Sometimes Russians may say something that sounds so strange that you cannot – even though you know the meaning of all the words in the sentence they just uttered – for the life of you understand what they mean. An example is the famous expression «да нет» [‘yes no'] which I up until a couple of days ago always thought was closer to «да» than «нет» but I was wrong. When Russians say «да нет» what they really mean is «нет». For example: «Ты пойдёшь завтра в кино?» [‘Are you going to the movies tomorrow?] «Да нет, не пойду» [No, I'm not going].
But an even worse situation could occur when you’re a beginner at Russian or just a regular newbie in Russia and someone says to you: «Давай возьми!» What on Earth do they mean? Let’s try to understand by taking a closer look at these two words: «давай» is the imperative form in singular from the imperfect verb «давать» [to give] and «возьми» is the imperative form in singular from the perfect verb «взять» [to take]. Logically, the sentence «давай возьми!» should be translated as ‘give take!’, but let’s remind ourselves of the fact that the imperative form «давай» can also mean ‘let’s’ or ‘come on’ in Russian. Thus, when a Russian says this to you they are in fact not asking you to give them anything, but wanting you to take something from them. For example: «Давай возьми ещё кусочек тортика!» [Come on (go on) and take another piece of cake!]
Have you noticed that Russians say «мы с тобой» [‘we with you'] when what they really mean are «я с тобой» [‘I with you']? Once you get a hang of it and understand that the «мы» in the expression «мы с тобой» doesn’t mean ‘we’ as in ‘the person speaking plus other people not present at the current moment’ but actually only two people – «я и ты» [I and you], things will move very smoothly in Russian daily life. What can be tough on the beginner is the first time you meet someone with whom you are «на Вы» and they say – with only the two of you present at the time – «мы с Вами» [‘we with You']. You might begin to wonder “Who are all these other people?!”, but do not worry, they’re only talking about you and themselves – in plural. The first time this happened to me I started to look around me for these ‘other people’ but it, of course, turned out to be a fruitless search.
But there is another expression that truly ‘takes the cake’ as Strangest Russian Expression: «Лапшу на уши вешать кому-нибудь». Yes, what does that expression mean? Let’s break it down word by word. «Лапша» means ‘noodles; noodle soup’ [in the expression this word is in accusative: «лапшу»]; «на уши» (note that the stress falls on the preposition here!) means ‘on the ears’ since «уши» is the plural form of the word «ухо» [ear]. The verb «вешать» means ‘to hang; hang up’ and is imperfect ‘partner’ of the ‘verb couple’ that has the perfect verb «повесить». The expression’s last word, «кому-нибудь», is dative and means that the ‘somebody’ in this context is an indirect object. So, what do we get? “To hang noodle soup on the ears of someone”? Yes, as a matter of fact that is the complete translation of this expression. But does that make any sense? No, I’m afraid not. That’s because what it means has clearly very little to do with noodles, maybe it has something to do with ears, though, since it means ‘to fool somebody’ and ‘to lie to somebody’. The ‘fooling of someone’ and ‘lies told to someone’ in this expression is not first and foremost just untruthful, but more of a tricky and humorous character. I can’t seem to think of a proper English variant, maybe someone else has any idea?
I’ve asked many Russians about the origin of this expression and received different answers. The most probable – perhaps because it is both culturally and historically interesting – is that the word «лапша» in itself is an ‘exotic new thing’ since it arrived in Russia only in the early 1990′s and was for a long time something ‘foreign to Russian culture’. Hence it was (maybe still is?) something that one can hang on people’s ears – figuratively speaking – when telling lies to them.