Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Russian Relations: The Five Levels of Friendship

While in the midst of an endless number of conjugations, confusing prepositions, and CASES(!), it's always refreshing to stumble across a reminder of the beauty of a language. The expressions that somehow express something you didn't think you could quite put into words before. I'll never forget the first time I learned "I miss you" in French.

Tu me manques.

The grammatical structure is such that, while it translates to our version of "I miss you," it more literally means You are missing to me. It's as if rather than simply missing another individual, you're missing a piece of yourself. J'adore!

This morning in my individual Russian lesson, my teacher asked me if I had many friends. I wasn't sure where this conversation was going, but secretly I was wondering if I had been looking that consistently pathetic. I opted for the response, "maybe not many here in Russia, but I do have lots of friends in America." And scattered around the world for that matter...take that! Her answer: "you can't have more than 2 or 3, if any." I was a bit taken aback and even inclined to protest, but then she began laying out what I have dubbed the Hierarchy of Russian Relations.

1. враг (vrag) = enemy
2. недруг (nedroog) = foe
3. знакомый (znakomiy) = acquaintance
4. товарищ (tovarish) = comrade
4. друг (droog) = friend

I've given what I believe the English equivalent to be, though the connotations seem slightly different.

Enemy. No explanation needed.

Недруг. My favorite part of this explanation was the look of disgust and mistrust on my teacher's face as she held up her hands in the "keep away" gesture. Literally translated this word is "not a friend." Foe seems a bit strong of a description, but it works for our purposes.

Acquaintances or your associates are those people who you get along with, could have a nice conversation with, and then part ways and not think twice about the person.

A comrade (it's not just for communists people) I would equate to a pal. Buddy if we're gettin' old school. Maybe even chum in that case. Anyone want to guess at, or educate me as to a current hip translation? Maybe dudes...??? Clearly not my area of expertise.
Regardless, they're the people you hang out with. Call up on a Friday night to make plans. The people you can talk with about life, feelings, and anything else you may fancy. By our definition, these are your friends.

But then there's that elusive category of friendship. It's what we could call a true friend; the type my teacher was referring to when she she said it was impossible to have more than 2 or 3. By her account, these are the people that when you find yourselves in the hardest of times---in her situation she was destitute, alone, without food and sufficient means to live---are ever-constant, ready to buoy you up and stand by you through real life. The real life that can be so brutal at times. My teacher doesn't consider herself to have any friends.

And I realized how blessed I am. I definitely have many a comrade. Some of whom I would even count amongst my best friends. They're the ones I can call to discuss work crises, (which are inevitably tied to life crises in my case). Dating crises (also somehow inevitable). No need to stick with the crises...we can talk about other brighter life happenings as well. We keep in touch. We have a fabulous time whenever we see each other. And I love them.

But then there are those friends who know your soul. And while they are certainly more scarce, in reflection, I have still been blessed with an abundance. Largely due to my large family. I know and have personally witnessed the strength of our family relationships as we've endured hard times together. And along with being my best friends, I know without a doubt they're also my truest. Ready to be there at a moment's notice, through the highs and lows.

And I have another family, albeit a smaller one. They may not be blood relations, but they too know me and love me as if they were. They've invested in me, and I in them. They could give you a list of my weaknesses and smile while doing so. From the broken heart(s) and self-doubt, to the dreams and inner potential; they know who I am, how I see myself, and what I can become. And when I myself forget those things, they are there to remind me. Helping me know myself again. True friends.

I love learning languages. And I love when they teach me about life. About myself.

Here's to a day of renewed appreciation for the special people in my life. And a renewed desire to be a better friend and person for those who might trust me with the gift of being amongst their true друзья.


  1. Wow I love that translation of "I miss you!" that seems so accurate to me! Beautiful!

    And I also agree I have many comrades but when you find a true Bosom friend (to quote Anne of Green Gables) goodness that's precious.

  2. The way you write, and the way you format your writing is truly beautiful. I miss you and wish you were here to help me pronounce the plethora of Russian in this blog. . . [a-cool-(Russian) ah]

  3. I am so happy I found your blog! I lived in Moscow for a time and this just made me tear up a bit with all the memories:)

    Following you now!


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