The Art Of The Russian Restaurant

Friday, October 24, 2008

So I haven’t done anything exciting in the past week so I’m going to devote this post to the art of eating out in Russia. It is honestly something that takes many years of practice to master. The fact that everything on the menu is in an entirely different language is actually the easiest barrier to get across. To start, there are no wait times at Russian restaurants. If there are no open seats the host or hostess will just say “Nyet” and shoo you away. There are no waiting areas, there are no vibrating discs that tell you when a table has opened. I suppose you could just stand outside and wait for someone to leave but they certainly don’t make it easy for you. Earlier in the week we went to our favorite restaurant, Pizza Bar, that we go to probably once a week. There was apparently a big football game going on and the woman asked if we had reservations, which we didn’t, and she turned us away. You would think by the amount of times we have gone there we would get some kind of special treatment. Not in Russia.

When it comes to ordering food and/or drinks in Russia you should always have at least one back up for each (possibly two just to be safe). I still do not know the reason for this but there is almost always something on the menu that the Russian’s don’t have. We thought it was very strange here in our first week when we tried to order ice cream at a café with a full page menu for ice cream and the waitress responded with “Nyet.” We asked why. “Ice cream bad.” Thank you waitress. I think we can judge it for ourselves. “Nyet.” We just thought that maybe their ice cream maker was broken or some legitimate reason for not having it. I don’t know. It would be one thing for this to happen once in a while however we have learned that no matter where we are or what we are ordering, there will be at least one thing that is not available.

This usually happens to my suitemate Kori. I have never been in a restaurant where they have the first thing she orders. We’ve heard everything from, “nyet, ice cream bad” to a simple “it is not possible.” Back to the Pizza Bar we went the day after the football game. They did not have 8 out of 10 types of beer, no coke, sprite, or water. Luckily they still had pizza. I’m assuming that these places just don’t stock up as much or as often as restaurants in the states do but it is amazing how often this happens. Tonight we went to McDonald’s and I listened to the man behind me order. Before he actually ordered anything he asked “Bigmac yest, da?” You have bigmac yes? Why wouldn’t they?! This is McDonald’s. The waitress response? “Nyet, he yest bigmac” aka No. Whhhaattt?? Apparently you should always ASK if they have something before expecting to get it.

Not only do places very often not have food, the service is usually terrible. We’re pretty good with ordering and speaking slowly so the waiter can understand us but somehow something always gets left out. Today Betsy, my roommate, just did not get her meal that she ordered at a sushi bar we went to. She is the best Russian speaker out of the group of us so it’s not like she messed up saying something. Two people that were with never got the waters they ordered. They food that does get order comes out at all different times. Half the people are done with their food before the other half even get theirs. While it is rude to eat before everyone gets food, we’ve all come to learn that if you don’t eat it right away it will be cold before it is polite to eat.

One last note, always roll your “r’s”. I’ve learned that if you don’t Russians have no idea what you are saying. On more than one occasion I’ve order a sprite. When said with an American accent the waiters would look at me like I had two heads. As soon as I repeated myself with the “correct” pronunciation, “sprrrite” they looked like they had some type of an epiphany. It is amazing how important that one little sound actually is.

Oh and one last thing. Apparently the phrase “It’s Russia” is not something we created. Today in class a girl accidentally broke a chair and my teacher just shrugged his shoulders and said, “It’s Russia.” Betsy and Kori went out shopping today and when they were signing something they realized the pen was broken. When the cashier realized this she threw it away and said “eta Russia”. The Russians share this sentiment and have dealt with it for their whole lives. If I had to make excuses to get by in life I would probably start organizing the next Revolution pretty soon.

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