Literally "бедный родственник" means "poor relative". But it doesn't make much sense in the following context:

Что ты смотришь на меня как бедный родственник?

What does this idiom mean? And what is its origin?

  • 1
    In fact, an expression such as "Why are you looking at me like a poor relative?" is not all that unusual in English, and means exactly what has been given in answers to this question.
    – David
    Oct 18, 2018 at 22:31
  • @David Do you mean "poor relation"? I see some similarity, but still they are not the same. Something can be a poor relation, as well as someone, but the Russian бедный родственник only applies to people, as far as I understand. "Why are you looking at me like a poor relative?" - perhaps, it's OK in certain contexts. If that guy has a few poor relatives and that someone is looking like one... Personally, I've never heard the idiom "poor relative" before.
    – Enguroo
    Oct 19, 2018 at 0:27
  • 1
    In English and in this context, "relative" and "relation" would both refer to a person. I agree that "poor relation" is more idiomatic, I should have used it in my previous comment. I've never heard "poor relation" in this contect except for a person.
    – David
    Oct 19, 2018 at 1:06
  • The concept of a poor relation is common in 19th century novels. Often it was a spinster who lived with her relatives and was expected to help look after the children, make herself useful around the house, and behave in a self-effacing manner.
    – David42
    Mar 30, 2021 at 13:21

2 Answers 2


The phrase is actually quite close to its literal meaning. Poor relatives usually ask others in their family for support and help, so the phrase came to mean "someone who is humiliated, dependent on others".

Here is a dictionary source for you.

I do not know where specifically the phrase comes from, but Google's Ngram corpora show its usage as such: Usage of "бедный родственник"

With the earliest result being this almanac (Айдинг-гюнлер Альманах к 10-летию Туркменистана. 1924-1934. Юбилейнная комиссия ЦИК ТССР, 1934). The snippet is:

В собственной кибитке он чувствует себя, как бедный родственник на свадьбе у богатого дяди. Может быть, в самом деле придет время, когда его посадят на женскую половину и заставят мыть посуду и месить тесто...

which translates to

In his own yurt he feels like a poor relative at the wedding of a rich uncle. Maybe, in fact, the time will come when they put him on the female half and make him wash the dishes and knead the dough...


The previous answer is brilliant, but I would like to add that a poor relative is also shy and humble, he just looks at you and keeps silent, sits at the corner of a table or stands in the door.

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