Be My Guest: Become a guest in a Russian House

Be my guest
Becoming a guest in somebody’s house is a pleasant experience, especially if that ‘somebody’ has a distinctive culture, different customs and a different language. You will not only be able to indulge yourself in some exquisite homemade traditional food served by your host, but also immerse yourself in a new culture.
Russians have long embraced the concept that “the guest is a king”, which means if you are invited by them, there will be a guarantee that you won’t starve or be treated inappropriately. They will serve you as much food as they can cook to make sure that your tummy is full.
Am I kidding? No, I am not.
Some of you might believe that Russians are cold, closed-minded, gloomy, unfriendly, introverted, and all that jazz. Or that they won’t ever invite you to their house as you are just foreigners. That might be true for some people, but for others it is not.
Concepts about guests for Russians are quite different from that of other western countries. Russians will only invite a person who they think is qualified to be a guest. How, then, does a person qualify as a guest? As a rule, personal relations matters much in this case. So, if you are invited by Russians to come to their house, congratulations! You’ve just become someone important to them, whether it’s relatives, friends, or even boyfriends/girlfriends. Ahem..

What do you need to do if you go to a Russian’s house?

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  • Bring something for your host. It’s not a compulsory and it’s not a rule that you need to adhere to, but, to be honest, this has become an unwritten code of conduct for guests in Russia. Big and luxury gifts are not needed, although they won’t refuse them of course. Some wine, cheese, snacks, sweets or flowers are appreciated. Be wise in choosing the things (especially food) you will bring, because you will need to eat some of them as well while you’re there.
  • Don’t forget to make an appointment with your host in advance. Because, as I told you before, Russian hosts are very dedicated to their guests, they won’t disappoint you with food and they will prepare the best they can to make you feel welcome. So, don’t make your host wait – let them know when you are coming and please let them know 10 minutes before you arrive and knock their door as well.
  • Remove your shoes! Russians won’t ask you abruptly to take off your shoes. They will give you a pair of tapochki or slippers, so you can remove your boots and change into them. Honestly, I hate when somebody comes into my house and forgets to remove their shoes. 🙁 Ewww…
  • Offering some help to your host when they are preparing your dinner is considered polite. Just offer – it doesn’t matter whether they accept or not. But, in 99% of cases, they will, undoubtedly, refuse.
  • Prepare your empty stomach. If possible, stay away from food on the d-day because you will need to eat, eat, drink, eat, drink, and eat again. My experience as an Indonesian who is used to eating only one kind of dish at a time was really unforgettable. I needed to force myself to sup the soup, swallow the meat along with the mashed potatoes, and finish it with some snacks, sweets and a cup of hot tea. And that was nothing! It will be more if you are invited to their New Year celebration. The main rule is: eat what your host has cooked for you!
  • You don’t drink Vodka? It doesn’t matter, they will change it to mors (berry juice) or kompot (non-alcoholic sweet beverage made from fruit). Russians are very tolerant – they won’t force you to eat whatever you can’t or don’t want to.
  • Take whatever they give you. In this case food. As an Indonesian, I certainly won’t ever refuse that. 🙂
  • Go home before you get drunk, or, if they ask to stay – they really mean it. Some Russians, despite the size of their apartment, are friendly enough to accommodate you if you are not able to go home because it’s too late, or because you are too drunk to drive. But, don’t be surprised if you get a bed in the kitchen or maybe have to sleep with one of the family members.
So, are you ready to be a guest?

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after party
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