Thirty Three Streams, Not Counting Minor Splashes

by Marinka on November 16, 2009

It happened a lot more when I was younger, but invariably, whenever someone first learns that I was born in Russia, they’d ask me for Russian curse words.  At first I was all coy, like “I don’t know” and “I’m not really sure,” but then I started to become more bold. “Durak,” I would say,. Stupid.   Everyone was disappointed.  Because unless you’re Amish,  stupid is not a curse word.

I got over it eventually and for a while when people asked me, I’d say “huy” and “blyat”.  Trust me, they’re curse words.

But then people try to pronounce them and although I purposely picked the shortest curse words that I could think of, they just can’t get the sounds right and what follows is some kind of The Miracle Worker re-enactment with my rendition of a very cranky Annie Sullivan.

So I’m back to the “I don’t know”s.  Because I don’t have time for speech therapy.  Besides, it’s not the words themselves, it’s the Russian expressions.   So awesome.

For example: tridchat tri struyi, ne schetaya melkig brizgov

Which translates to thirty-three streams, not counting minor splashes.  If I tell you that it refers to explosive diarrhea, do you get an image?

So descriptive! So evocative! No wonder the Russians own the classics.

And this is what writing my memoir, excuse me, my MS has been like.  I started writing about my kindergarten experience, and I called mama to confirm a few minor details, like that I was commuting from Leningrad to Auschwitz  daily, and instead of filling in the few gaps, mama says, “I hope you will find it in the heart to forgive papa and me.  We did best we could.”  And I’m all, “look, this isn’t a Mommy Dearest expose,” jotting down notes for a follow up blockbuster Mommy Dearest expose, “this is a humorous memoir about my life in Russia.  The only problem seems to be that I can’t remember anything, and Oprah gets all weird about that.”  (Although seriously, when a drug addict retells in minute details shit that no normal person would remember, it’s time to take it with a grain of salt, where the grain of salt equals the size of Oprah’s bank account).

So mama makes a few more snide remarks how she and papa weren’t as wise and Husbandrinka and I, and then I ask her why she sent me to that hell of a kindergarten and she says, “we decided that your nanny wasn’t appropriate anymore!”

Which is fantastic news and I’m imagining the books hopping off the shelves by themselves and Oprah braiding my hair extensions.

“Because she molested me, right?”

“Idiot,” she says.  “This was in Russia, people didn’t have time for molest.”

Great.  Another way that communism has screwed me.

“By the way,” I ask her.  “That tridchat tri struyi, ne schetaya melkig brizgov is that just a general expression in Russian or is it just something that we say in our family?”

“No, when have diarrhea, and it’s coming out fast, you say tridchat tri struyi, ne schetaya melkig brizgov,” Mama explains. Even though I already know what it means.
“Yes, I know what it means,” I tell her. “But is it just a family saying that you’ve passed on through the generations or if I go to Russia and tell someone this, they’ll know what I mean?”
“What you mean? You think our family have discussions about diarrhea with private language? No, everyone knows this. Including Putin. So if you are in Russia, you can talk about diarrhea with everyone.”
“Cool,” I said, jotting it down.
“Just do me the favor. Don’t name your memoir tridchat tri struyi, ne schetaya melkig brizgov. It makes childhood sound bad.”

Bad, but accurate. Or at least evocative.

One year ago ...

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{ 26 comments… read them below or add one }

SubWife November 16, 2009 at 10:03 pm

LOL! I have never heard this expression, but I loooove. it. Thank you for a good laugh.


Donna November 16, 2009 at 10:03 pm

Ha! I used to teach Russian to college kids, and the single best motivator was to promise them that once they all mastered the dative case, I’d teach ’em a swear word. Worked every time. But no, I never heard this expression before. So I guess now I’ll have to buy your book to learn more. Write on…


rachel November 16, 2009 at 10:43 pm

I’m thinking of sending my kids to school in Russia, because, you know, I’d hate to deprive them of these kinds of evocative expressions and experiences. Their exposes mean my leisurely retirement!
.-= rachel´s last blog ..No Regrets =-.


Kathy November 17, 2009 at 3:30 am

So funny! I have only learned one word in German, Scheiße! I asked my teenage daughter if there are anymore ! Cause I’m originally a Jersey girl and one swear word won’t cut it. She said that is used for every swear word out there! REALLY ! So a phase like that in Russian might word here cause clearly there is a swear shortage.


November 17, 2009 at 8:08 am

This? Officially became my most favorite post of yours. The list is long but this is at the top because OMG can I relate.

Which is another reason why I would make THE most awesome PR rep for you. I will get you that spot on Oprah and she will be braiding your hair extensions once she hears from me.


Lindsey November 17, 2009 at 8:37 am

I used to work for a company where 90% of the people were Russian. Only thing I picked up was (I’m spelling how I would say it) DAS and DOBRE DIEN.
I think it was Yes and Hi how or you or good afternoon. That’s it after 3 years…
.-= Lindsey´s last blog ..Zaberisms =-.


CSY November 17, 2009 at 8:52 am

I barely made it thru high school Spanish and now Russian? Will there be a test on this later?
.-= CSY´s last blog ..My Weekend =-.


November 17, 2009 at 9:37 am

Why, no, I’ve never heard of this expression in Russian before, but thanks for bringing it to my attention with such emotive imagery.
.-= Vicki´s last blog ..NaNoWriMo: Day 15 =-.


Marinka November 17, 2009 at 9:39 am

Seriously, you’ve never heard it? Would you mind calling your parents and asking them? It’s ok with me if you want to wait until Thanksgiving dinner to bring it up.


Irina November 18, 2009 at 4:46 pm

i grew up in Russia… never heard it… but my family is kinda uptight… we didn’t talk about those things… molesters didn’t exist either, except for the one that followed me every day from scholl… yep…


Maelstrom November 17, 2009 at 9:46 am

Marinka, is your mother sure on this? And are you sure that doesn’t mean “three streams” rather than thirty-three (tritzetze tri)? I’m getting confused here. I would like more of these lessons please.


Jen November 17, 2009 at 9:49 am

I sort of wish I had an excuse to go to Russia and use this expression now.
.-= Jen´s last blog ..I like you so much that I would read a bad book for you =-.


November 17, 2009 at 10:29 am

Looking at Putin’s face, I think he has many 33 streams going on.


MarathonMom November 17, 2009 at 11:50 am

When you get stuck I think you should work on a chapter about that movie Spies Like Us. That was the most Russian culture we got growing up in 80’s Texas. I think I am gonna netflix that for the holidays….
.-= MarathonMom´s last blog ..On the road =-.


Roshni November 17, 2009 at 1:03 pm

can you please do a vlog and repeat that whole phrase as a special Thanksgiving treat for us?!?!
.-= Roshni´s last blog ..The Bose Clan =-.


November 17, 2009 at 1:23 pm

I posted this on Facebook. I had to share my new knowledge with the world. Or at least my FB friends.


Sophie November 17, 2009 at 3:19 pm

I am SOOOOO going to survey my russian friends. Only problem is, I can’t pronounce that sh*t (scuse my russian), so i’ll have to email it to everybody, or better, post it as my facebook status line.

All in favor say Ay.


Amy @ The Bitchin' Wives Club
November 17, 2009 at 3:53 pm

You will definitely corner the market on humorous Russian memoirs! 😉

My SIL is Russian and the only word that I hear constantly from her is zhropa and pissoon. At least one of those is associated with the 33 rivers, right?
.-= Amy @ The Bitchin’ Wives Club´s last blog ..RTT: I got nothin’. Nothin’ but beautiful days and juvenile daydreams. =-.


vodkamom November 17, 2009 at 4:26 pm

A little Russian fella in my class a couple of years ago told another little boy that he was going to hell because he had an earring in his ear. I was MORTIFIED and said WHAT????? He said, “Wait. That’s if you’re gay. Nevermind.”

Best Russian kindergarten story I got. 🙂
.-= vodkamom´s last blog ..Breakfast at Tiffany’s…sort of…. =-.


Gray Matter Matters November 17, 2009 at 6:29 pm

Crap. Well this explains why I don’t have a book deal. Damn my parents for raising me in an entirely ordinary suburb and not saying cool poop phrases to me.
Although there was a fair amount of Yiddish spoken at home, but that was mostly so we couldn’t understand. Oy.
.-= Gray Matter Matters´s last blog ..You say Oedipus Rex, I say Oedipus Rocks! =-.


SubWife November 17, 2009 at 7:34 pm

You and your 33 streams. It figures that right after learning this new phrase, I got a stomach flu. The very next day. hope you are happy. Btw, I asked both hubby and parents, and neither heard this phrase before.


Marinka November 17, 2009 at 7:40 pm

Yes, this is wonderful news, I am so happy! Please let me know if there are complications!
I don’t understand why your husband and parents are lying to you. Obviously, there’s some kind of a conspiracy against you. I’d be very careful.
.-= Marinka´s last blog ..Thirty Three Streams, Not Counting Minor Splashes =-.


anna see November 17, 2009 at 8:45 pm

having just come off the flu, i can relate to this little phrase. thanks for giving us words to evoke this lovely experience.
.-= anna see´s last blog ..And This is Progress? =-.


the mama bird diaries
November 17, 2009 at 10:06 pm

i’m totally working that phrase into my love making.

ok, now i just grossed myself out.


Heather, Queen of Shake Shake November 18, 2009 at 4:34 pm

Who cares about Russian curse words. Payton keeps bugging the piss (how to say that in Russian?) out of me to teach him some Russian words. This is after we’ve exhausted my limited knowledge of German, all of which I learned from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

What Payton wants to know how to say in Russian is cicadid, which is an insect. Can I call you for proper translation?
.-= Heather, Queen of Shake Shake´s last blog ..Decorating with Slave Labor =-.


kristine November 18, 2009 at 10:28 pm

I hope you really are writing a book. I would read it in one sitting. love it.
but whoever said there is only one swearword in german was misinformed. just by the by.


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