Nick’s Thanksgiving in Russia

Turkey time in the CIS!

25 November, 1998

Thanksgiving

By Nick

I told you that I would let you know how my Thanksgiving Dinner went. All
in all it went well. I became a little mad at one point but that pasted quickly.

As you will recall, I invited 10 Russians over to celebrate Thanksgiving
(“TG”). The party was for my benefit since I did not want to be alone and
to show my closest friends how we celebrate TG. I spent three or four days
shopping for food and cooking. I of course took off all of Thursday to cook
and a young girl helped me in the preparation. (Yes “young girl” is the
politically correct way to refer to women who are 18-35 years old.) Her name
is Alyona and we spent quite a bit of time arguing about various matters.
She wanted to invite four friends of one of my friends. Neither one of us
knew these people very well but they were best friends of one of my friends.
Alyona thought that he would have a better time if his friends were there.
I countered that this was a full sit down dinner party and that 10 people
was enough for my small house. (The discussion was finally settled when I
said, “It is my party and I think ten is enough.” I know that is not the
best way to settle things but believe me, you have never argued with a Russian.
Someone has to give in or give up; I basically just “trumped” the argument.)

Well with that decided, we planned the appetizers, meal and drinks. Every
thing was going fine until 8:00 p.m. when the party was supposed to start.
No one showed up at 8:00. I had a party once before and everyone showed up
at exactly the right time. I thought this was a Russian tradition, kind of
like the American military. I was wrong. Everyone showed up on time last
time because they thought it was a business function. I should have told
everyone that TG is also a business function, then they would have been here
on time.

Well as I said the party started at 8:00. About 7:30 a girl who I had invited
and who had been sick all week called and told me she could not make it.
She had been calling all week and giving me graphic updates of her sickness
so I had assumed she would not be present. (As it turned out, after several
phone calls by myself and her friends, we were able to talk her into coming
over and she arrived around 11:00 and stayed until 5:30 a.m.)

At 8:15 one girl called and asked if anyone was there yet. I said six people
were here and that we were just waiting on her and another couple. (Okay,
so this was a necessary little white lie to get the party started.) At 8:30
the first guests showed up. I think everyone arrived by 9:00 which is not
bad for an American party. The one time I got mad was at 9:30 a couple called
and said they were sick and could not come. They called me one and a half
hours after the party started. I had planned on them coming and was mad that
they thought it was okay to call this late. As I said, I quickly got over
this because everyone was having fun and it is hard to be mad when you are
surrounded by good friends.

Well after the first guests arrived, and with the arrival of every guest,
Alyona proudly announced, “It was Nicholas’ idea for you to eat with your
hands. Nicholas, please explain to our guests how they should eat the
appetizers”. Since this was an American party I had wanted to do some American
things. One of these was I had a bunch of lovely appetizers. Each one thought
out especially for this party and the ability to eat them with your hands.
I had a tray of meat, cheese, fish and bread. A bowl of dip with various
vegetables, and several bowls of pickles, olives, peppers and nuts. I had
napkins for everyone to use. Granted, I should have bought small plates but
I thought the napkins were sufficient. What I knew and the reason why Alyona
was having fun with me is that Russians consider it very rude to eat with
your hands or to drink from a bottle. (and yes I gave all the men bottles
of beer with no glasses.) So it took some explaining and some demonstrating
to get them to eat with their hands. I do not know for sure why they started
eating with their hands, i.e., whether it was starvation, drunkenness or
just a willingness to try something new, but they ate all the appetizers
and not a single fork was used.

Then the transition form appetizers to dinner went a little rough. I have
a small kitchen, small stove and small refrigerator. Getting everything ready
at one time was hard but we finally managed. I could not find a turkey in
Moscow so we bought four chickens, pre-cooked, and just warmed them up. As
I started cooking things and putting them on the table I realized just how
much food we had. Alyona and I had argued over how much to make. We had both
American dishes, such as potato salad, and Russian dishes, such as cheese
and garlic. With everything combined it was way too much food. I had thought
this was the case and we had argued about this. I had told Alyona that we
were not feeding an army but she insisted and I relented. (After playing
the above trump card, I did not want to push things too far. After all I
need her to help cook.)

Well we had eight people around a table and we could barely fit everything
onto the table. Before we started eating I said a small grace and explained
what TG was for. I stopped short of mentioning that the Americans went on
to treat the Indians, who helped them so much those first few years, so badly
in the future. I even had a small tear when I thought about all of you. (Really
I was upset that you were eating Turkey and gravy and all I had was chicken
and vodka.)

Well the meal went well and we had many toasts and jokes, all in Russian,
during and after the meal. (For those of you who think I do not understand
Russian – you are somewhat correct- but the whole night the main language
was Russian and I got along quite well. THANK YOU VERY MUCH!!) The first
guests left around 12:00 and the last around 5:30. We opened a bottle of
vodka and all of the women and one man declined to help drink. There is a
tradition in Russia that if you open a bottle of Vodka then you have to drink
it that same day. The vodka was very tasty and I and one other guy were able
to finish it quite easily, even after all the other alcohol.

The night was a success and I have had a few smaller dinner parties since
that one. Since I am now unemployed it is easier for me to do this and it
is a lot more fun than eating alone.