In the old days, people had discussions. People had opinions and facts. Sometimes people disagreed with one another’s opinions or quibbled over facts. But there were certain shared assumptions that made talking possible.
That is no longer true. Today people don’t share the same opinions, beliefs, facts or even accept the same laws of nature. This seems to be true everywhere, but it is particularly true in Russia. When I first began to have awkward conversations, I tried not responding at all, but that is rude. You have to say something. So, over the last few years I’ve developed a strange little repertoire of comments to get me through these uncomfortable interactions.
First of all, you need to find out if the person is kidding. Ask: Вы шутите? (Are you making a joke?), or Это – шутка? (Is that a joke?), or perhaps Вы — серьёзно? (Are you serious?). When asking, try to not to let your intonation rise dramatically at the end of the phrase. If you do, it will be clear you’re really saying: Ты с ума сошёл? (Are you nuts?) or Ты идиот, что ли? (Are you an idiot?)
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