There you are, sitting around the conference table with your Russian colleagues, delighted to find yourself understanding everyone and able to comment without any outrageous grammatical errors. And then, just as you are about to pat yourself on the back, someone says, “Пти́чку жа́лко!” (“I feel sorry for the little birdie!”), everyone laughs, and you have no idea what’s going on.
After declensions, cases, aspect, verbs of motion, pronunciation, and all the other trials of the Russian language, there is one more thing to learn: quotes, jokes and allusions.
Many quotes come from Soviet and Russian movies, like пти́чку жа́лко. That’s from Кавка́зская пле́нница (Prisoner of the Caucasus), said after someone makes a long toast about a bird soaring toward the sun. A young folklorist from Moscow, not used to drinking the local wine, feels sorry for the bird. This movie is also the source of the brilliant and constantly quoted Жить хорошо́, а хорошо́ жить — ещё лу́чше! (Life is good, and living the good life is even better!)
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