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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

FACES: You Should Never Rush a Russian Party




After four years of working at the embassy, Kristine decided to move on. In honor of her departure, I suggested we arrange a party at my place. We decided on an open house, for Sunday afternoon, from two to six. People could come and go, in a fluid fashion, to provide maximum seating for Kristine's 33 guests.


Kristine's Russian friends inquired about this strange format: "When exactly should we come -- right at two, then leave right at six? Oh, may we come later? Then may we leave later?"


On Friday, the cleaning ladies tidied up my apartment. On Saturday, I shopped for comestibles and libations. On Sunday, Kristine showed up early with a dozen bottles, California rolls and a single can of anchovies.


"What are you doing with that?" I asked, thinking Kristine was going for a replay of the loaves and fishes scenario. She whipped up a paste with the malodorous contents of the can and smoothed it onto crackers. Irina also came early to help us get the living room -- the main theater of action -- into shape.


The clock struck two. There we sat, the three of us. The first guest, an American woman, arrived around 2:30. Then came Petya, followed by Frank. The other guests -- all Russians -- trickled in at 3:30, 4, 4:30: professional women Kristine had met while traveling in Turkey; the furrier who created Kristine's hat; a television executive; a basketball coach; a painter.


At first, the guests stood around the table, tasting the cheeses, pecking at the California rolls, testing the anchovy concoction. I saw all those women in their precipitous heels and worried about varicosity. I finally coaxed most of them to sit down. They formed small groups, chatting quietly.


Then a metaphysical question, shouted across the room, suddenly engaged everyone's attention: Should the American president be publicly accountable for the purportedly wayward habits of his member?


This formidable subject brought the party to a boil. After the discussion cooled, some guests nodded at the large black object in the corner of the room: Would the hostess play a number for us? I obliged, and in so doing learned that the best way to clear a room of Russian men is to play a Chopin nocturne. Those worthies fled to the kitchen, where they camped for the rest of the evening.


Kristine and I had girded our loins for an onslaught of guests, but only about a dozen people showed. The general couldn't make it. Natasha's boyfriend accompanied her to the door but didn't come in because he's shy. Yelena was at the dacha. The toasts to Kristine's happiness were many and florid. The anchovy creation was a big hit. The St. Agur cheese was not. And, like all true parties in Russia, this bash ended in the kitchen, with the guests sipping coffee and philosophizing.


The stragglers left around nine, hours after the fete was to end. Pleasantly exhausted, Kristine and I cleared the table and collected the empty bottles. It had been a very open house but, we agreed, partying in Russia should never be rushed.


Helen Womack is on vacation.