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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

How to Request in Russian

Прошу Вас: I request that you ...



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All bureaucracies are miserable, but each is miserable in its own way.

Lately I've been spending a lot of time in line, trying to resolve a backlog of bureaucratic bother. The problem is that I've never mastered the customs and lingo of the Russian bureaucracy. Years ago, I went to the housing board with a Russian friend. She was supplicating but not sycophantic, persistent but not annoying, even-tempered without any hint that she might be a pushover, and she knew the exact moment and tone to use when she had to show some teeth. It was magnificent, like watching an Oscar performance.

My performance, however, wouldn't get me on local television. I am often cowed, easily manipulated and overly grateful for the smallest courtesy. Not surprisingly, I almost never get what I want. But over the years, I have learned a thing or two.

First of all, if you are making a request, go with your заявление (petition) already typed up in duplicate. In the top right corner write: Начальнику конторы "Рога и Копыта." (To the director of Horns and Hoofs, Inc.; this fictitious company from Ilf and Petrov's "The Golden Calf," refers to any shady business). This is followed by: от 'ИО, проживающего (ей) по адресу ... (from surname, name, patronymic, residing at the address ... ). Skip down a few lines and position the word Заявление in the center in a larger font.

Then, if you are an American, you have to forget every boilerplate letter to an official you have ever written. You must adopt a tone of abject supplication mixed with politely veiled threat. This is, on the one hand, more groveling, but on the other hand more threatening than a homegrown American complaint letter.

A petition begins with Прошу Вас (I request that you) and then gets straight to the point: Прошу Вас принять срочные меры по устранению протечки с крыши и произвести ремонт комнаты (I request that you take urgent measures to stop the roof from leaking and repair the room).

Even though you've included the hot-button word срочный (urgent), you might need to ramp up the emergency volume. So you continue: так как потолок находится в аварийном состоянии и существует угроза его полного разрушения (since the ceiling is in catastrophic condition and is in danger of collapse).

Аварийное состояние (literally, state of emergency) and полное разрушение (literally, total destruction) are Code Red words. In the home repair department, other good words are литься (to pour out, to come down in torrents) or структурное нарушение (structural damage). In the commercial world, citation of laws is not a bad ploy: В соответствии с законом "О защите прав потребителей" (In accordance with the Consumer Rights Protection law).

It's always effective to let them know that your next step is a jump over their heads. В случае невыполнения я буду вынуждена обратиться в вышестоящие инстанции (If this is not carried out, I will have to address authorities at a higher level). That is, I don't want to make your life miserable, but you may leave me with no choice.

After all this, you add information about where you live and some background: В течение пяти лет я обращалась с просьбой починить крышу (For five years, I have requested that the roof be fixed).

Once someone has taken your petition, say these important words: Поставьте, пожалуйста, подпись, дату и штамп на моей копии (Please sign, date and stamp my copy). This proves that they accepted your petition. And it gives credence to your threat: Next stop -- your boss.

Maybe this year my roof will get fixed.



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