Monday, 26 April 2010

Caveat Emptor II: The Birthday Chronicles

Having witnessed two non-Russians celebrate their birthdays here in the space of the past month, I thought it would be astute to mention the… peculiarity that Russians perpetuate concerning such an event.

Put gently, the practice is just a matter of good manners on your part. Put plainly, it’s downright mean on the part of everyone else. The chief warning is this: don’t go to a bar or restaurant on your birthday in Russia.

Why, you might ask, would one not want to celebrate their birthday at an eatery? Good food, wine, and company are perfect for such an occasion – so where’s the issue here? The problem is that, once it’s time for all to stumble onwards, you have to pay.

This shock to a Westerner’s system is compounded by the fact that, when Russians actually go out for birthdays, they hunt in packs. The most recent party I was at had least twenty people in attendance. Even though the birthday boy in question was fully versed in Russian culture, he was still not best pleased when the bill came his way.

Oh sure, your guests will bring presents, cards and likely a cake also, but they will drink you out of house and home. So much for being pampered by your nearest and dearest on the one day of the year when it’s all about you.

So where does it come from? Upon consultation with a native, allegedly, after receiving such gifts and enjoying fun times, one should проставиться (pro-stav-it-sya). There’s no real direct translation, though it essentially means one should equal things out. Another example would be that if you have a housewarming or are cooking for people in Russia – you’ll have to clean the dishes (I actually think this one is meaner) while everyone else sits on their behinds drinking the booze you bought for them.

It’s a sort of superstition that is almost reminiscent of the Aztecs, though not so much of the human-sacrifice-so-the-sun-will-rise-again. Put another way, if there’s enjoyment happening, those mysterious Slavic gods of social conscience must be appeased immediately, lest your moments of fleeting pleasure somehow bite you in the ass further down the line.

In other words, if you come to Russia, go to other people’s birthday parties – not your own.


In other news, well, there is not much excitement. I’m attempting to snap photos here and there and still going to the gym, though not lifting weights and instead running like a pillock on the machines. Russians tend to have a different gym regime to what I’ve seen in the UK, so thankfully the machines are hardly occupied. This is because Russians are big on weights, but are more calisthenics-ish outside of that, in that they will do exaggerated, odd-angled squats, sit ups, abdominal stretches and so forth (rather than cardio, maybe it’s a not-wanting-to-sweat thing). And then they’ll just grab a bar and hang off it for about ten seconds before repeating.

Victory Day (День Победы, Dyen Po-byed-ee) is coming soon, which should be more fun than last year, as it’s the 65th anniversary of the end of World War II. On that note, I read a magnificent variation on the typical error Russians suffer from when translating into English. Instead of writing the typical “The World War II” (i.e. Russians have a problem with definite articles – the same goes for “The Wall Street” or “The Red Square”), one Russian presented me with the beautiful “World War the Second”.

I was also endlessly amused by Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull volcano-glacier thing terrorizing Europe, even more so by the fact that I didn’t hear one news anchor attempt to say its name in full (it’s pronounced “EYE-a-fyat-la-jo-kutl”).

Finally, my hair dryer dramatically gave up the ghost, ending its own life with a crunching noise, but it matters not: it’s warm outside, and that’s where I’m going next…


  1. Nooooooooooo. Not your hair dryer?

  2. Too much time kick angels in the face, not enough time spent with your hairdryer.
    Seriously though..its bad enough having a birthday..but paying for it.
    This is madness