Life in Russia can be tough. Of course, that doesn’t necessarily mean that gangs of hooligans are running through the streets on a daily basis, but it can be quite challenging nevertheless. For instance, imagine living without hot water for a couple of weeks! I’m sure that you would agree that it’s a rather terrifying prospect. However, most Russians seem unfazed by such dire circumstances, always managing to be on top of the world… or “on top of a horse” – быть на коне – which in Russian, means the same thing.


Therefore, this article will give you some tips on how to survive something else that is quite daunting: Russia’s intense weather conditions. It will also help you learn how to feel как огурчик, orfresh as a cucumber.”


Winter Expressions


One of the best pieces of advice to give you before you set off on a trip to Russia is don’t go there in winter if you fear the cold! Otherwise, you might:


  • отморозить нос: freeze your nose off.


This problem is particularly common in Siberia, where temperatures can easily drop down to -40 degrees Celsius in the winter. In fact, it can be so cold, that:


  • Your teeth would be chattering: зуб на зуб не попадает.
  • You can freeze wolves: холод, хоть волков морозь.


Of course, nobody likes to be affected by the weather too much. The key to surviving the cold is to keep your belly nice and full:


  • холод не терпит голод: hunger makes the cold worse.


Also, a hot drink on a winter’s morning will help to keep you going. However, while many Russians would suggest having a glass of vodka for good measure, let’s not forget that:


  • Водка не лечит, в калечит: vodka doesn’t help, vodka hurts you.


One of the main strategies for surviving in Russia is being able to turn any situation into an advantage. Even the cold can be your friend. For example, it can help you make some serious decisions. After all, we say:


  • держи голову в холоде, в ноги в тепле: keep your head cool and your feet warm.


Cold weather can also motivate you to exercise more, and hunger can make you work more productively:


  • голод заставляет работать, а холод - бегать: hunger makes you work, and cold makes you run (it would be wise to remember that this is just an expression and there is no real need to starve yourself).


Закалка is a popular Russian concept. It usually refers to transforming your body into something more powerful by subjecting yourself to a lot of extreme activities, including cold showers, walking barefoot in the snow and, last but not the least, jumping naked into an ice-hole. Mostly, it’s done to improve a person’s working capacity:


  • закаляй своё тело с пользой для дела: harden your body to make it fit for working.


One of the best ways to accomplish this is to visit a good old Russian sauna: баня. Of course, some people might be appalled at the prospect of getting into an insanely hot room with few clothes on but, like we say:


  • в бане мыться – заново родиться: washing yourself in a banya is like being reborn.


In fact, Russian people are so attached to banyas, they actually see themselves as the children of banyas. It does sound weird, but:


  • баня – мать вторая или мать родная: the banya is your second, or even first, Mother.


Now, who can argue with that kind of logic? For those who seek eternal youth, a banya can also be of assistance:


  • котроый день паришься, тот не старишься: the day you steam yourself, you don’t age.


Even in the summer, the cold makes its presence known. This is especially apparent when the hot water supply is cut off for a couple of weeks. But don’t let that bother you. Cold showers can be an excellent (and healthier!) alternative to an ordinary hot shower. Russians say:


  • холодная вода – для хвори беда: cold water is trouble for sickness (cold water is a threat to illness!)


Do you still have doubts about going to Russia in the winter? Then, you might want to look at it this way:


  • это не зима, а лето в зимнем платье: this isn’t winter, but summer in a winter dress.


Summer Expressions


After learning about the dangers of Russian winters, you’ll probably prefer to go there in summer. Indeed, it seems like it would be a reasonable and healthy option. Let’s not forget, however, that the summer has its own peculiarities. One of them is the so called жара – the heat. You might think that Russia is a cold country, but on a good summer day it can easily reach +40 degrees Celsius. In this weather:


  • от жару и камень треснет: The rocks crack from the heat.
  • от жара и вода кипит: Water boils from the heat.


You’ll need to drink a lot of the local cold beverage called kvas to help you get through your day. Kvas is a favourite Russian summer drink. It’s nice and refreshing, and surprisingly, it contains very little alcohol. Even children can drink it. Rumour has it, you can have half a bucket of this drink and still be okay:


  • квас – штука не мудра, пей хоть полведра: kvas isn’t complicated, you can even drink half a bucket of it.


Another problem that is specific to summer is the large number of hungry mosquitos that want to suck all the blood out of you. You could try to fight them with the help of an eagle but, according to the proverb, eagles are not much help:


  • орлом комара не травят: eagles won’t hunt mosquitoes  


Instead, you can try to build a small fire. Smoke proves to be very effective against all kinds of flying nuisances. The folk wisdom says:


  • где огонь, там и дым: where there is fire, there is also smoke.


You cannot separate the two.


As you may have noticed, we have only covered two of Russia’s four intense seasons: winter and summer. What about spring and autumn? Fret not, dear travellers:


  • у природы нет плохой погоды: nature doesn’t have bad weather.


If, after all this information, you’re still keen on planning your big trip, then:


  • скатертью дорожка: may the road unfold in front of you like a tablecloth!


Note: This phrase can also mean “good riddance,” if used in a negative way.


A Sample Conversation Using Winter Expressions


Now, let’s look at an example of a conversation you could possibly overhear on a cold winter’s day in Russia:


Vanya: Привет, Саша! Hi Sasha!

Sasha: Привет, Иван! О Боже,  да ты же как огурчик! My God, you look great (fresh as a cucumber)!

Vanya: Да вот из бани иду… Все-таки правду говорят: в бане мыться – заново родиться. Yeah, I’m just coming from the sauna… It’s true what they say after all: going to the sauna is like being reborn.

Sasha: А то! А ты, Ваня, что-то бледный. Смотри нос не отморозь! Холодно все-таки, минус сорок. Sure thing! But, Vanya, you look kinda pale. Don’t freeze your nose off! It’s cold, minus forty degrees.

Vanya: Нет, все нормально. Я так закаляюсь. No, it’s fine. I’m strengthening my body.

Sasha: Ну молодец! Закаляй свое тело с пользой для дела, а? Good for you! Hardening your body makes it fit for working, eh?

Vanya: Точно! Ну, я пошел. Есть хочу ужасно. Exactly! Well, I’m off. I really want to eat something.

Sasha: Ну, иди, иди. Холод не терпит голод! Well, off you go, off you go. Hunger makes the cold worse!

Vanya: Да уж. И пора завязывать говорить пословицами! Right. And we should really stop speaking in proverbs!


Image Sources


Hero Image by Andrei Porfireanu (CC0)