Russian Phrase of the Day: как свои пять пальцев-like the back of your hand

This week’s posts are dedicated to my dear friend Booya.

Booya was a native москвич (muscovite) as were almost all of his ancestors. But man, for someone who had such deep roots in Moscow he DID NOT know his way around the city at all. But of course, he loved to claim that he did.

An old advertisement for the zoological garden: “Like the back of your hand you will know the animal world in the zoological garden. Open daily”

See, I had three months when I arrived in Russia in 2004 to do nothing so I bought myself a map and every day I would chose a metro station, went there, went out to the street and explored the area. So I knew Moscow pretty well.  It was funny, people would always stop me on the street and ask me for directions and I always knew EXACTLY where things were but because of my accent they didn’t believe that I knew what I was talking about.  They’d start to doubt me and I’d finally say, “Ну ладно, как хотите” (Fine then, do what you want). Booya would doubt that I, a foreigner, could possibly know my way around better than he, a NATIVE muscovite, so we too argued a lot about directions.

Booya had a soft spot in his heart for idioms and phrases.  He’d either translate a Russian phrase directly into English or he’d look it up in his little dictionary of Russian and English idioms and say something that always ended up sound hilariously obsolete.

With Booya shortly before he lead me astray in search of Kitay Gorod.

So one day we were walking around the center of Moscow and we were arguing about how to get to Kitay-Gorod from Red Square.  I knew exactly how to get there but of course he felt the need to show how deep his Moscow roots ran.  As we wandered further and further away from where we need to be he kept assuring me, in English, “No, I know Moscow like my five fingers”. I explained to him that “как свои пять пальцев” translates to “Like the back of my hand” in English. But he just ignored me and wandered further west towards Arbatskaya.

I came to love this about Booya. He took himself so seriously and hated to admit when he was wrong. So I came to just sit back, relax and follow him around whenever we would go out together.  When we would start to wander up and down streets Booya would look all around nervously but still trying to act like he knew precisely where we were, I always knew we were lost because I knew Booya как свои пять пальцев.

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