January 01, 2005

Khalyava: All Play and No Work

Khalyava: All Play and No Work

When I was a little girl, I got my fair share of Russian сказки (fairy tales) at bedtime. While they rarely succeeded in putting me to sleep, they did teach me the Russian philosophy of life... while likely negatively affecting my impressionable personality.

Contrary to Soviet mythology, сказки taught that the world is a cruel place, where one’s morality has no influence upon one’s fortune. The сказки swarmed with young fools (дураки) and lazybones (лентяи) who always got the biggest piece of pie at the end of the story.

Take a неудачник (a loser, today anglicized simply as лузер) named Емеля (Yemelya). The youngest son of the prototypical старик со старухой (an old man and his wife), Yemelya was also the stupidest дурак his village ever knew. All he would do was lie on the печь (stove) all day пальцем не пошевелит¸ (not lifting a finger). Then, one day, his family somehow manages to coax him into going down to the river to get water.

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