Bottles Under Table and Other Rules of Marital Bliss Posted by yelena on Apr 28, 2011 in Culture, Russian life
I disagree with the classic who once wrote «Все счастливые семьи счастливы одинаково» [All happy families are alike].
Do you know who wrote this? How about the book that starts with this famous opening line?
Back to business, however. As the saying goes, «браки заключаются на небесах» [marriages are made in heaven] meaning that you can’t foretell with whom you’re going to end up. Or as some Russians would say, «любовь зла, полюбишь и козла» [love is blind; lit: love is cruel and one might end up falling in love with an ass].
Chances are high now for many Russians (both men and women) to meet, fall in love with and marry a foreigner. I’m speaking «по собственному опыту» [from my own experience] here.
After years of mostly happy and occasionally very happy marriage, we got used to many things that seems to be a bit odd to us when we first met. Like my husband actually liking and getting alone splendidly with my mom, his «тёща» [mother-in-law]. Or me refusing to say “beach” and instead preferring an accent-safe “seaside”.
The minor disagreements of the first couple of years have been settled to mutual satisfaction. Things like «кто выносит мусор» [who takes the trash out], «кто моет посуду» [who washes the dishes], and «в какой цвет покрасить гостиную» [what color to paint the living room].
But little cultural details keep popping up even now. Here are three things that «мой американский муж» [my American husband] still doesn’t get:
- «Пустые бутылки – под стол» [Empty bottles go under the table] – This goes for alcohol, but also in many cases for juices and bottles of water. Ask any Russian and they will tell you that leaving an empty bottle on a table is asking for trouble in form of bad luck. Why? Well, for most it’s just a superstition they’ve been brought up with and follow automatically. But originally, back in the 19th century, this weird custom was very practical. It was brought back by the «казаки» or «казаки» [Cossacks] returning from Paris in the aftermath of the Great Patriotic War of 1812. While they were toasting their victory in Parisian restaurants, they learned that the waiters charged them not for the number of the bottles ordered, but by the number of the empty bottles left on their tables. Soldiers resorted to «военная хитрость» [military cunning], hiding some of the empty bottles under the tables.
- «Возвращаться плохая примета» [Go back for something is a bad omen] – it happens to the best of us. Say I go «в магазин» [to a store], but once I get into the car realize that I forgot «кошелёк» in the house. My American husband calmly goes back in to retrieve it. I simply cancel the shopping trip. After all, no good would come out of it. «Всё пойдёт наперекосяк» [Everything will go wrong]. Fortunately, there are a few loopholes to those of us who really need to get going. Return for your item, but make sure «посмотреть в зеркало и показать себе язык» [to look in the mirror and stick the tongue out] on your way out. Or just sit down for a few seconds before going out again.
- «В доме не свистят» [No whistling in the house] – c’mon, everyone knows this! As kids we got scolded for this a lot as we tried «насвистывать песенки» [whistle little tunes]. Why is that? First of all, money will run out and you’ll be facing financial ruin. Secondly, «свистеть просто некультурно» [whistling is a sign of uncivilized behavior] and «культурность» [civility] is an important and much-regarded quality for Russians.
So my question is this – what other uniquely Russian traditions and customs our non-Russian significant others or friends don’t get? For those of us that have to live, work, or party with Russian spouses, roommates, colleagues, and friends, what habits do you find odd?
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