While using buses and marshrutkas as a means to reach point B from point A, I often hear drivers being addressed as "шеф" or "командир", as in:

Командир, возьми за проезд!


Шеф, до вокзала едешь?

Where does this tradition come from and is this way proper to use (i.e. would the driver be offended if I address him like that)?

  • 1
    I can't prove it so not posting as an asnwer, but I believe it's just a contraction of шофёр, akin to капитан -> кэп.
    – Quassnoi
    Commented Jun 20, 2012 at 17:39
  • 1
    @Quassnoi: Шеф can be used to informally address any man, not just a driver. Commented Jun 20, 2012 at 17:43
  • 2
    @PhilipSeyfi: командир can too, but it's much more common among the drivers.
    – Quassnoi
    Commented Jun 20, 2012 at 17:44
  • Good question! :D I was called командир a few times when taking passengers in Ukraine and I found it quite endearing.
    – z7sg Ѫ
    Commented Jun 20, 2012 at 19:51

4 Answers 4


A taxi, and particularly a bus driver, is the "chief" or "commander" of a small mobile unit with a lot of "horsepower."

Such a driver is also responsible for the safety of several passengers. At least in New York City, this person is "in charge" not only of the vehicle, but everyone that is in/on it at any given time. A bus driver has the right to ask a passenger to move (to balance the vehicle) give a seat to a handicapped person, or do other things that make vehicle safer. Assaulting one carries extra penalties otherwise associated with assaulting a policemen.

Any Russian speaker in the city would understand why such terms are used.

  • Take into account that the majority of adult men in Russia have served in the army and this theory sounds very plausible indeed.
    – kotekzot
    Commented Jun 20, 2012 at 19:19
  • 2
    I disagree with last sentence. For a native speaker your explanation would be one of guesses, not understanding. Some people also simply never address drivers in such way and find it clumsy/rough/uneducated. Commented Jul 3, 2012 at 15:12
  • @OlegV.Volkov: I didn't say that "anyone" would use these terms. I said that anyone would understand why OTHERS use them.
    – Tom Au
    Commented Jul 3, 2012 at 15:31
  • @TomAu, that's second point. Once again: I, native speaker, do not understand why others use them, I can only guess why and your explanation is just one of many possibilities. Commented Jul 3, 2012 at 15:33

I think it is inappropriate and offensive to address a driver like this for a well-mannered person. So, answering your question, I doubt you can use it as a proper way unless you want to look like последнее быдло.

Consider universal way: "Извините, вот деньги за проезд, возьмете?" или "Скажите, эта маршрутка доедет до воказла?"

  • 2
    "Извините, вот деньги за проезд, возьмете?" is way too servile.
    – kotekzot
    Commented Jun 27, 2012 at 22:34
  • What if paying for the ride is optional and taking money is up to the driver? Commented Jun 27, 2012 at 22:38
  • It is generally a bad idea to put yourself in a position of mixed expectations like this, but if you must something like "Спасибо, что подвезли, возьмите за бензин" would be more appropriate and not put the driver's kindness in question.
    – kotekzot
    Commented Jun 27, 2012 at 22:51
  • i am just ranting, but the point is not to use familiarities with people you don't know Commented Jun 27, 2012 at 23:10

it's short for шофер (chauffeur)


Just a version:

Отечественная психология полагает вождение автомобиля занятием истинно мужским, суровым и связывает с ним легенду о дружбе, взаимной выручке и прочих хемингуэевско-ремарковских ценностях. Соответственно этой легенде и обращались люди друг к другу.


Domestic psychology considers driving to be a truly masculine occupation, harsh, and associates it with the legend of friendship, mutual assistance etc... People addressed each other according to that legend.

  • Not sure that it answers the original question, but an interesting quote nonetheless! Commented Jun 20, 2012 at 19:11
  • 1
    @PhilipSeyfi probably because the second part of the quote was untranslated: "People addressed each other according to that legend".
    – kotekzot
    Commented Jun 20, 2012 at 19:15
  • @kotekzot: I've read the whole article in Russian, but still don't feel like it answers the question. Why exactly is it the word шеф that is used, where did it come from? Commented Jun 20, 2012 at 19:22
  • @PhilipSeyfi It's from the French "chef". en.wiktionary.org/wiki/%D1%88%D0%B5%D1%84
    – z7sg Ѫ
    Commented Jun 20, 2012 at 22:09
  • @z7sgѪ: Well yes, obviously... but how and when did it start to be used to informally address other men? Commented Jun 20, 2012 at 22:56

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