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I was having a conversation with my friend who has been toying with the idea of living in Tokyo, and I said:

It's all very well going all starry-eyed about life in Tokyo, but you'll land back on your feet once the novelty wears off. Tokyo was the first city in Japan where my girlfriend lived, and she's had her fair share of hectic days there before moving to Kyoto. She says Tokyo is "a place to visit" – and yes, those are air quotes.

When you hear someone say Tokyo is "a place to visit", you could be forgiven for thinking they are speaking positively of Tokyo as a great city/place worth visiting at least once in your life.

In this specific context, however, my girlfriend was actually implying sarcastically and pejoratively that Tokyo is "a place to visit, (not to live in...)" – an unusual turn of phrase which departs from the usual interpretation of the phrase "a place to visit".

In English, the expression "air quotes" comes in handy to jokingly point out that a quoted word/phrase was originally said with irony or sarcasm and its meaning is not to be taken at face value. The air-quoted phrase is accompanied by a two-finger gesture mimicking the shape of imaginary quotation marks.

I'm not sure the concept of "air quotes" itself even exists in Russian to begin with, but how do Russian speakers express this idea?

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  • As i understand question, "" is valid in Russian as well.
    – vmsT
    Aug 3 '18 at 18:02
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    the pun on a place to VISIT (not to live in) in fact undecuts the use of air quotes, because the air quotes imply that it's not even a place to visit... to express this pun in Russian one would need devices other than air quotes which do have their equivalent Aug 3 '18 at 19:44
  • Tokyo is an OK place to live, WTF is "wrong" with you both? (yes, those are air quotes)
    – Headcrab
    Aug 7 '18 at 3:27
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Unlikely a similar Russian expression with the word 'quotes' (like в кавычках) can be used to express the given sense. В кавычках, used in a judgement just after a sense-carrying word, directly (and in a bit agressive form) denies the whole judgement. In the context of the question (worth visiting, not living there), the translation could be like this:

Она говорит, что в Токио обязательно нужно побывать, но только "побывать".

A real gesture, suitable for a joke here and replacing the part after comma, could be something like imitation of walking in both directions (going to/from Tokyo) with two fingers on a table.

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There is an expression "в кавычках"--"in quotes", meaning what you want, but the exact gesture, and so, the exact translation, isn't known in Russian (culture).

So your translated phrase would read (like @Баян Купи-ка rightly points out):

Она говорит, в Токио нужно побывать обязательно -- в кавычках.

It's known Vladimir Mayakovsky showed (air) quotes once -- by lifting his arms bent at an angle -- << >>, but the gesture isn't popular or even fairly well-known.

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  • so in Russian the sentence will look like Она говорит, что в Токио нужно побывать обязательно... в кавычках. Aug 3 '18 at 19:39
  • Actually, air quotes seems to be rather well-known. I know lots of people who use it and even more that know it (but don't use). Though I think there is no proper name for the gesture.
    – Alissa
    Aug 6 '18 at 11:58
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    What, in Russian? I'm not surprised people know the English expression, of course.
    – yury10578
    Aug 6 '18 at 18:14

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