It was a typical rainy morning in St. Petersburg, and Tanya was complaining about how cold it was and how she hated having wet shoes. As she was staring out the window and cursing Peter the Great for having built this city on a bog and bones, I asked her if she wanted my rain boots. She muttered a reply: Da net naverno (да нет наверно). Yes no maybe. I paused. So what was her answer, does she want my rain boots or not?
Russians have this way of answering Da Net, which from my understanding, is a soft no — a мягкая нет, in the words of my host mom. The person wants to say yes, or wouldn’t be against saying yes, but, unfortunately, has to say no. At least that’s what my host mom said. And usually, I can tell the answer from the way the person says da net. But Da net naverno threw me off. Which one is it, no or maybe? Is it a maybe leaning towards a no? Or is it a no leaning towards uncertainty? Or is it just an unsure no? Or is it one of those answers where the no means yes but they just say no to be polite? I asked my host mom to clarify and she laughed at me. “It all depends on how the person says it. Everything also depends on the situation, koneshno. Of course.” Nothing in this damn language is straight forward.
One of the reasons I took Russian is because my high school Russian teacher told me it was the easiest language to learn, because it doesn’t have all those annoying perfective, imperfective, plus-que-parfait, etc aspects of Romance languages. My high school Russian teacher was also lying out of his ass. He’s Polish, and I have a conspiracy theory that he secretly wanted all of his students to hate Russian by telling them it was an easy language and then having them painfully find out that it wasn’t so. And I have painfully found out that Russian isn’t easy. Too late to turn back now and switch back to French. I threw 14 years of French away for probably 14 more years of toiling and confusion in Russian.