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How to Talk Like a Russian Diplomat

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Слышь: Yo! I'm talking to you!

Not every diplomat can become an overnight “хит интернета” (Internet hit) after just one speech at the United Nations. That honor goes to Vladimir Safronkov, deputy permanent representative from Russia, who publicly took to task Mathew Rycroft, the U.K. Ambassador to the U.N. last week.

The brouhaha was not because one delegate yelled at another delegate — that happens dozens of times every day. And it wasn’t because of the nature of Safronkov’s accusations —everyone has heard Russia’s version of the Syrian war a million times. No, the скандал (scandal) was over the way Safronkov spoke to his esteemed British colleague. Officially it was called достаточно жестко (sufficiently harsh). Unofficially it was called everything from грубое панибратство (crude over-familiarity) to приблатнённое хамство (obnoxious thug slang). In fact, much of the Internet thought he sounded like a гопник, one of those squatting, sunflower-seed-spitting, good ole boys who do manual labor and a bit of robbery on the side.

You wouldn’t know this from the official transcripts, which cleaned up Safronkov’s language, primarily switching his familiar, street-talking ты to the more decorous and collegial вы. So he didn’t actually say: Посмотрите на меня и не отводите глаза (Look at me and don’t look away). He said: Посмотри на меня! Глаза не отводи! Чё ты глаза отводишь? (Hey, look at me! At me, I said! Where you looking?) And he didn’t end his tirade with the strong but literary: Не смейте, г-н Райкрофт, больше оскорблять Россию! (Don’t you dare, Mr. Rycroft, insult Russia again!) He continued to use ты: Не смей оскорблять Россию больше! (Yo, quit........

© The Moscow Times