There is a century old Russian saying that goes a little something like: «смех без причины – признак дурачины» (laughter without good reason is the sign of a fool). Smiling is safe, but the fact that there are only a few proverbs about smiling in the Russian language definitely says something. In the end, when the trouble seems real, nothing beats the power of certain magic phrases in Russian. Which phrases, you might ask? Let’s find out!


Situation #1


Our first situation is being stopped by police or security guards. This could be on the street, in the subway or when entering an establishment.


First of all, you should know that you must carry your passport with you at all times. Normally, police won’t stop you unless you look suspicious, but things happen. As a rule, they’ll address you in Russian, and it is very possible that they will speak little to no English. As a result, you should be prepared for unplanned exercises in speaking Russian.


The policeman will usually start the conversation by swiftly walking up to you and saying:


  • «Гражданин, предъявите документы» Citizen, show your documents.


You may also be called «мужчина» (man) или «женщина» (woman), depending on your gender. Please don’t take it personally; though it might sound a bit rude, this is a totally acceptable way to address a stranger in Russia. Something along the lines of the English “Sir” or “Ma’am” is just less elegant.


Upon hearing this insistent request, you need take out your passport and hand it over to them. Make sure, however, that this person is indeed a public authority and not a «оборотень», or a “werewolf.” And no, we’re not talking about mythological creatures here. In Russia, a “werewolf” is a type of a criminal who wears a uniform in order to trick people. To scare off a potential werewolf, you just have to say:


  • «Покажите Ваше удостоверение, пожалуйста» Show your identification, please.


If the person in question is indeed a werewolf, they will then leave you be. If the person stays put, give them your passport and politely say:


  • «Вот мой паспорт. Я турист» Here’s my passport. I’m a tourist.


In most cases, this is enough to end the conversation and you’ll be on your way. If the officer asks more questions and you have no idea what they mean, try this:


  • «Извините, я не говорю по-русски» Sorry, I don’t speak Russian.


If that doesn’t work either, then you’re in for a long and confusing chat. But hey, you might make a new friend by the end of it. Nothing brings two people together more than breaking through the language barrier.


Situation #2


In this situation, you are being stopped by a group of street gangsters.


In the first section of this article, we learned about Russian “werewolves.” Continuing with the mythological analogy, we could compare this social group to vampires. Street gangsters are relatively languid and harmless by the light of day. You might see them sitting on benches in parks, eating their favourite snack «семечки» (sunflower seeds), smoking and chatting about life. However, if you meet them on an empty side street after the sunset, it usually means you’re in trouble.


The most logical solution would be to avoid going to such places at night, but it might not always be possible. So, if you’re in a bad area and some shady individuals approach you, try your best to look calm and confident. Also, don’t be under the impression that street gangsters have no manners. Very often they will smile somewhat amicably and say:


  • «Ты кто? С какого ты района?» Who’re you? Which suburb are you from?


While in our previous situation involving public authorities it was enough to show your passport and say you’re a tourist, you will need try a different approach here. Think about the most dangerous area in your country, and say:


  • «Я из....(название места). Это самый опасный район в моем городе» I’m from… (name the place). It’s the most dangerous suburb in my town.


The key here is to sound honest and direct. Now is the best time (while your interlocutor is still digesting the information) to introduce yourself. Smile in a friendly way and look him directly in the eye. Don’t use the «меня зовут...» (My name is…)  construction. Instead, go for a shorter variant:


  • «Я...(ваше имя). А ты кто?» I'm… (say your name). And you are?


If you get a reply, it’s a good sign. Your goal here is to hold a basic conversation with a potential attacker for at least a minute. If you manage that, there is a good chance both parties will just walk away without engaging in a fight.


Other commonly asked questions are:


  • «Ты кто по жизни? » (which can be roughly translated as “what do you do?”)
  • «Деньги есть?» Got any change?
  • «Что ты тут делаешь?» What are you doing here?


However, don’t rush to answer any of these questions, since they may just be a provocation to get some money out of you. Instead, smile politely and say:

  • «Почему ты интересуешься? » What’s your interest in that?


The street gangster code doesn’t allow them to state their malicious intentions directly, so they have to make up a good excuse for robbing you. Therefore, such questions will most likely frustrate your opponent. He might get a bit aggressive and ask you:


  • «Ты меня не уважаешь?» Don't you respect me?


This is another trick question that you don’t need to answer. Simply nod and remind your opponent that you asked a question first:


  • «Я спросил(а) первый(ая)» I asked you first.


Such a conversation can go on for a while. At some point one of you will want to leave. If the gangster doesn’t do it first, say:


  • «Извини, мне пора» Sorry, I have to go.


…and leave. Don’t look back! If you do it correctly, you’ll earn respect from all the gangs around the town. If it’s not your lucky day and you find yourself being chased by a gang of criminals, try screaming:


  • «Кто-то уронил кошелёк! » Someone dropped their purse!  


at the top of your lungs. That will definitely get more attention than an ordinary cry for help.


And remember:


  • «кто опасности не боится – того она сторонится» Danger stays away from those who aren’t afraid of it.


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