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Author Topic: How to be a Guest  (Read 36721 times)

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Offline ECR844

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Re: How to be a Guest
« Reply #15 on: August 01, 2009, 07:05:49 AM »
"Mendy,"

Would it be possible for you to touch on the customs and expectations about the gift giving for family and relatives at a first meeting? What are your thoughts on the paradigm of  expectations, perceptions and 'value' of the gifts? At what point is the newbie expected to make that leap from the simple initial gift to the more intimate and expensive ones?

Offline mendeleyev

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Re: How to be a Guest
« Reply #16 on: August 01, 2009, 08:19:41 AM »
- Forget about the "carbs"--at least for now.

Dacha life is really good to me. In the two weeks we spent at our summer dacha just recently I had the good fortune to drop 11 lbs. A constant diet of fresh vegetables, fruits, nuts and berries really recharges the body.

We did have fish from the river but not at every meal. Of course a Russian table always has bread. At every meal bread is present.

What is bread in Russia? Everything.

That is not an empty statement. In Russia and Ukraine, bread is the most important foodstuff. Bread is a notion of hospitality. Bread is life. A Russian proverb says: "Bread is the head of everything."

Most bread in Russia, unlike bread in the West, is loaded with nutrition, brimming with vitamins and minerals. You can feel from its weight that there is more to this bread than just some processed flour.

In a Russian home, without bread there is no breakfast, no lunch and no dinner.


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хлеб и соль (bread and salt) is the traditional way of greeting guests in Russian tradition and while your hosts will not meet you in traditional costumes with a literal bread and salt presentation for your visit, the idea is the same. You are a guest and as such have been invited to break bread and enjoy their hospitality.

Even if you don't eat bread normally at home, you should here when a guest. Its not just on the table "in case" or as filler, bread is truly part of the meal. Sometimes butter is spread over the bread and then topped with caviar (very tasty!) or perhaps with butter and then a slice of cheese or with a slice of fresh cucumber or a sliced pickle.

Eat up! When Russians share their bread with you, its a sign of acceptance.




- Smile when it means something.

Undoubtedly you've heard that Russians don’t smile. That is not totally true and so perhaps an explanation is in order.

Usually all it takes is to be confronted by just one or two unfriendly or disengaged Russian sales clerks or airline employees and the stereotype that Russians seldom smile is forever burned into your memory.

Russians are well aware that they don't smile often, as do Americans, for example. That doesn't bother them either. In fact, excess smiling in Russian culture means that you're up to something.

Now this is not a tutorial on how to walk around frowning and appearing to be depressed. We'd be speaking truthfully in saying that Russians are surprised to learn that we Westerners think they frown all the time!

When asked about Americans and why we smile so much of the time, Russians find it difficult to reconcile the idea of politeness with smiling or even friendliness with a smile!

Russians smile when something brings them pleasure or makes them happy. They do not even think of a connection between a smile and being friendly.

For us from the outside, it's easy to nod and smile at a complete stranger on the Metro. That person however may be wondering why you've targeted them and what is "up your sleeve" so to speak. Now true that as more and more Westerners have brought our non-stop teeth flashing smiles to the FSU, the residents here have grown used to our oddness and aren't as puzzled about it any longer. But that doesn't mean they're about to do the same.

You may notice too that when Russians do smile they don't like to show their teeth. While we wonder if they do so out of fear of revealing bad dental work, the truth is that Russians equate broad smiles with full teeth exposure to be similar to certain zoo animals that do the same! Russians fear broad smiling with generous exposure of teeth as a sign of something fake, like candy.

In summary, a Russian smile will always have a reason behind it that is clear to everyone present. That’s why excess smiling in Russia is a sign of insanity. A Russian smile accents the mouth lines and dimples, but minimizes teeth.


[ Guests cannot view attachments ] Lovely Slavic smile!


Russians have idiomatic expressions about smiling, such as: Идеалом русской женщины является неулыбчивая женщина. That is translated as “a perfect Russian woman is an unsmiling woman.” Now allow me to translate that more literally into a phrase more easy to understand. It means "the ideal Russian woman is a woman who isn't insane!"

That is good to know when you notice that your friend isn't smiling. Unless you sense that something is wrong, she's probably "normal" and that is a comforting thought!  :)


So, should you try not to smile while in Ukraine and Russia? Well, smiling is so ingrained in our culture that no matter how hard you may try, this is something you'll do from habit.

So rather than tell you to change, hopefully this is encouragement to help you understand the implications of your smiles...and also to help you understand what it means when a Russian does (or doesn't) smile back at you.


Just keep an eye out for Russians who smile excessively. They're either crazy or up to something!  :chuckle:

"Here's smiling at you kid!"

Offline patman67

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Re: How to be a Guest
« Reply #17 on: August 01, 2009, 08:46:43 AM »
Mendy, I am truly enjoying this thread...and you are answering a LOT of questions before they are asked.

On smiling...when I was in college, FSU (no, not THAT FSU, the one in Tallahassee, FL) had an exchange program with Moscow Art...I made friends witha few inner city Moscow Russian guys who wanted to do something "very American"...so we took them to Mardi Gras! Needless to say, that was quite an experience for all of us!

A few weeks later, one, Vladimir, having returned to the USSR (this was still in the Soviet era), sent a letter to one of my friends...he told us, since returning to Moscow, he and Iggy were constantly being given hard stares from everyone, including the police...seems they were still experiencing some euphoria from their experience, and couldn't get the "sh*t-eating grins" off their faces....everyone thought they were up to something!

Thanks again for the great posts :bow:...keep 'em coming! ;D



Online shakespear

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Re: How to be a Guest
« Reply #18 on: August 01, 2009, 12:26:21 PM »
Kvas is better than beer, it is at least not bitter  :) I wonder more not that people drink kvas, but when people drink beer. Or smoke, or drink any kind of alcohol - it's all not tasty, not healthy, but people still doing it a lot. 

So let's see. . . . . . . .

According to your opinions, people should give up   :scared0005:

1)  sex before marriage

2)  beer

3)  smoking

4)  drinking any kind of alcohol

 :bow:

Brass, life as you know it is about to get pretty dull   :ROFL:
"If you obey all the rules, you miss all the fun" - Katharine Hepburn

Offline alenika

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Re: How to be a Guest
« Reply #19 on: August 01, 2009, 12:44:23 PM »
According to your opinions, people should give up   :scared0005:

1)  sex before marriage
- I never said this :-) I was saying that people should be free and do what they wish to do. While you are saying that they necessarily have to sleep with anyone. Exaggerating your words of course :-) But all what we (mendeleyev, Rasputin) were saying in other topic is that this is personal choice of couple when they decide to have sex, and it was you who was saying they have to do it during first 5 dates no matter what. What I say is to have only one rule - "have no rules" when are in search for life partner.

2)  beer -
------ hm it's matter of taste. I said it's not tasty and bitter. It is really bitter, isn't it?

3)  smoking
------ yes, better to quit of course :-) But until person doesn't hinder me, I don't care :-)

4)  drinking any kind of alcohol
------ again - I said it's not tasty, not teling anyone what they have to do.

Brass, life as you know it is about to get pretty dull   :ROFL:
------- why? Are you going to tell him and other men here again what they have to do and how they have to live which is going to lead to dull life?  :smokin:

You have interesting reading skills. Did you use Ed assistance to understand my (RW) writing in this way?  :innocent: If so - don't use it anymore, he is not capable to see all RW  :P
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Offline alenika

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Re: How to be a Guest
« Reply #20 on: August 01, 2009, 02:09:28 PM »
Chill out Alenika -
I was just "pulling your (and Brass's) chain" a bit
I am pulling yours  ;)
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Offline ECR844

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Re: How to be a Guest
« Reply #21 on: August 01, 2009, 02:11:04 PM »
"Mendy,"

Would it be possible for you to touch on the customs and expectations about the gift giving for family and relatives at a first meeting? What are your thoughts on the paradigm of  expectations, perceptions and 'value' of the gifts? At what point is the newbie expected to make that leap from the simple initial gift to the more intimate and expensive ones?

I'm still curious to hear some of the more experienced and expat folks opinions on this. I think it could lead to some valuable insight for the newbies and the experienced alike.

Offline alenika

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Re: How to be a Guest
« Reply #22 on: August 01, 2009, 10:26:24 PM »
Alenika, Mrs. Mendeleyeva encouraged me to kick the cola/soda habit (successfully). KVAS is not a cola, and she says that KVAS is healthy, almost like a nutritional drink. Do you think the same?
Yes I think the same :-) It is healthy if done in the correct way. Those in bottles are not always good though. About kvas being like beer - depends how long you keep it. The best is to put it in fridge very soon, when it is like just carbonated drink, without alcohol. Actually that alcohol drink some describe above is a spoiled kvas (spoiled juice would taste similar for example), normal kvas is mild and tasty. Better to do it yourself. We do kvas at home sometimes, but not classical one from rye bread, we do it from beets with adding yeast (and sugar) as don't have anything better than that here in Georgia. Where mom came from they did yeast themselves too.
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Offline mendeleyev

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Re: How to be a Guest
« Reply #23 on: August 02, 2009, 12:15:58 AM »
Quote
"Mendy,"Would it be possible for you to touch on the customs and expectations about the gift giving for family and relatives at a first meeting? What are your thoughts on the paradigm of  expectations, perceptions and 'value' of the gifts? At what point is the newbie expected to make that leap from the simple initial gift to the more intimate and expensive ones?


Eric, sorry wasn't trying to ignore you and thank you for the question.



- Gifts on the first visit.

Some of you have read the story of our engagement and marriage and know that a young lady named Оксана (Oxana) had a role in helping me understand how traditional courtship works in the FSU. Oxana was a very lovely girl herself and was my assistant at Moscow's Radio Mayak when I was posted in Russia.

It took some effort but after getting to the point where I was granted the first visit to my potential girlfriend's home, I asked Oxana what to do about gifts. The advice received from Oxana was priceless.

Here is what she advised:
1) You are a guest and should bring nothing more than what is appropiate for any guest. Forget about courtship and concentrate on being a good guest. Don't over-do it on the first visit.

2) Since your lady friend is an adult you will bring her a small gift, but you must mirror that for her mother. No matter who owns the home or who lives in the home, the oldest female relative is considered the "hostess" for the evening.

Following her advice I took a modest flower bouquet for my lady and a similar but slightly smaller bouquet for her mother since they lived together. A moderate size box of Belagian dark chocolate was also planned and since I knew that a friend of the family would drop by I included a very small box (2-3 pieces) of chocolates for the friend.

As her father had died when she was a teenager I didn't have to take a gift for a male on the first meeting.

In later meetings with her extended family I would take modest gifts for cousins and aunts and small things for the children. American chewing gum was not as plentiful then as it is now (it still makes a good child gift) and one of my daughters shipped me some Disney ink pens/pencils when she knew I needed some things for children. But those things were not for the first meeting.


It is really important that men do not try to play Santa Claus. I've heard of guys buying lingerie for a first visit. Totally presumptuous and culturally inappropiate in my opinion, as would be jewelry, etc. Those are okay once you've established a face to face relationship and are moving forward in your plans to be together. But if you walk into the first meeting acting like an international diamond dealer, then what do you offer on the second, third and fourth meetings?

There is also something else which is important. What you are doing is really a balancing act of international diplomacy. Eventually you may wish to take this lady off to your home country so you don't want to make it difficult for her family to participate in the "diplomacy" process.

Here is what I mean by that: Diplomats woo each other. They exchange not only information but also gifts and tokens of appreciation. So if you walk into her home on the first meeting with a diamond tennis bracelet for your lady, a pearl broach for Mama, a gold watch for Papa, and new skateboards for the children, then what are they, on perhaps limited incomes, supposed to do to show their appreciation?

All you've said in the situation above is "look, I have more stuff than you do so that makes me the hero."

Russians don't like that kind of hero and if your girl does, you've got not a future marriage partner but a future asset protection issue about 2-3 years down the road.

When it comes to gift giving, for a Russian courtship to work, you need to allow her family the ability to reciprocate. So if your gifts are "over the top" then you have shut her family out of the process. You'll lose a good girl this way because the only way she can save face for her family is to end the relationship. You'll win a gold digger this way and never know the difference until you and your divorce lawyer are knee deep in....


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Imagine the poster above reading "man who is patient and doesn't over-do gifts wins the battle!'

Okay, that isn't really what it reads but the idea is about being patient and strong in the air to win.

Offline jb

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Re: How to be a Guest
« Reply #24 on: August 02, 2009, 06:16:56 AM »
Mendy,

I totally agree on going easy on the gift giving idea, especially at the beginning.

Funny story on my side, but you would have to have made trips to the FSU more than 10 years ago to appreciate it, I had been to Russia and had watched women struggle to open tin cans with those old WWII style "punch and swing" can openers.  I had arranged for a flat where I would do some cooking to save myself a little money, to that end I bought a nice KitchenAid geared can opener at WalMart before I left home. (prolly less than $10).  One evening I was entertaining my lady, (now wife) and she saw me open a can of something with the Kitchen Aid.  

Between the can opener, and the large double pack of Skippy Extra Crunchy peanut butter,  I think that's when she truly fell in love.  On subsequent trips I made sure every female in the family had a nice new can opener for their kitchen.

Initial gifts do not need to be large or expensive, just thoughtful.
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Offline ECR844

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Re: How to be a Guest
« Reply #25 on: August 02, 2009, 09:49:16 AM »
"Mendy, and JB,"

Thanks for the thoughts. I had a bit of an atypical situation the last time around and I treated it as such. Additionally over the years I've heard of a wide variation of thoughts on it but rarely from those who have spent a lot of time there. I think the insight you both have provided has been invaluable.
Thanks

 

Offline mendeleyev

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Re: How to be a Guest
« Reply #26 on: August 02, 2009, 10:27:18 AM »
JB, we had a similar experience in that I had been forewarned about can openers to took one (manual, but nice) in my things for moving. My first landlord provided a once per week housekeeper who did 3 things for me:

1- Cleaned the apartment.
2- The laundry. I would have done it myself but she refused to show me how to use the confusing washing machine.
3- Steal anything not nailed down.

It wasn't long before the can opener had disappeared and of course the housekeeper had no idea what had happened to it. So for a short time I had to endure the kind you mentioned until a replacement could be sent. The replacement was discovered by my future wife and so new replacements needed to be acquired!  :chuckle:

I ended up having to repack all loose small items like batteries, medicines, books, etc, back in suitcases and putting the little locks back on just in order to keep my things from walking out each week.

About a year or so later I did find some nice kitchen things at a very nice shop along Kutuzovskiy Prospect.

Offline mendeleyev

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Re: How to be a Guest
« Reply #27 on: August 02, 2009, 10:37:26 AM »
Eric, glad to have been of service my friend.

Of course as a relationship progresses the level of gift giving can change, but I usually caution against it changing too much because there must always be the ability for her family to contribute back your direction in order to feel like this is a equal effort with you in making their daughter happy.

This is one of the reasons why I'm personally against engagement rings for FSU ladies. They aren't expected as her culture doesn't do it, and as such it could be seen as flaunting wealth. Mrs. Mendeleyeva didn't want one and so after marriage I ended up a few years later surprising her with a nice anniversary diamond.

I know your situation more fully and you did some pretty cool things with taking foods and helping make the meal preparations more of an "international" event. That is both thoughtful and fun.

Offline fireeater

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Re: How to be a Guest
« Reply #28 on: August 02, 2009, 12:33:32 PM »
Mendy

I see some similar items that could be found in both countires concerning visiting, as well as a lot of usefull information for those not accustomed to another country.   :)

A question on Dacha's or in our word cottages, you have mentioned them twice now. From a search it seems they are more country homes with fruit and vegetable gardens people tend. Here I would naturally assume a place on the water, when I hear someone mention one.  Are these Dacha's on the water, or more likely to be just located in the countryside, and may or may not have water near them. ?


Offline mendeleyev

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Re: How to be a Guest
« Reply #29 on: August 02, 2009, 07:29:08 PM »
We've moved the Dacha posts, very interesting, over to the Russian Life 101 thread.

http://ruadventures.com/forum/index.php/topic,7356.msg109050.html#msg109050