Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A Russian Take on the Common Cold

To Our Readers

The Moscow Times welcomes letters to the editor. Letters for publication should be signed and bear the signatory's address and telephone number.
Letters to the editor should be sent by fax to (7-495) 232-6529, by e-mail to, or by post. The Moscow Times reserves the right to edit letters.

Email the Opinion Page Editor

??????: to have a hacking cough

Feeling a little out of sorts lately? Let down after the hoopla of the G8? Worried about the wars that are breaking out all over the world? Sad you can't drown your sorrows in wine because there hasn't been a decent bottle on sale within 10 kilometers of your apartment for a month now? Cheer up. It could be worse. You could have a summer cold.

Some day, someone should write a dissertation on illness and cultural differences. It doesn't surprise me that different nations perceive different causes for illness and believe in different cures. But it never fails to amaze me that different nations actually experience illness differently. For example, Americans experience two kinds of colds: the head cold and the chest cold. Russians don't. In fact, you can't even express the difference in Russian. For Russians, a cold (????????) comes in just one variety.

If you've come down with a cold, you can say: ? ???? ????????, ? ????????? or ? ???????????. You can also say: ? ??????? (literally "I've gotten a chill"). Then you list your symptoms: ? ???? ??????? ?????? (I have a bad cough) or the less common, but more vivid ? ????? (I have a hacking cough). Then you continue your litany of cold woes: ? ???? ??????? ??????????? (I'm running a high fever); ????? ????? (I've got a sore throat); ???? ?????? (I've got the chills); ?????? ????? (I've got a headache); ? ????? (I'm sneezing); ? ???? ???????, ??? ???????, ???????? ????? (I've got a runny nose, a stuffed-up nose, runny eyes). When your nose is running like a faucet, you can say: ? ???? ???? ?? ???? (literally "my nose is pouring") or ? ???? ? ?????? (literally, "I'm all sniffles").

Russian doctors know that the common cold is a virus, and ???????? ?????????? ????????-????????? ????? (a cold is passed around by droplets in the air). Russian patients know otherwise. As soon as you tell your friends that you're sick, you'll hear: ? ?? ???? ???????! (I told you!) ?? ???? ???? ???? ???????? ???? ? ????! (You shouldn't have drunk cold water on that hot day!) ?? ???? ???? ???? ????????? ?? ??????! (You shouldn't have eaten ice cream on that cold day!) ?? ??????????? ? ???????. (You had a swim and got chilled.) ?? ???????? ????. (You got your feet wet.) ?? ?????? ??? ??????. (You got drenched in the rain.) Agree and look repentant. If millions of Russian doctors haven't convinced the population that colds are caught from people, not cold temperatures, you won't either.

Then your friends will suggest folk remedies. Here I keep an open mind: You never know when some laboratory will do a double-blind study proving the effectiveness of, say, grain alcohol as an antiviral drug. So when folks tell me: ????? ????? ? ????? ? ?????? (Drink vodka mixed with salt and pepper), hey -- I'll give it a go.

You may also be advised: ??? ??? ? ????? ??? ????????? ???????? (Drink tea with honey or raspberry jam); ????? ? ???? ? ???????? (Go to the bath house for a steam); ??? ?????? (Eat garlic); ????? ?? ?????? ??????? ? ?????? ?????? (Put a clove of garlic in each nostril); ??????? ?????, ??? ? ????? «??????????» (Rub mentholated cream -- called "star" for the picture on the label of the most common brand -- on your temples, nose and chest); ????? ????????? ??????? ??????? ???? ?? ?????????? (Place a hot, hard-boiled egg on the bridge of your nose); ???? ??? ????? ?? ??????? ???????? (Breathe in steam from boiled potatoes); ?????? ????? ????? ? ????? ? ????? (Gargle with salt water and iodine); ???? ???? (Steam your feet).

This list is far from complete. There are also dozens of herbs that are recommended for each symptom.

I'd list more, but it's time to go inhale some potato steam.

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