How to Behave… at a Russian Dinner Table

 

Hope you’ve brought a gift with you: wine is welcome but so are chocolates or flowers (if giving a small bouquet, make sure there are an odd number of flowers, as even numbers are used for funerals and are considered bad luck). Never try to shake hands over the threshold – also bad luck – and don’t be surprised if asked to remove your shoes. Either bring ‘party shoes’ or be ready to accept a proffered pair of your host’s slippers.

Once at the table, keep these rules in mind:

 

  • If unmarried, never sit at the corner of the table, as superstition holds that you’ll remain forever Strawberry Cake single. Where 13 people are seated, guests will joke that two of those present are in the throw of passionate love.

  • Don’t whistle! It’s the height of rudeness, insinuating that you think the room is dirty. In addition, your good fortune will fly out of the window along with your whistled melody.

  • Try to sample a little of everything. Your hostess has gone to great trouble to prepare a feast so it’s your duty as a guest to show appreciation. Compliment all the dishes, eat as much as you can, and endeavour to clear your plate. Leaving food is considered bad form. Feel free to use bread to soak up any sauce.

  • Try not to play with your knife or spill salt—both are seen as signs of imminent bickering. Once a bottle is empty, place it out of the way, never back on the table: bad luck again.

  • When the vodka toasts begin, do your best to show willing. As long as your hosts think you’re kristall vodkaenjoying yourself, they won’t expect you to drink like a local. Men tend to be in charge of pouring drinks and will keep filling your glass until you genuinely protest.

  • Your hosts will never hint that you’ve outstayed your welcome so watch carefully for signs of their tiredness and take that as your cue to depart.

Boyar's Feast - Lacquer Box

 

Moscow’s Passport magazine hosted an original version of my article.