January 01, 2014

Yanukovich Takes a Banya

Yanukovich Takes a Banya

A few days before Ukraine was to sign an Association Agreement with the European Union at the Eastern Partnership summit in Vilnius (held November 28-29), Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin (who oversees the defense industry) cautioned that if Ukraine signed the agreement, the country might be doomed to forever reside “в предбаннике” of the EU. What could this possibly mean? Well, a предбанник is the anteroom leading into a Russian banya, or bathhouse. Yet quite often предбанник is used figuratively, to mean a waiting room: local bosses might tell subordinates who are trailing them as they enter an office, “Подожди меня там, в предбаннике” (Wait for me there, in the “waiting room”).

Rogozin’s insinuation was clear, and after Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych did the math,* he decided against sitting in the EU’s предбанник. For now. After all, what Russian, sorry, Ukrainian doesn’t like to sweat in the парилка (steam room), flagellating himself with a берёзовый веничек (birch branch)?! The hotter the air in the парилка – the better: as the saying goes, пар костей не ломит (Steam doesn’t break bones). And, after the banya session is over and everyone congratulates you on “a light steam” – “C лёгким паром!” – who could refuse a shot of ice-cold Russian водочка (or Ukrainian горилка)?! Even a teetotaler would find that difficult. As another saying postulates, Год не пей, два не пей, а после бани выпей (You may well not drink for one year or even two, but you have to have a drink after the bathhouse).

That famous post-banya greeting – “C лёгким паром!” – was made even more famous by the cult movie Ирония судьбы или с лёгким паром! (Irony of Fate or Light Steam). This movie also gave us another banya-related idiom. In the scene where the protagonist’s mother pushes an intrusive friend out of their apartment (so that her son can enjoy a moment with his fiancée), the mother says: “Иди в баню!” (“Go to the bathhouse!”). With time, Иди в баню! has become a polite euphemism for “Go to hell!” or “Get the hell outta here!”

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