Don't say женщина

vocabulary Dec 21, 2021

The Russian words девушка and женщина are not exact translations of their English equivalents: girl and woman. These words communicate nuances that are important to understand, due to their social implications.

Russian Girl or Woman

If we open up a translation dictionary, it will show us this:

  • девочка = young girl
  • девушка = girl
  • женщина = woman
  • бабушка = grandmother
  • мальчик = boy
  • молодой человек = young man
  • мужчина = man
  • дедушка = grandfather

And those translations are great. But they leave out social context.

How to speak with Russian women

In Russia, young women are usually called девушка. Whereas in English the word girl can imply immaturity and the word woman can imply maturity (psychological and otherwise), in Russian the word женшина implies that the person looks old. That's why you might call someone девушка even when they are 40 or older - to imply that they look young.

Getting a Russian Woman's Attention

When we want to get the attention of someone in Russian it's important to remember that it's also quite different from English. Words like Sorryexcuse me, and pardon are used in English to get someone's attention. For example, to get the attention of the waiter in a restaurant you would say, "Excuse me, sir! Could I order a salad?"

But in Russian it's less common to use those phrases. Instead, we get people's attention by stating the type of person they are. To get the attention of the waiter in a restaurant you would say, "Молодой человек! Заказать салат можно?"

Although the phrase молодой человек literally means "young person", it almost always refers to a young man. In restaurants and other service or professional settings this is the word we use to get the attention of a male individual.

If we want to get the attention of a female individual, especially in a restaurant or other service or professional setting, we usually say девушка. It's true that in English it would sound quite rude to get someone's attention by loudly saying "Girl! Girl! Come here!" But in a Russian restaurant, it would be very commonplace to hear someone get the attention of the waitress by saying, "Девушка! Девушка! Иди сюда!"

Russian Cultural Differences

Difference like these show us why it's important to study the cultural aspects surrounding language use. Translations are a good start, but putting that vocabulary into practice develops a completely different skillset.


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