Socializing With Russians: СDonТt Try to Understand Ц Just Feel ItТ
- By Frank Ebbecke
- Jul. 21 2009 00:00
Russians are a reasonably superstitious tribe with centuries-old customs: for example, don’t reach out your hand to greet your hosts as soon as the door opens across the threshold, first step in. Make sure you slip out of your street shoes and don’t whistle as that might mean there will be money problems in the house. Make sure you bring a gift — as small as it might be — some chocolate, a bottle of wine, a toy for the kids, a scarf for the babushka, something — it’ll be the gesture, the individual idea and not the monetary value that is appreciated. As a reward you’ll experience overwhelming hospitality, you might even think sometimes that they can’t afford all these goodies. The table will be overloaded with the best you can imagine to eat, just try the amazing variety of handpicked, pickled mushrooms and gherkins, the fresh vegetables from their own “dacha” garden, their weekend home out of town, the fresh-made blini accompanied by all kinds of wild berries or even by fresh black, orange, red or green caviar. The champagne, wines and fresh juices will be inexhaustible. Be prepared to listen to endless stories, quotations from Russia’s big, dearly beloved writers and poets (Russia traditionally is a nation of readers), from Pushkin onwards, and enjoy most of all the toasts with all the drinking. Everybody should drink at the same time; by the way, avoid raising your glass and drinking just on your own. The later the hour, the more the vodka, the longer the toasts get and the more emotional they become. A vivid example: “Vodka is poison, poison is death, death is sleep, sleep is health. Let’s drink to our health.” And no, don’t smash the empty glass against the wall behind you because of your own and everyone else’s accelerating enthusiasm: it’s a myth that this is a Russian custom.
But one custom that is real is an invitation to the traditional banya. A total body and soul cleaning process, something like the famous Finnish sauna but hotter than hell. Every Russian just loves it, there are plenty of public ones in the residential areas of every city and a banya hut can be found next to almost every dacha in the country rather than a garage. If you are in Moscow, don’t miss the Sandunov banya institution — a feast for the eye, for your outer and inner well-being, even the right environment for doing some confidential business. It first opened its doors in 1806 and the original, largely unchanged interior architecture and decoration dates back to 1896, making you feel like you are in a the town residence of nobles. If you also enjoy the ‘wine and dine’ offered there, merely dressed in a signature towel, it’s easy to forget about time. Be sure that the farewell will be long with a lot of hugs, kisses and utmost best wishes. All together a private event, which is for sure, the best way to dig a little deeper into the legendary Russian soul.