A small window above the main window.
Alright, you’re thinking, “why would I ever need to know this word?” Once you’ve lived in Russia during the winter you’ll understand.
Wikipedia describes the форточка as a ‘предназначенная для вентиляции’ (‘part of the window designated for ventillation) and that it’s ‘характернa для стран с холодным климатом, где есть необходимость проветривать помещение, не охлаждая его чрезмерно’ (characteristic of countries with a cold climate where it is necessary to air out the place without cooling down the room too much).
As you might know, Russians are very wary of drafts and cold air (which is why even when it’s 100 degrees outside people refuse to open windows on the steamy, stinky and crowded buses). Thus, the форточка is up high so that cold air doesn’t flow directly on you. Furthermore, in apartment buildings with a boiler system you don’t have control over how hot your apartment gets and it can get really warm. So these little форточки are very handy.
One time my friend Pasha, whom I’ve mentioned in many posts on this blog, was trying to tell me some story. But I don’t really remember why he was telling me that story or even what the story entailed because we got so caught up on the impossible translation of the word форточка.
If I remember right it was something about a bird flying in through the форточка. But Pasha didn’t know how to translate форточка and kept saying, “you know, that little window at the top that you open”. We don’t have these in America where I live so I didn’t know what he was talking about. He got increasingly more irritated when I insisted that we don’t have those in America. He kept saying, “Well what do you do in the winter when it gets hot inside?” Umm, you just turn down the heat. He was not satisfied with this answer and just got so irritated that we couldn’t see eye to eye on this matter that he just dropped the subject altogether To this day I don’t know the end of his story about the bird that flew in through the ‘little window at the top’, but I do know the moral of it: Be culturally sensitive–know what a форточка is.