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Just Returned from Russia: Dress, Food, General Info and More

Just Returned from Russia: Dress, Food, General Info and More

Old Sep 20th, 2007, 07:59 AM
  #21  
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I never got a chance to try yolki-polki and in fact, I only saw one (in St. Pete). Also, for those of you that dont know, Yolki-Polki is slang for something loosely similar to "son of 'gun'".
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Old Sep 21st, 2007, 02:56 PM
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5. Drink and Drinking

“Biez Gaz”, remember this. Apparently, in Russia (and Belarus) water comes out of the ground full of fizzy bubbles of carbon dioxide. Time and effort is required to remove said bubbles so still water or water without (biez) gas is more expensive and will probably have to be specially requested. (Note: do not be confused if a proprietor responds with “z-gaz?”, that means with gas). In general, Russians do not drink much water. Strange as it may sound, when we went to the BBQ mentioned in post #4, our hosts bought water specifically for us crazy Americans. “You drink so much water!” we were admonished.

This is just one of the many interesting tidbits dealing with beverages. More well known is the Russian relationship with Vodka. I have found that cognac is drank with very high frequency as well—at any get together, you will probably find it in addition to Vodka. There is a whole set of courtesies and practices that go with drinking hard alcohol. I will summarize
1. When offered a drink or shot, you are generally obliged to accept (less stringent with women). If you need a comparison, imagine if you brought a home-baked apple pie to your neighbor and they said “No thanks” and closed the door. Not cool.
2. Toasts are of critical importance. If you have been handed a drink and a toast is not given, you have two options which are of equal valor: wait for the toast or propose one yourself. Toasts can be short (“to your health”) or long (an ode to one’s spouse or parents) so feel free to take the floor and improvise.
3. Chasers are typically in the form of food and can be reasonable requested if not present. Bread and pickled foods are the most common. Side note: in my opinion, pickles taste awful after vodka and I like pickles.
4. Follow up drinks may be declined by women, men should not decline outright, but instead ask for a little less (“choot-choots” or “neemnoga”).
Protracted drinking sessions are common and can lead to such side effects as singing folk songs or more drinking. Generally, when some breaks out the bottle, fun is ahead.

One of the other differences you will see if the large amount of drinking on the street. While open containers on the street are not necessarily legal, you would be hard pressed to believe it walking around. In every city we were in, beer was sold in stores and street stands for pretty cheap and people drinking in public spaces was common. One of the downers of this is that beer bottles were everywhere at night but usually cleaned up by morning by the plethora of street sweepers.

Again, much has been left out, but the two sections above are what I came across the most often.
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Old Sep 21st, 2007, 03:33 PM
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What a fun report! We left Belarus in 1989, I spent 4 years in college in Moscow, and promise this all was true then, and it looks like not much had changed.

You still didn't get it about water/vodka, huh? Sick people (like stomach ulcer) drink mineral water (carbonated). Healthy people drink vodka. When you can't take in any more vodka, tea (samovar ) comes to the rescue.
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Old Sep 21st, 2007, 06:26 PM
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Ksose,

I don't drink alcohol at all. My hubby does, but not usually hard liquor (unless it is whiskey, and good stuff at that)but he would probably have a shot of vodka to be polite. I don't really like to be surrounded by inebriated people, they aren't as funny as they usually think they are Picturing an evening stroll past outdoor drinkers leaving bottles everywhere is not too appealing to me either. Would you suggest I NOT visit St Petersburg or will a non-drinker be able to enjoy it anyway?
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Old Sep 21st, 2007, 06:38 PM
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Topping report - thanks Ksose!
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Old Sep 21st, 2007, 07:51 PM
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good one, ksose, I am enjoying it. Sounds very authentic. Like your wife, I love selyodka, pod shuboy or otherwise. It's a Russian disease...

HappyCheese,

I don't drink and as a woman I survived just fine in Russia, for men, I think, ksose gives sound advice. It's especially applicable when dealing with family and friends. He may be able to get away with a "medical" reason not to drink, though perhaps less so in or near the Caucasus region, if you ever venture. All bets are off there...

-e
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Old Sep 21st, 2007, 10:21 PM
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ksose:
>In Moscow, we actually tried to see if any women wearing flat shoes were speaking Russian and could find none

Tha't's because I moved to San Francisco!

Thank you for the report, I enjoyed reading it.
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Old Sep 22nd, 2007, 06:14 AM
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HappyCheesehead, If you're going to St.P as a tourist visiting the sites, no worries. I'm not much of a drinker, but I had a wonderful time there - no tripping over empty bottles everywhere I went. ksose was visiting family - a whole different kettle of fish!

ksose, I am really enjoying your report!
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Old Sep 22nd, 2007, 07:16 AM
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I agree- my friends are not heavy drinkers, but they can turn it up/down whenever need presents. I am a "one glass of wine girl", and they know and understand that- I order my bottle of H20 (bez ili z gaz) and keep my wine glass fairly full for toasting.

Even the school we exchange with has elaborate celebrations with wine- in the school building! To my American senses, it is super weird- but at least it is after the kids go home for the day!

Drunks in the streets? I guess that would depend on where you are. I haven't ever been bothered by anyone.

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Old Sep 22nd, 2007, 09:49 AM
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Not surprisingly, we saw lots of beer-drinking by young men in the subways in both St. Petersburg and in Moscow.

Their empty bottles would roll back and forth the length of the car, and sometimes these young drinkers had difficulty getting on and off. However, at not time were they disrespectful or a problem. Just very tipsy. And this went on both day and night, but especially after dark.

I wore a small American flag pin in my jacket's buttonhole, and people often would point to it, smile, and give us the "thumbs up." This was five years ago. I wonder if they would today.
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Old Sep 22nd, 2007, 06:40 PM
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Thank you! Based on all of your first hand experiences with your travel in Russia, I won't worry a bit about the drinking. I know some areas of the world drink more than others, it is part of the culture. Believe me, being from Wisconsin I think we have that in common with Russians!
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Old Sep 22nd, 2007, 06:51 PM
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ksose - I loved your report! This is great info.

I have a few questions for you: I'm planning to fly to Moscow from SFO next May, then from St. Petersburg to SFO on the return flight. I'm just starting to research flights now.

If you don't mind sharing, what airline did you fly on, and how was the experience? Was it a direct flight from SFO to Moscow (and on the return trip from St. Petersburg to SFO) or did you have a layover somewhere? Any recommendations would be much appreciated -Thanks! Magellan
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Old Sep 22nd, 2007, 08:24 PM
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No more Aeroflot direct flight from SEA or SFO only from LAX.
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Old Sep 22nd, 2007, 10:39 PM
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ksose:

Did your wife's parents remark on any obvious changes or were things just as they remembered?

Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts and experiences.

Sandy
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Old Sep 23rd, 2007, 03:03 AM
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I will be traveling next May. I am enjoying your report. Keep it coming. Not many people are writing about Russia.

I was surprised by the the drinking section. I had read that public intoxication was strictly frowned on and could land you in jail. I also read that police may come up to you and demand papers. What was the police presence like?
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Old Sep 23rd, 2007, 10:15 AM
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Hi,
I am originally from Moscow. I've been living in NY for 11 years. My husband and I were impressed of a very colorful and juicefull picture you provided. It is very consistent with our memories.
I have not been there for 8 years and not planning to, unless as a guide with our American friends. We are going to Switzerland, instead.
In fact, my mom's family was from Minsk.
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Old Sep 23rd, 2007, 10:50 AM
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ksose:

Your report is well received by all. Thank you. I expect to return to Russia sometime in '08. I had memorable visits there during the Cold War, once quasi-clandestinely ('63), and twice as a tourist more or less ('85, '87).

I visited at various times Moscow and St. P (Leningrad then), Vladimir, Suzdal, Novgorod, and Tashkent-Samarkand-Bukhara in what was then Uzbek SSR. I'm also planning to visit the Ukraine, now that it is independent, because I could not wangle a permit to visit my family's ancestral home, about 30 kms. west of Kiev (you hang a right at COSTCO!).

Your reports brings back some fond and not so fond memories. I look to see some major change next year, and I do look forward to the "comparative" experience.

Keep 'em coming.

Stu T.
There were widespread food shortages back then, and many times one had to do with whatever was available, even at the better hotels (better in those days would be classified as undesirable today).

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Old Sep 24th, 2007, 04:23 PM
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< I had memorable visits there during the Cold War, once quasi-clandestinely ('63), >

Tower, do tell, if it's ever de-classified that is . My curiosity is surely piqued...

-e
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Old Sep 24th, 2007, 05:58 PM
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Just a note, enroute:

There is very little I can tell..I cannot go into any detail..suffice it to say that at the time there were numerous swaps of technology intelligence between the USSR and the USA...bizarre to say the least. I still can't believe it happened or that I played a small role in these unreal affairs of state.

I was 34-36 then..now at 78 I rarely reflect on it.

Stu T.
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Old Sep 24th, 2007, 07:13 PM
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Thanks. Yes, very different times.....
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