March 01, 2000

Beware the Teapots and Snowdrops

Beware the Teapots and Snowdrops

Driving in Russia is, by all accounts, a nerve-racking experience. So basic road vocabulary is this column’s theme – because rare are those who have been able to avoid communicating with the notoriously corrupt Russian road police (ГAИ: Государ­ственная авто­инспекция) or with fellow drivers. Of course “fellow” is probably too nice a word, since every second “fellow” will attempt to подрезать (cut you off), thus creating what they call in GAI parlance an авари­йная ситуация (accident-prone situation).

Indeed, courteous behavior is hard to come by on Russian roads strewn with ямы (potholes). Novices are advised to stick a picture of a teapot (чайник) in the back window of their car, as a warning for other drivers. But also note that чайник is slang for a “poor driver.” Women, whether they put up a sign or not, should be ready to hear more than their fair share of criticisms, since men do most of the driving here. A common sexist proverb is: женщина за рулём – что фашист на танке (a woman at the wheel is like a fascist driving a tank).

Another category of drivers commonly derided by other drivers are the подснежники (“snowdrops” –  spring flower). These are автолюбители (“car lovers,” or amateurs, as opposed to professional drivers) who prefer to store their cars in a garage during the winter, only venturing out on the roads again in spring – showing up like snowdrops.

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