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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

You're Sentenced to Die? Look on the Bright Side

I'm always amazed at how Russian interviewers, no matter whom they are questioning, sooner or later always manage to bring the discussion around to "the eternal questions." This is why it caught my eye this week during an interview with filmmaker Andrei Konchalovsky, brother of Oscar-winner Nikita Mikhalkov, when he was asked, "Kakoi vam viditsya Rossiya budushego?" (How does the Russia of the future look to you?). Without missing a beat, Konchalovsky responded, "Da takoi zhe, kak vsegda" (The same as always).

This reminded me of the oft-cited saw, "Khotelos' kak luchshe, a poluchilos' kak vsegda" (We were hoping for the best, but it turned out like it always does), which is usually attributed to Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin but has been so widely repeated that its origins are lost. Lately, I've seen this expression a couple of times in an even more pessimistic version, "Khotelos' kak luchshe, a poluchilos' kak v Rossii" (We were hoping for the best, but it turned out like in Russia).

All this got me to thinking about another "eternal question," Russia and fatalism. Russians, or so goes the stereotype, are far more noted for endurance than enterprise, so I figured that the language would be replete with pithy fatalistic expressions displaying this side of the Russian character. But I was in for a surprise. While there certainly are some first-rate expressions along these lines, there weren't as many as I had expected.

The basic ones are the same as in English. Zhizn' takaya (That's life) is a personal favorite that can be appropriately used in at least half of all conversational situations. Bud' chto budet (Be what may), Ne iskushai sud'bu (Don't tempt fate) and Ot sud'by ne uidyosh' (You can't escape fate) are also quite common. Russian also has Chelovek predpolagayet, a bog raspolagayet (Man proposes and God disposes).

The Russian version of "Leave well enough alone" is Ot dobra dobra ne ishchut (Don't look for good from good). Its corollary is Luchshe -- vrag khoroshego (The better is the enemy of the good), meaning you shouldn't throw away a good deal trying for something better. In fairness, though, it must be noted that Russians also say Kazhdyi sam kuznets svoyemu schast'yu (Everyone is the smith of his own happiness).

The other side of fatalism is, of course, "looking on the bright side." My favorite Russian expression in this category has to be Komu suzhdeno byt' poveshennym, tot ne utonet (A person who is condemned to be hanged will never drown). Fate, after all, vilami na vode pisano (is written on the water with pitchforks). There is no escaping it since, as Bulat Okudzhava has said so memorably, pulya dyrochku naidyot (The bullet will find the hole).