fully with this example:
- Don’t feed me bread, because any chance I get, I will eat whatever I want.
From there, you can expand your comprehension by looking at this second example:
- Don’t feed me bread, just let me go on a shopping spree with a wallet full of cash!
A man who says something like this obviously loves shopping and does it frequently. Give him the opportunity, and he will do it over and over.
- Ваша прелестная собака всегда так рада искупаться в пруду! Your precious dog is always so joyful about taking a bath in the pond!
- Да, она такая: хлебом не корми, дай только в воду прыгнуть да пощеголять перед другими собаками, как она здорово плавает! Yeah, she’s like that: don’t feed her bread, just let her jump in the water and show off what a good swimmer she is to the other dogs!
You get it?
вытащить бананы из ушей: to pull bananas out of one’s ears
Ears are under attack again! Except in this case, we have to pull bananas out of our ears in order to finally hear and understand what someone is struggling to tell us.
- Ты слышал это? You heard that?
- Что? Heard what?
- Слушай, вот услышишь, сейчас… Listen, here it is, now…
- Но я не слышу ничего. But I don’t hear anything.
- Друг, вытащи бананы из ушей, это же так громко! Mate, pull the bananas out of your ears ‘cause it's so loud!
Please remember that this idiom is not always appropriate and can give the speaker a rather irritated or even angry and disrespectful tone. Nevertheless, it’s still quite frequently used among youth. So now you should be able to distinguish this phrase from the animated flow of slang and colloquialisms that are heard when a group of irritated, Russian teenagers are having a quarrel. Use it cautiously!
что-то с изюминкой: to have a tiny raisin in it
Russians would say that something has a tiny raisin in it if it has a special twist or some extra zest. I believe that this originally referred to a bun made with raisins, which is of course no ordinary piece of bread. Instead it is baked with delicious raisins, making it more interesting and attractive. In more general terms, this expression is used to indicate that something is bit more complicated than other things; that it’s not as simple as you may think.
- Задача с изюминкой: a task with a raisin.
Such a task would be one that you do not rush through, being that there might be something more complex to it that needs to be taken care of.
This is my honest attempt to shine some light into the dark cave of Russian idioms and colloquialisms, specifically by focussing on those related to food. Just like in English, where you could “go bananas” if you didn’t “take everything with a grain of salt,” we also resort to using food idioms and metaphors to enrich our speech.
In my lessons, I would like to devote a good amount of time to this very topic, being that there are many, many more interesting and funny examples. I hope that this article wasn’t too complicated for you and that you enjoyed yourself and learned something new.
Thank you for your time and have fun!
Hero Image by Whit Andrews (CC BY 2.0)