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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

THE WORD'S WORTH: Russian Business Cards Can Mask Real Position




One of the things I really love about Russia is the culture of the vizitka, or business card. I love handing them out, and I love having piles of them on my desk that I can lovingly sort whenever I have nothing more interesting to do.


One thing, though, that really frustrates me is when Russians insist on giving you a business card that only has the information in English. It is almost always impossible to guess at their real position judging by the garbled English rendition and, most frustrating of all, they rarely include their otchestvo, or patronymic, so you don't even know how to address them.


In general, the vizitka in Russia is one of those areas -- like menus in many restaurants -- where the English and Russian languages mingle like oil and vinegar. Rare indeed, in my experience, is the vizitka that says exactly the same thing on both sides without any typographical errors.


For instance, I recently met a woman who works at one of Moscow's largest investment banks. To Russian speakers, her vizitka modestly announces her as pomoshchnik prezidenta, or assistant to the president. Those who read the English side of her card, however, are informed that she is actually "vice president" of the entire bank. What a difference a few words can make.


Another acquaintance of mine works at one of those alphabet-soup organizations that Moscow is so full of these days. Her card also correctly identifies her in English as "acting director" of her program. In Russian, though, her ambitions reach much further. There she is identified as the ispolnitel'nyi direktor, or executive director, instead of merely ispolnyayushchii obyazannosti direktora, or acting director.


Some of the biggest laughers, though, are the cards of various high and mighty public officials. One card in my collection identifies its owner as chlen Soveta federatsii federal'nogo sobraniya Rossiiskoi federatsii, or a member of the Federation Council of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation. Although this is a perfectly normal way of saying this in Russian, it always makes me chuckle.


Perhaps the most interesting card that I have come across, though, is in the hands of someone that perhaps we should know more about. The Russian side of her suspiciously homemade-looking card presents her as pomoshchnik prezidenta RF po mezhdunarodnym delam, or foreign affairs assistant to the president of the Russian Federation. Impressive enough, but to foreigners, she is "vice president of the Russian Federation for foreign affairs."


Ironically, she gave me her card when applying for a temporary position as a translator. She didn't get the job, though. With Kosovo, the International Monetary Fund, Iraq and all, we figured President Boris Yeltsin needs all the foreign-affairs help he can get.