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Russian conversation is never trivial. Within minutes, the subject is the meaning of life and philosophical discussion. On the whole, the Russians are happy to talk about anything, but it is a mistake for a foreigner to try and make dirty jokes in mixed company. A pair of saucy knickers, intended as a jokey Christmas present from an English actress to a Russian actress, got a very frosty reception.

Rude words in regular use in mixed company include svoloch, used in the same way but not having the same literal meaning as "bastard" in English; and zhulik, meaning a crook. There are lots of other very rude words that would probably only be used between consenting male businessmen when discussing the terms of a deal, telling each other what they would do or require the other to do with each other's sexual organs before agreeing to the terms.

Sexual organs also have a direct bearing on the slang term for a "big shot" which is bolshaya shishka - literally, a big fir cone.

There is also colourful slang for everything to do with money: for instance, money in general can be called kapusta (cabbage), a million roubles is called a limon (lemon); a billion roubles is an arbus (watermelon). A shtuka is 1000 roubles, but it is also the ordinary word for a thing. This means that you could find yourself haggling in the market and saying: "A shtuka for that shtuka? You can't be serious!"

New Russians have rather boorish turns of speech or slang, such as kruty meaning "cool" (literally: tight). Whereas in the old Soviet days, the verb used for "obtain" in Russian was dostat, which carries the flavour of "managed to get hold of with difficulty", New Russians simply say ya vzyal - "I took…" When New Russians talk about getting a roof (krysha) over their heads, they are using a slang term for protection against other racketeers.

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