Tonight was our first night celebrating with friends. We were invited for supper at friends of Andrey’s. All of them are old school friends and he was very excited to see them again.
I had to get used to Russian customs. I was thrown into the deep end and not a lot of things were explained to me. Here are some of the things that I’ve noticed and learned in the early days.
* Kissing on the mouth is reserved for your husband/wife/mother/father/sister/brother. They kiss on the cheek 3 times alternating. Close friends pat each other on the back and hug. Back in South Africa we always kiss on the mouth. South Africans also hug a lot and I enjoy a good old hug! I had to get used to the kissing-on-the-cheek-thing!
* When you enter the house of a person you need to take your shoes off. In the hallway you will find slippers. You take a pair or walk on your socks inside the house. This was also strange for me because we don’t do it in South Africa. I like the idea because it keeps the house clean. I can also understand why they do it because of the snow and rain.
* Now the most interesting thing was the coat. When a lady needs to take her coat off she doesn’t do it herself. She slips the coat off her shoulders and the man will take the coat off and hang it up. When you want to put your coat on, you stick out your arms and the man will slip the coat back on again. I found this practise extremely charming! You do feel like a lady.
* When you are invited for a meal you have to bring a small gift. We took a bottle of Vodka. Interesting they always protest to accept a gift, but when you tell them it is just a small little something, they accept it gladly.
* Arrive on time or no more than 15 minutes late.
* You have to dress up in your office clothes. It shows respect to the host when you dress up. I enjoyed enjoyed dressing up. The women in Kaliningrad (and all over Russia) dressed very stylish. The hair, make-up, clothes, shoes and stockings are immaculate.
* Never give yellow flowers. It is a sign of leaving never to return.
The get-together was held in an apartment not very far from us. We took the taxi. It was cold and it felt really great to enter the warm apartment. We were the guests of honour and all his friends were waiting for us.
The first 20 minutes was chaos. I must admit I found it very difficult not to being able to communicate. I love talking and for the first time in my life I had to sit and watch people, without saying a word. It was also tiring for Andrey because he needed to translate everything and in between I also had questions to ask!
What I found most fascinating was the contrast between the people in the street and the friends here in the apartment. I have mentioned before that the people in the street are not friendly. But here amongst friends it was the complete opposite. It was almost like being in another country. I got a glimpse into the life of the Russian people. Much later I understood why and I discovered it had all to do with the word “trust”. Nobody trusted anybody.
It was time to celebrate. Now let me tell you something what it is like to celebrate with a group if Russian friends. I know a lot of people in the world think that Russians in general are alcoholics. Vodka is the culprit and people drink themselves to death. Sadly in some places it is true and some men drink themselves to death. But I don’t agree with the statement that Russians in general are alcoholics. It is not true. Some Russians don’t drink Vodka at all and a lot of women prefer to drink wine.
The table was layered with food. Meat, salads, fish, potatoes, gherkins, tomatoes slices, lettuce, cucumber bread and offcourse, Vodka. I couldn’t believe all the food. A meal with friends lasts a couple of hours. You dish up a little bit of everything. Russian eats a lot and they drink a lot. But what people don’t know is that you eat a lot in order to drink a lot. That way you don’t get drunk.
We took our places and then it was time to toast the guests. Now I love the Russian toasts. You have many toasts during the evening and people always say “Nasdarovia!” and lift their glasses. They wanted to know how we’ve met and we had to tell them our love story many times. “Love” is a very important word to the Russian people. They like to see people falling in love and being together. We toasted many times during the night. They were toasting for our “health”, “love”, “future” you name it and all the wishes came from the heart.
It was an amazing dinner and I felt sad when we left the apartment. I have never received so much hospitality than here tonight amongst strangers. It was a very special evening and one that will always have a special place in my heart.