Dinner with your Russian Friend: What do you do?!
Cross cultural barriers and be a polite guest
After staying in Russia for a few weeks, you will undoubtedly make friends with a few locals. As the Russian people are generally friendly and gracious hosts, it is likely that you will be invited to their home for dinner. Their parents may even be around! You have mastered the metro, improved your language skills and were just getting confident with life abroad. Now there is a new challenge! If you come prepared, dinner with a Russian family will become a highlight of your trip.
Do not enter the home empty handed
Typically, Russians go ALL OUT when inviting a guest to their home for the first time. It is the least you can do to bring something along as a thank you. If you have any gifts from your country, that is going to be the most popular gift with your host. Chocolate, wine and flowers are a safe alternative. However, do not bring flowers in even numbers! There is an old superstition about this, as even numbers of flowers are presented at funerals. (Remember this tip if you are going on a date as well).
Take your shoes off
Russians do not wear their shoes in the home. Everyone in the household will have their own pair of slippers and the host will likely offer you a pair as well. Put them on!
Be prepared to over eat
Your host will want to provide for you! You will be asked if you need more food on your plate more than once and your cup will never be empty. Tea and dessert will follow. It will be impolite if state that you “just ate” before arriving or do not appear to enjoy the meal.
When food or drink is offered to you it is expected that you say yes. Even if you really are not that hungry or thirsty, its common practice to accept the offer. If you are driving or do not consume alcohol, your guest will honor this. Although you will not get out of drinking water, coffee or tea with them as an alternative! Additionally, do not feel obliged to sacrifice any dietary restrictions you have. Vegetarianism and veganism are becoming more common place in Russia’s big cities, so more families will understand your preferences. As for allergies and food intolerances, they will work around you. It is polite to mention any restriction to your host when you are invited. If they went out of their way to accommodate you it is especially important you try what they present you.
Do not schedule dinner on a busy day
The host may still be cooking when you arrive. There will be dessert and tea time afterwards. As with any family hosting an international friend, they will be excited to hear about you and have you in their home. Rushing out, especially without finishing food or tea, will end the dinner on a sour note. Leave extra time for chatting and pleasantries. It has been a great time, don’t blow it now!
Going to a local friend’s house is a wonderful way to connect with Russian culture. Don’t let it pass you by!
Sam Cramer is currently studying Russian at Liden and Denz