Why ‘bury your head in the sand’ when you could ‘hide in potatoes’ instead? This much-loved term is one of the most popular Belarusian phrases, so expect to see it everywhere if you ever pay a visit to Belarus.
Belarus is an Eastern Slavic language. As such, it has links with Russian and Ukranian, and even borrows some words from Polish. In its written format, you should expect to see it in the format of the Cyrillic alphabet, which makes it difficult for most visitors to read unless you have a photographic memory.
Russian or Belarusian
Curiously, less than a quarter of Belarusians actually speak Belarussian, also referred to as ‘White Russian’. In fact, far more locals speak Russian due to the country’s Soviet Union past. This little-spoken language is making a comeback, however, as more Belarusians return to their roots. Despite that, research shows that fewer than 10% of Belarusians still communicate in Belarusian in their daily lives.
To help you navigate the linguistic waters of Belarus, we’re going to share both Russian and Belarusian phrases to wrap your head around. What’s more, we’ll also share some ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts’ when it comes to casual conversation, the Belarusian way. Take heart in the fact that most Belarusians speak good English, but will appreciate your effort to use some basic words in Russian or Belarusian.
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Know how to handle yourself
- Don’t make the mistake of calling Belarus, Belourussia. This was its name under Soviet rule. In fact, don’t discuss Russia at all.
- Always propose a toast when you have a drink. Not joining a toast is also considered rude.
- Always maintain eye contact when you are greeting Belarusians.
- Never interrupt a Belarusian when they are talking.
- An OK sign (thumb and forefinger forming a circle) is considered offensive in Belarus.
- Men always shake hands. So, remove your gloves and make sure it’s a firm shake or you’ll be perceived to be weak. Women are under no obligation to shake hands.
- Never whistle inside the home of a local. Highly superstitious, the Belarusians believe this will literally blow all their money away.
- Although the Belarusians are friendly, their stony-faced demeanour may tell you otherwise. Don’t be put off by this and engage at your leisure.
- Avoid discussing politics at all costs, especially Russian politics.
Belarusian phrases to know before you go
- Добрый день
- Pronounced: ‘Dobry dzien!’
- Russian equivalent: ‘Zdravstvujtye‘
- Прыемна пазнаёміцца/ Da pabachjennja
- Pronounced: ‘Da pa-bach-jennja’
- Russian equivalent: ‘Dasvidaniya’
How are you?
- Як справы?
- Pronounced: ‘Yuk spraavey’
- Russian equivalent: ‘Kak vy pazhivaite?’
Do you speak English?
- Вы кажаце па англіскі?
- Pronounced: ‘Tee ruzmauljaesh pa-angel’sku?’
- Russian equivalent: ‘Vi gavareetye pa angleeskee?’
Sorry, could you help me?
- Извините, не могли бы Вы мне помочь?
- Pronounced: ‘Izvinite, ne mogli bi vi mne pomoch?’
- Russian equivalent: ‘Eezveneete, ne mogli by vy mne pomoch?’
Excuse me, where is…?
- Не подскажете, как пройти до…?
- Pronounced: ‘Ne podskajete kak proiti do…?’
- Russian equivalent: ‘Prostite, gde…?’
- Pronounced: ‘Dziakuj’
- Russian equivalent: ‘Spaseeba’
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Fun Belarusian expressions
Why stop at our 7 most useful Belarusian phrases, when you could really chew the fat with the locals and exchange a few choice Belarusian expressions?
Here are our three favourites:
- Cyrk na drocie (A circus on the wire)
Used to refer to when something funny or ridiculous occurs.
- Čarka i skvarka (A shot of vodka and a small piece of fried bacon)
Used to describe the values of someone unambitious and materialistic.
- Chavajsia ŭ bulbu (Hide in potatoes)
Used when something bad happens to express surprise or irony.
Idiom Source: BelarusFeed
Do you have any Belarusian phrases or Belarusian expressions you’d like to mention? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below…