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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

You Just Can't Break Custom Of Hospitality

One of the more pleasant sides of Russian life is its many kinds of holidays. There is New Year's, Christmas, birthdays or simply parties on certain occasions or without any occasion. Guests will inevitably appear -- either planned or spontaneous.


For planned guests, you have to prepare dishes, send people out on errands, draw up a list of those invited, cut up and put together all kinds of salads, and when the guests arrive, you are ready to collapse as you accept gifts from your guests with trembling hands.


Spontaneous visitors are somewhat less taxing. You can get away with serving them beer and nuts, and after a half hour turn everyone out saying what a hard day you've had.


But Russians aren't in the habit of running off after a cup of tea. Indeed, even the cup of tea has a very particular meaning here. Who ever said that after tea there couldn't be some borshch, then a couple of cutlets ? la Kiev, then just some plain old cutlets, then a half-chicken, then a portion of dumplings, and after that, something sweet for the tea?


The Russian relationship to meals is extremely traditional. My mother simply doesn't understand how a meal can go without soup. I once tried to convince her that not only could you go without soup, but you could do without a big meal in general, and instead just have a hot sandwich. Or cold.


It's no use fighting with mothers and tradition, though, and as soon as the holiday season arrives, it's better to accept the inevitable and simply go on a diet and get ready for a massive attack on your stomach. Because you'll never get away with a light buffet or just appetizers in a country with a tradition of offering bread and salt when first greeting guests.


Once I wanted to change tradition and prepared just a couple of salads, stuck a spoon in the middle and hoped that my invited guests would appreciate the novelty and be occupied more with the company than the food. But after some time, they started staring at what they took to be a quite empty table and clearly thought that I had gone out of my mind. Within half an hour, a leg of veal was roasting in the oven and I managed to get some extra chairs from the neighbors.


Perhaps there's nothing bad in such traditions except their consequences. However warm and friendly the evening promises to be, as a rule, it always ends with two things. First, preparing the food always knocks the host out and second, relations with friends are always spoiled.


A full table always requires complete hearty cheer. The single necessary condition for such cheer is spirits and, quite obviously, the greater the quantity, the more the merriment. At a certain moment, however, the merriment gets out of hand and starts to turn into debauchery. All this normally ends with having to sort out relations, tears and mountains of dirty dishes.


On the one hand, there is moderation in everything, and you should always know when to stop in time. On the other hand, it's as impossible to stop a fast-moving train as it is to break with the tradition of hospitality.


But the constant unhappy endings at the table lead me to think that there must be some kind of golden mean. If only I could convince those around me of this.