Russians Bearing Gifts
Observing my husband-to-be and me in the first flush of romance, my mother observed that “you haven’t been loved until you’ve been loved by a Russian.” She wasn’t speaking from first-hand experience (as far as I know) but she saw what I had been feeling for weeks — the depths of the Russian heart laid bare.
(Caution: sweeping generalization follows.)
Russians feel deeply and express it lavishly. Passion, anger, melancholy, joy — there are no half measures. I saw it the moment my husband danced into my life 11 years ago (yes — danced — but that’s a whole other post). And not just romantic love — it’s there in the bonds of friendship and family, too. When my husband and small son made our first family trip to Russia, we were welcomed warmly into homes in every city we visited. From Moscow to St. Petersburg to the relative wilds of Chelyabinsk, we were fed and fussed over, transported to and from airports at ungodly hours by friends who wouldn’t let us take taxis. Our son was cared for so my husband and I could wander the Hermitage freely. Tables were set with special china, soups and blinis and meat patties were made by hand and served with love.
The hospitality was like nothing I’d ever experienced. Russians are wonderful hosts — but as houseguests, they are spectacular. Remember those lessons your mother taught you about how to behave in someone else’s home? Never come empty-handed. Offer to help in the kitchen. Tidy up after yourself. Russians elevate these basic courtesies to an art form.
They bring their own bed linens and towels. It does not matter how many times you assure them this isn’t necessary. They don’t want to trouble you with their laundry.
They clean your house. Seriously. (If this is a commentary on my housekeeping, so be it. I’ll take the implied criticism in exchange for a clean bathroom any day.)
They bring food. No… they really bring food. I’m not talking about some fancy-pants box of store-bought pastries. They cross your doorstep laden with sweet wine and vodka and enough food to feed an army, most of it made from scratch.
We just had Russian friends up to the house for a country weekend, and this is what they brought:
- Six pounds of pork, three pounds of short ribs, six pounds of chicken wings — all perfectly marinated and grill-ready
- Fifty or so home-made cream puffs (who makes cream puffs, and who makes 50??)
- Two and half pounds of homemade oliv’e, also known as salade russie, also known as the most unbelievable potato salad you’ve ever had
- A pound and a half of homemade Georgian bean salad (Russian, not southern U.S. Georgian, a cuisine I’d love if not for the evil omnipresence of cilantro)
- Too many tomatoes and cucumbers to count
- Four varieties of smoked kielbasa and three different cheeses
- Many quarts of mixed olives (lost count)
- Loaves of fresh-baked Russian brown bread, warm and steamy in their bags
- One whole watermelon, the size of a large toddler
(By the way, this was to feed five adults and two children. And the kids only picked.)
And yes — they brought their own linens.
Russians may not have the world monopoly on good manners and warmth, but the ones I know have certainly taught me a thing or two about selflessness and generosity.
Especially the one I married, which I’d probably do well to remember a bit more frequently.