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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Not Exactly Morning People

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?????: a 24-hour period

The one thing we foreigners mastered in Russian 101 was the basics of Russian greetings: ?????? ???? (good morning), ?????? ???? (good day), and ?????? ????? (good evening). Can't screw that up, right?

Wrong. It turns out that one nation's morning is another nation's night.

Before launching into the puzzle of Russian time-of-day expressions, it's worth remembering that English is pretty kooky, too. We divide up a 24-hour period into a.m. and p.m. We say that someone woke up at 3 o'clock in the morning (a.m.), but we call that the middle of the night.

Russians have a handy word that we lack: ????? (a 24-hour period). This can be from midnight to midnight (a calendar day) or any 24-hour period. ??? ????????? ? ???????? ?????, ? ?????? ???? ?? ?????? ????. (She's a nurse and works a 24-hour shift, from 9 a.m. to 9 a.m.) It's also the word you use when reserving a hotel room: ??? ???????? ?? ????????????? ????? ?? ???? ?????. (I want to book a room for two nights.)

In Russian, ???? (morning) means the start of the day -- when a person gets up or when the world gets going. ?????? ???? (good morning) is what you mumble or gush (depending on mood and years of conjugal living) to your significant other when you first stumble out of bed. It's what you say to people who are just starting work: folks in the elevator heading to the office, the receptionist in your building, your co-worker pouring a cup of coffee.

If you are one of those horribly cheerful morning people who annoy a good number of the rest of us, you can say, "? ?????? ?????!" which seems to be short for ?????????? ? ?????? ????? (literally, "I congratulate you on this fine morning"). If you are a not a morning person, you can mutter back, "? ??????, ?? ??? ?? ??????????." (I got out of bed, but haven't woken up yet.)

If you walk into a business meeting at 11 a.m., do you say, "?????? ?????" Most Russians say no. Your colleagues' "morning" -- i.e., the start of the day -- began hours ago, so saying "?????? ????" might be taken as a dig -- a comment on their sleepy demeanor or a sly insinuation that they just got into the office.

And now let's pause to recall all the people we have inadvertently insulted over the years with our misplaced good mornings.

?????? ???? (good day) is appropriate to say from late morning to about 6 p.m. Russians divide this long stretch of day into ?????? and ?????? ???????? ??? (first and second half of the day). So, if someone says: ?????????? ?? ?????? ???????? ??? (Let's meet in the second half of the day), when exactly do they mean?

An informal survey of Muscovites gave a range from noon to 7 p.m. Best practice: Nail it down. ?? ???????? (At what time?)

????? (evening) for Russians seems to be the time period from the end of the work day until bedtime, roughly from 6 p.m. to midnight. You can safely wish anyone ?????? ????? in those hours.

Interestingly, you can say ???? ????? (early in the morning), ?????? ??????? (late in the evening), ?????? ????? (late at night) and less commonly ???? ??????? (early in the evening) and ?????? ????? (late in the morning). But almost no one says ???? ???? (early in the day) or ???? ????? (early in the night), presumably because those times are morning and evening, respectively.

Most people reserve ?????? ???? (good night) as a parting wish for a good night's sleep -- a more formal version of ????????? ???? (literally "peaceful night").

However, one informant in St. Petersburg says ?????? ???? as a greeting if she is calling someone after midnight. She also says, "?????? ????" at 11 a.m.

Best practice: When in doubt, say, "????????????!" (Hello!).

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