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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

The Art of Eating and Sitting Well

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????-????: a smidgeon, a little bit (to a guest); full to the brim or edge of the plate (to a host)

Ah, the holiday season is upon us. Trees are decorating the squares, streets are lit by flashing lights, and you are planning to max out your credit cards and happily eat your way to mid-January. If you'll be in Russia, prepare for some serious partying. The Russian version of a good party is ????????, a simple but packed word that means "the act and art of sitting around the table": a long evening around a table laden with food and drink, filled with toasts, stories, conversation and jokes. This is very different from the American holiday cocktail party that is anathema to Russians: two hours of standing around trying to balance a plate of finger food and glass of egg nog while making polite chitchat with boring strangers. ???? ?????! (God forbid!)

If you are the host or hostess for a traditional ????????, it's good to know the dinner table lingo. First, you have to pry the guests away from the canapes in the living room and get them to the table. ????? ??? ? ?????! is the polite phrase for "Please be seated." Then you will have to urge them to dig in. I've never figured out why guests sit staring at platefuls of salads and platters of ??????? (starters) with hands frozen in their laps as if they were vegans at a barbeque. ??????????! (Please help yourself!) you say encouragingly. The shy ones can be cajoled with the very polite and slightly coquettish ????????? ?? ???? ???????????? (May I serve you?) Among friends, you can pick up the serving spoon and their plates and say, ????? ??? ????????? (May I put some on your plate?) With family, you can simply say, ??????? ??????? (Pass me your plate) and start piling it on.

Then there's the fluid concept of ????-????. As we all know, ????-???? means "just a little bit," but when you are a host, you are supposed to pretend that ????-???? really means "as much as I can load on your plate before you shriek."

If you've done your job in the kitchen well, once guests finish the first round, they'll be ready for more. ????? ??? ??? ????????? (May I give you some more?) you ask. With friends, you can be blunter: ??? ????? ???????? (Who wants seconds?) One of my friends just asks: ????????? (Literally, this means "Shall we repeat the process?") After a few rounds of this ritual, when you try to ply your guests with yet more food, they will show the universal sign for "If I eat any more, I'll explode": hand on protruding belly, expression of horror on face. ??, ??? -- ?????? ?? ????. (Oh no, I can't eat any more). Or the more explicit: ??????. (I'm full.) Or the pained: ???????. (I'm stuffed.)

At some quiet point in the evening, someone may sigh contently: ?????? ?????. This phrase comes from the movie ??????? ??????? (Autumn Marathon) and literally means "We're sitting well." What it really means is: I'm having a wonderful time -- the food and drink hit the spot, the company is delightful, and I wish this could go on forever. If you hear that, you know your party has been a success.

At the end of the evening, someone will undoubtedly make motions to help you clean up. Your role is to turn down the offer indignantly: ?? ??? ??! ? ??? ??? ????? ?? ??? ???????! (Good heavens, no! I'll clean this up in three seconds!) It's a tribute to the Moscow Art Theater tradition that everyone pretends to believe this blatant lie. But as you slowly wash and put away hundreds of pieces of china and silverware, at least you don't have to worry about cooking for awhile. When your significant other innocently asks, ??? ????? ??????? ?? ????? you know the answer: ???????! (Leftovers!)

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