When it comes to partying, no one does it quite like the Russians.
Sure, Russian ballet is dizzyingly graceful — a real triumph of the human body.
And yeah, maybe quite a few Russian writers changed literature as we know it.
Tchaikovsky? Rachmaninoff? Great composers — undeniably. No one here is saying otherwise.
Still, the real lasting legacy of Russian cultural influence comes down to one cliche that’s so true it transcends cliche: Russians’ uncanny ability to throw (and attend) a killer party.
How do we do it? Let me fill you in.
And who could forget:
(Some would say that French vodka at a Russian party is a no-no, but the truth is that we’re not picky. At a recent Russian party, many tales of service in the Soviet Army were shared. One included drinking cologne to get shnockered.)
If you’re ever invited to a Russian party, here are a few tips to get you through:
1. Arrive with flowers or a bottle of something in hand.
As the masters of Russian prose so beautifully demonstrate, we are a flowery people. Arriving with a bouquet is a sign of respect and kindness to your hosts. Arriving with a bottle basically makes you part of the family.
2. Be prepared to eat — a lot.
Every meal starts with a few cold dishes. One of the most famous and traditional is olivier salad (pictured below), a sort of potato salad with peas, carrots, egg, and sometimes ham.
We also are very big fans of caviar, or, at the very least, salmon roe on buttered bread.
You will also almost certainly be treated to pickled herring, likely served “under a mink coat” of grated beets, egg, and onion. You might even find cold chicken drumsticks or chicken in aspic (holodetz).
Go slow, as this is just the beginning.
3. Be prepared to drink — a lot.
This one is kind of a no-brainer, but there are some unique things that will happen here. First, you’ll notice that your fellow partygoers will all take turns saying “a few words.” If your turn comes around, don’t be shy — just say something about how thrilled you are to gather with such lovely people and how you should do it more often. If the occasion you are celebrating is a wedding, engagement, birthday, or otherwise generally happy event, make sure you wish the new couple/child/pet health and happiness. If you actually know the person in question, share a touching anecdote. (If the occasion is a somber one, such as a funeral or divorce, don’t clink shot glasses. It’s bad taste.)
The key to keeping up (literally and tactically) is to take a bite of something after every shot. This is called the zakuska, or “afterbite,” as it literally translates to.
Your best choices here are either something pickled, some form of bread, or perhaps a piece of tongue from the meat platter.
4. Dress to impress.
This one probably should have been at the top of this list, but I did a few shots before sitting down to write. (Here’s to you, comrade!)
If you don’t own a tuxedo or your suit is at the cleaners, feel free to throw on your most badass t-shirt. But be prepared for the inevitable badass t-shirt battle that will go down. (Caution: This tactic should be employed only when visiting your closest Russian friends. In fact, maybe you should stay away from this unless you’ve served in the Soviet Army. Yeah, probably better to leave this one to the real Russians [pictured below].)
If you are a woman…
… it doesn’t much matter what you wear or do, since you are not as important as the man and will likely be objectified and put in charge of making dessert and cleaning up.
(Although it’s not entirely untrue.)
(THE PART ABOUT HOW YOU WILL BE TREATED, NOT ABOUT HOW UNIMPORTANT YOU ARE!)
(No, but seriously — Russians are very traditional about their gender roles: Men work and party, and women do everything else.)
(Except get respect.)
(Unless they’re real pretty.)
(Luckily for you all, it’s as I said.)
(We’re not very picky.)
(And we’re always drunk, so…)
How about that dessert, huh?
5. Be prepared to make a night of it.
Perhaps it has something to do with the psychological implications of rationing throughout the Soviets’ reign (it’s more likely that Russians just like to party), but we don’t like to end things until the last drop of alcohol has been coaxed from its bottle, and all the cigarettes have been smoked … even if you don’t smoke.
As a kid, I remember hearing the adults dancing to Alla Pugacheva until 3 or 4 in the morning. And that was on a typical Saturday night. If the celebration you are attending is New Year or a birthday party, forget about going to sleep before the sun comes up.
Editor’s Note: This post got away from me a bit. My parents were kind enough to throw Katie and me a little wedding celebration last weekend for all the friends and family that couldn’t make it to Costa Rica, and it was a distinctly white-linen Russian affair. With this post, I intended to provide a serious rundown of Russian entertaining customs — as recently observed — but then I saw the t-shirt photo and had to go and make a mockery of my own people. I hope that the kindness, camaraderie, and unique customs of my ethnicity come through a bit more earnestly in future blog posts. Until then, let’s continue to fan the stereotype that Russians are crazy and always drunk (like me right now! Guffaw!).