A Basic Primer on Russia: Lesson One

by Marinka on September 13, 2008

Since Sarah Palin is qualified to lead the free world because Alaska is spitting (or shooting) distance from Russia, I thought that I would inspire a new generation of world leaders by sharing some thoughts about Russia. Because I was born there, in the 1960s, during the Cold War (brr). And I’ve lived there for nine years. And apparently, like Paris, Russia is a moveable feast, because the things that I took out of Russia are still with me, lovingly reinforced by my parents and their Russian friends.

So read these Russian basics, and get involved! Your country needs you.

1. Tapochki: This is the foundation of Russian society. It means slippers. When you enter a Russian person’s home (and the fact that my family has lived in the United States for over thirty years doesn’t make us any less Russian, of course), you are accosted by tapochki. Everyone must wear slippers while indoors. If you wear your outdoor shoes, you are uncivilized and if you walk around barefoot, you are an animal. Stocking feet? An animal in socks. Don’t make me go all “lipstick on a pig” on you, ok?

2. Fashionably late: This concept does not exist in Russia, so don’t even try it. If the invitation says 7, arrive at 7. A college friend who spent a semester in Moscow was constantly amazed that when she’d show up at 8:30, all the Russians were already there, drunk and the food was mostly gone. She started to catch on after a few months. On this side of the ocean, my parents and I have had the mortification of knocking on someone’s door at 7:01, apologies ready for the tardiness, only to have them meet us in hair curlers. Like The Bloggess.

3. Vodka: You must drink vodka. In obscene quantities. While you are drinking vodka, you have to tell everyone that you respect them, in a continuous loop. “I respect you, Sasha”. “And I, too, Boris.” No one understands why everyone respects everyone else, or why they will shortly confirm that respect with vomit.

4. If your guests want to leave, don’t let them. So let’s say you arrived at the party, dinner, whatever, at the appointed time. Your feet are tapochkied, you are having a lovely time.

“Well, I better be going,” you say, after a few hours.
“Please stay,” your hostess pleads.
“Maybe for a minute,” you agree.

This conversation will repeat itself many, many times. Begging your guests to stay is as Russian as vodka and caviar, so don’t fight it.

It was a rude awakening for our family when we were invited to our first Passover Seder in New York and my father started to make Getting Ready To Leave noises and our hosts shot up, said “Ok, good night!” and practically changed into their pajamas in a nanosecond. My parents were outraged.

“Did you see how they couldn’t wait for the us to leave?” My mother complained.
“People are rude,” my father agreed. “Americans have no manners.”
“Well, you did say ‘It’s been so nice, but we have to go now’,” I tried the Voice of Reason on for size.
“What does that have to do with anything?” My parents were generally perplexed, as though I was speaking in tongues.

Oh yeah, that’s another thing. In Russia, tongue is a delicacy. Even kids eat it. Suddenly, the “large quantities of vodka” is starting to make sense.

One year ago ...

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{ 31 comments… read them below or add one }

Mama Ginger Tree September 13, 2008 at 10:55 am

Thanks for the tips. I think I would fit in quite well in Russia, except for the eating tongue thing. Ew.

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Vodka Mom September 13, 2008 at 11:01 am

oh jesus, I think I’m russian.

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Aunt Becky September 13, 2008 at 11:57 am

I’m fairly certain I’m Russian now.

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Neil September 13, 2008 at 12:07 pm

I married a woman from Odessa and during our wedding, we had drinks and appetizers, and two entrees, and side dishes, and wine, and assorted cakes, and chocolate on the table, and different coffees you could order, and a twelve piece swing band, and a kletzmer band, and a bellydancer — and afterwards my wife asked her mother how all her Russian family and friends liked the wedding, and she said “Eh, not festive enough. And no food!”

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Marinka September 13, 2008 at 1:33 pm

I love how everyone is Suddenly Russian!

Neil–that sounds about right. Why did you try to starve them like that?

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Kate Coveny Hood September 13, 2008 at 1:47 pm

Love the new look!

Always a lesson here…I suppose Russians don’t like small talk?

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anymommy September 13, 2008 at 2:48 pm

I feel prepared, should I ever visit again. I was in Moscow in 1996. I think I broke all the rules, but the vodka thing I had down. Oh and no one convinced me to try tongue until Bulgaria, where it was sneakily hidden in an omelet. The horror.

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Madge September 13, 2008 at 2:48 pm

i think we are all on board with #3.

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Sonya September 13, 2008 at 5:48 pm

LOL, that tongue thing….

I went to the U.S.S.R in the summer of 1990 for a People to People student exchange. I was 16 and giddy to be FAR away from my overly controlling Mormon parents. Sadly, my strongest memory of that trip is our arrival meal of fish head soup and warm flat Pepsi.

Oh yeah, and the interesting “toilet” at a dance we attended. Low flat basin with grid marks for you to stand and squat. SO not what my fully Americanized beauty conscious self was looking for!

But hey, I got away from my parents for a full month!

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Heinous September 13, 2008 at 7:52 pm

Although Ukrainian, my great grandmother swore by her vodka every day. She lived until 103. I’m just hoping that the same works for whiskey as well.

I can’t get into the whole slipper thing though. I must be terribly uncivilized.

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MomMega September 13, 2008 at 8:37 pm

Love the new digs! Isn’t Christy the best?

Hmmm…In my family, the first thing we do when we get home is put on slippers (we are Mexican). My husband is ALWAYS barefoot at home and it makes me cringe!

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Insta-mom September 13, 2008 at 8:43 pm

I failed Russian with #1. I’m never happier than when my feet are totally naked.

Love the make-over. Tres chic!

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Kylie w Warszawie September 14, 2008 at 12:07 am

This is totally my life! Unfortunately, I do not carry my tapochki (I actually do not know what the Polish word is, because everyone I know always calls them house shoes. It’s cause I’m American.) with me and usually wind up in stocking feet. Most people just accept that I am an American and uncouth. My kids have to have these house shoes for school too. And we have shoe covers for the parents when we drop off our kids.

And the tardiness, it’s difficult when you are moving around the world. In Ghana it was totally acceptable to show up 3 hours late to a party. Here, no. What kind of heathen are you? The invitation said 7. YOU MUST BE HERE AT 7!

Don’t tell the Poles that I compared them to the Russians:). There’s some bad blood there as I understand it.

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Quart September 14, 2008 at 3:33 am

Thank you for the primer. I’m forwarding it to Sarah Palin.

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Z September 14, 2008 at 3:39 pm

Great primer. Very useful. (And the slippers thing? Also applies to China. Or at least, my in-laws. Apparently, I’m a heathen. Whoops)

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Me September 16, 2008 at 2:19 pm

A Russian man worked on my house this summer, I paid him and gave him a bottle of Vodka as a tip.

I think I’m his daughter now.

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WA September 17, 2008 at 8:11 am

Damn my Norweigian blood and the lack of material my family gives me. You can only make so many jokes about blonde hair.

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heartatpreschool September 19, 2008 at 9:40 pm

I love slippers! The second I get home, I always throw off my shoes, and put on my Ugg slippers. I wear them so much, I need a new pair every 6 months or so. I think I might write a post about that…

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frogpondsrock October 1, 2008 at 3:12 am

that was fun…

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Reluctant Housewife October 1, 2008 at 7:36 am

I loved this post!

Entertaining and educational – it doesn’t get better than that.

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Colleen October 1, 2008 at 8:13 am

Thanks for the info! Funny how things are so different in other countries (yes, Americans ARE rude, but so are the French – ha!). So glad this didn’t turn out to be the political bashing it seemed to start off to be.

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texasholly October 1, 2008 at 10:39 am

I love it! I think we need to start pushing these customs here. I love the anti-fashionably late one because really…who can figure out what is fashionable and what is RUDE? And the slippers. You had me at the slippers.

Thanks for linking today!

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Valarie October 1, 2008 at 11:00 am

I don’t thin I could be Russian, that whole being on time thing threw a kink into that one. 🙂

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It All Started With a Kiss October 1, 2008 at 12:28 pm

Okay, I am weird here in america cuz I bring my slippers with me when I visit homes. And I like vodka. Hmm. Maybe I’m turnin’ russian.

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dddiva October 1, 2008 at 4:00 pm

I am pretty sure I am at least partly russian- but any tongue in my mouth besides my own is for darn sure not for eating. 😉

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Elaine A. October 1, 2008 at 7:54 pm

Thanks for the lesson.

You know I wish fashionalby late wasn’t even a thing in our society because I cannot stand for people to be late, especially myself!! But obviously whoever started it wasn’t Russian! ; )

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Eternal Sunshine October 1, 2008 at 8:14 pm

I don’t think I could be Russian – mostly it’s the being on time thing. Although if I WERE Russian, I probably would be more punctual.

Very interesting post!! I lve hearing about other places.

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Jenn @ Juggling Life October 3, 2008 at 9:58 am

Just by reading this I can tell you’re more qualified than SP.

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Irina November 5, 2011 at 11:30 pm

althought i am super late, i just found this blog. and already i’m in love. My mother is Russian and we came here when I was 3. All of this is a perfect example of my mother. my mom has a pair of tapochki at her house for me and my daughter. we are not allowed to wear our shoes or bare feet. we live in texas and since i’ve been here since i was 3, i’m horribly country and want to be barefoot all the time. let’s just say that doesn’t sit well with mom. now daughter always has her tapochki on. vodka keeps me sane.

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Lindsay Comer January 17, 2014 at 11:36 am

Love these! I studied in Russia for a year in 2011 and you will be surprised to know that many Russians are running late these days.

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alexandra February 11, 2014 at 8:21 am

What a fantastic find. I began blogging in 2010, and you were one of the 5 blogs I followed when I was drawn to you by a comment you left at Heather’s. So, it never occurred to me to archive you. And archive you deep. Anything before 2010, why didn’t I ever think of that?? This, I can already see that the sense of humor you have, is one that was always there. Thanks for FBing this out, Marinka, just think: my whole morning is now something to look forward to: I’m archiving Marinka. And, Oh, Yeah… There WILL be a T shirt. xo

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