Шапочное знакомство: The Russian Idiom for ‘A Nodding Acquaintance’
Шапочное знакомство (shapochnoye znakomstvo), is a Russian idiom that can be directly translated into English as ‘hat acquaintance’, but finds its idiom equivalent in the English phrase ‘a nodding acquaintance’. This idiom is used to describe the relationship that you have with someone who you don’t know very well at all. If you were to see them in the street, you would merely nod in their direction, rather than going over to talk to them. The Russian equivalent seems rather amusing to me, and in this article I’ll discuss how this idiom arose and how to use it in Russian.
History of the idiom
As you may be able to guess, the idiom is heavily linked to Russian etiquette. As was the custom in other countries, in Russia men belonging to the upper classes would wear hats, and it would be expected for them to raise their hat in greeting when they would see friends or acquaintances in the street. However, there were levels of greetings: a handshake would be reserved for friends, and a hug or embrace for close friends and relatives.
There is also another version of the idiom’s history, which explains that when visiting someone’s home, it was expected for you to remove your hat. This means that if your relationship with someone was only casual, you would not be invited to their home and therefore you would only be in each other’s presence whilst wearing hats. Thus, the idiom arose: if you have a ‘hat acquaintance’, it reflects the superficial relationship that you may have with an acquaintance.
How to use the idiom
If you want to say that you have a nodding (hat) acquaintance with someone, you can use the verb иметь or the phrase у меня. For example:
Я имею шапочное знакомство с ним (I have a nodding acquaintance with him)
У меня шапочное знакомство с ней (I have a nodding acquaintance with her)
It is also possible to change the position of the adjective ‘hat’ for emphasis. For example:
Наше знакомство- шапочно (Our acquaintance is a nodding one)
Наше знакомство было шапочным (Our acquaintance was a nodding one)
In the second example, шапочное is in the instrumental case as it follows the verb быть.
Adding idioms like this one to your everyday Russian use will sound very impressive when speaking to any native Russian speaker. To learn about more idioms that you can use, read our blog post ‘Your favourite English idioms and their Russian translations’.
Leila, currently studying at Liden & Denz St. Petersburg