The Danger of Being Thirsty, Greedy, Stingy

Алчность: avarice

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If expats want to understand the country they're living in, they need to understand what is deemed right and wrong in the local culture. And if they want to fit in, they have to get with the program -- do what's right and don't do what's wrong.

Of course, that isn't to say that all the natives in your adopted country are with the program. For example, traditionally one of the great wrongs in Russian culture is алчность (avarice, greed).

But as I look at the mansions going up on Rublyovo-Uspenskoye Shosse, the six-figure cars and seven-figure bling, I'd say that a lot of locals have forgotten No. 6 on the list of семь смертных грехов (seven deadly sins).

In Russian, алчность is related to the verb лакать, which is what your pet does in hot weather -- he laps up lots of water. Figuratively, when folks get greedy, they slurp up stuff like a thirsty hound after a hunt in July.

This is also described in Russian as ненасытность (insatiability). As one Russian writer put it, Алчность -- это когда всё уже есть, но этого всё равно мало (Avarice is when you have everything, but it's still not enough.)

A related concept is жаждать (to thirst for), which is used both figuratively and literally. On that July day after the hunt, someone might take a deep drink and say, В жаркий день утоляет жажду только квас (On a hot day, only kvas quenches your thirst.)

When it is used figuratively, жаждать conveys a rather high-flown and literary yearning for something. Some of this yearning is quite noble. For example, Она жаждет знаний, любви (She yearns for knowledge and love.)

Some yearning is part of being human: Он жаждет восхищения, успеха, признания, сочувствия и покоя (He yearns for admiration, success, acknowledgement, sympathy and peace of mind.)

You might hear someone say, Он жаждет увидеть родных (He longs to see his family.) But some craving is downright despicable, described in English in terms of hunger and thirst: Они жаждут крови и власти (They are bloodthirsty and power hungry.)

In contrast, the adjective жадный (greedy) and verb жадничать are very down to earth. When a Russian mom offers her kids some candy and little Sasha grabs a handful, Mom might say, Не жадничай! (Don't be greedy!) When grown-up Sasha grabs the biggest slice of cake at the office party, his colleagues might snigger, Он жадный! (He's greedy!)

Another related concept is корысть, which is any kind of self-interest, selfish desire or greed. It can refer to both the quality of seeking personal gain as well as the material gain itself. For example, when greedy Sasha offers to finish a report for a colleague, his suspicious workmates might ask, Какая ему в этом корысть? (What's in it for him?) But someone else might point out, Без корысти работать нельзя (There's no work without self-interest.)

Корыстный человек is a selfish person, someone who always holds his or her own interests above all else. Корыстный can also refer to actions: Подарок учителю -- корыстный жест (A gift to a teacher is an act of self-interest.)

Another bad thing about greedy people is that they want to keep everything all to themselves. In Russian culture, скупость (stinginess) is the lowest of the low and soundly condemned in folk sayings and expressions. Скупость -- мать пороков (Stinginess is the mother of all vices.)

But Russians believe that stingy people get their comeuppance because they never get to enjoy what have. Скупые ровно пчёлы: мёд собирают, а сами умирают (Stingy people are like worker bees: they may collect the honey, but they die [before they enjoy it].)

Now that might make a great billboard on Rublyovka.

Michele A. Berdy is a Moscow-based translator and interpreter.