Other Countries, Other Customs: Russian vs. German Feasting
As I kept moving fom place to place and from country to country, I grew up surrounded by people of different cultures and mentalities.
This way I could observe people do things the way their cultures do them. Things like cooking or certain behavior in particular situations. However, one thing that I get to observe over and over again, is how people behave when they come together to celebrate something.
When I was a little kid, most of the festivities took place within the Belorussian circles of the family. There was a large table with caviar, plates with slices of different meat, pickled herring, Russian potato salad, Russian beetroot salad and all other sorts of things. So the eating started with cold dishes, followed by hot dishes and ended with dessert, tea and coffee. Meanwhile the vodka is present on the table all the way from the cold dishes to dessert.
Germans do the whole thing a little differently. Usually the guests come in one after the other and rarely a whole bunch of them at the same time. The guests take a seat and get something to drink first. Drinks vary from sparkling water, to orange juice to beer. The beer can be subdivided into regular beer, non alcoholic beer and Radler, which is beer with lemon flavor. Then, when most of the people have shown up, the hosts serve coffee and cake FIRST. To me this was a big surprise when I saw that for the first time. When I was a small kid, my parents always told me that the dessert ALWAYS comes after the “real” food. And here I was in Germany where the whole thing went the other way around.
After coffee and cake, the guests spend some time chatting with each other. The hot dishes are served about an hour or two later. Mostly the people that already know each other stay together in small groups. Especially when it is a party where many people are invited and not only family members.
At the Russian table, everybody talks to everybody else throughout the whole meal. I have been invited to a party of some German acquaintances of mine. There I met a Russian lady. We talked about all sorts of things and at some point she said to me: “See the difference? Here, I can come in, knowing only a handful of people and I will most likely know only that handful of people when I leave. In Russia, you can come to a party not knowing anyone and leave, having made a lot of new friends. That’s just how different our mentalities are.” We were speaking Russian the whole time and at some point everything around us became quiet and it was just the two of us talking. The rest of the German people were sitting there, listening to us speak, looking at us with some sort of suspicion and fascination at the same time.
One last major difference between the cultures is the idea of giving a speech at the table or “a toast” as we call it in Russian and German.
If I were to be invited to a party with only Russian guests, I would be pretty much obligated to give a speech. To do that, I would have to stand up, hold up my glass that HAS to have something in it and improvise some words quick. I never really liked the whole toast thing. I mean some people gave really nice speeches but every time, I heard some of my relatives say: “Come on, Katjusha ( that is the Russian pet name for Katja), it’s your turn now. Get up and say something.” I NEVER came around this and usually I felt like an idiot when I was done but everyone found that my attempts were very cute, as I was the youngest person at the table.
As far as I know, Germans usually don’t give such speeches. They may do it sometimes, but only at very formal occasions like a wedding or something, while Russians don’t need a special occasion to do so. They just do it whenever they gather around a table.
So this is how we celebrate. What the ones do, the others find strange or completely unnecessary but as we say in German: Andere Länder, andere Sitten. Other countries, other customs