Getting Rid of Guests

Восвояси: back to whence one came, back home

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As we start to gear up for the long holiday season, it's time to go over some Russian departure etiquette at parties. The scene: A friend's apartment, where 10 people are sitting around a table covered with tea cups, wine and vodka glasses, fruit and dessert. Time: 3 a.m. General mood: sated, drunk and exhausted. You've discussed world and domestic politics, gossiped about mutual acquaintances, complained about the cost of living and shared fears about the economic crisis. The conversation has petered out and the thought of sleep begins to fill your alcohol-addled brain. Finally, someone stands up and says the three little words you've been longing to hear: Все по домам! (Time for everyone to go home!)

In Russian, going home isn't linguistically or culturally complicated, but there are a few quirks and nuances. In this context, по домам means "each to his or her own home," and the verb has been left out. If you feel the need to insert a verb, try расходиться (to part, go off in different directions) or, less commonly, уходить (to leave). Мы разошлись по домам в четвертом часу (We all went home after 3 a.m.). Всем пора уходить по домам (It's time for everyone to go home). If someone in your party is no longer capable of getting home on his own, you can use the verbs везти (to drive) or, less correctly but more expressively, доставлять (to deliver). For example, a newspaper article promises: В новогоднюю ночь милиция будет доставлять пьяных по домам (During the early hours of New Year's, the police are going to deliver drunks to their houses).

At most Russian parties, a curious thing happens once everyone starts putting their coats on in preparation to leave. The guests get their second wind. The host and hostess, wilting with fatigue, stand in the foyer as their guests launch into long and complicated tales about their trip to Istanbul last summer. At some point, someone will take pity on the exhausted hosts and guests sweltering in their coats and declare: Уходя -- уходи! (If you're going, go!) Or: Не бойся гостя сидящего -- бойся гостя стоящего! (Don't fear a seated guest -- fear a standing one!)

For us foreigners, the best thing about the other two common going-home phrases is that they do not require the usual mental gymnastics to specify person and number. The handy word домой (to home) can be used for any person or group of people. If you were the host or hostess of the late-breaking party, once everyone finally leaves, you can take off your shoes and sigh: Наконец-то! Все ушли домой! (Finally! Everyone has gone home!) If you are the tired guest, once you get out on the street you can whine: 'очу домой! (I want to go home!)

You can also use the phrase к себе (to one's own place), an efficient little phrase that can refer to anyone's place of residence, be it a rented room or a suburban mansion. Ты едешь к родителям? Нет, к себе (Are you going to your parents'? No, I'm going to my place.). Они поехали к себе (They went home).

And then there is a wonderful old-fashioned word: восвояси. It's an adverb that was originally three little words: въ своя си, in which своя is the accusative plural neuter of "one's own" (with "home" understood) and си is an intensifier. The phrase means "to the place whence one came" or "to one's home." You usually find it in fairy tales or high-toned literature. After the hero has gone off to slay the dragon or enemy troops, он отправился восвояси (he set off for home).

Or after the heroine has slain a bottle of vodka and six helpings of everything, она отправилась восвояси (she headed home).

Michele A. Berdy is a Moscow-based translator and interpreter.