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Russians Bearing Gifts

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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.

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Categories: Family, Russians Tags: ,
  1. alison k
    August 24, 2009 at 12:35 pm

    I am fascinated by your Ruskies. I have been deeply immersed in my own Russian hell for the last three years. Where are these Russians you speak of? I have new hope as I was begining to believe this was a horrible culture. This is after endless encounters and one of the most endless (three months) house guest. I am jealous. My Russians show up at all hours of the night, expect to be picked up with out any notice. They stay weeks at a time and do not contribute a dime a morsel of food nor lifta finger to help clean anything. Not even a fork. Expect to be driven around like I am a taxi. I have not had more than a piece of gum offered to me after I allowed thee people to be a part of important holidays. Which I did not invite them too. I am glad you set me straight as I was really begining to believe that this group were rude and narcissistic. Can I come to our country house? I will bring my own sheets. Nice job ms stephanie always a pleasure to read your bits!

    • ssmirnov
      August 24, 2009 at 12:45 pm

      First of all, stop looking at my bits (c on the p.) Second of all, I am SO sorry you’ve fallen in with the wrong group of Russians! Third of all, my house is your house because I luvvv you. And you don’t have to bring your own sheets.

  2. akennedy
    August 24, 2009 at 5:05 pm

    I cant help it i love your bits ( c on the p will never not be funny! ) Seriously I love reading all our twits and blog- it is like virtually listening to your brain- and I know personally how hilarious you are….. thank you for the luuuuuvvvv. I must be part Russian -mixed in with my upper east side Irish becasue I would bring sheets, food, probably whiskey , not vodka, games, etc .

    Oh yeah- on a diffrent note completely agree with the Don Draper question you posed.. he is now a PR maverick…its a blurred line.. why is he so hot?

    You are the best! let’s read the blog about the Russian dancing into your life- I bet that is a good one!

    I will be in Ny in Sept. lets try to see eachother!

    XXXXX

  3. Jessica Gottlieb
    August 24, 2009 at 8:00 pm

    They brought their own linens?

    Can I convert to Russian. My Great Grandmother was Russian. Can I say I’m very Russian and I need you to bring linens when you stay. Preferably with a hint of rosewater in the rinse?

    • ssmirnov
      August 24, 2009 at 9:57 pm

      If you continue to be nice to me Jessica Gottlieb I will personally transport pounds of marinated meat to your door the next time I’m in L.A.

  4. the mama bird diaries
    August 30, 2009 at 10:15 pm

    wow. that is amazing. i’m off to find some russians to invite over.

  5. October 7, 2009 at 6:22 am

    Yep . . . you’re so right. I go to an Orthodox church that is very near the Russian embassy, so a good number of people going there are Russians. It’s really interesting dealing with Russians. I’ve always been fascinated by Russia, and part of my heart lies there, even though I’ve never been there physically.

  1. October 16, 2009 at 6:58 am

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