The Most Russian Thing Ever

Carole and I went on a cruise of Baltic countries between August 18 and August 27, starting in Copenhagen, Denmark and stopping off in Berlin, Tallinn, St Petersburg, Helsinki, and Stockholm. We took lots of photos, which we shall in due course inflict on you.

But I wanted to share a quick little anecdote while it’s fresh in my mind:

Carole and I went on a small-group bus tour of each city we stopped in. And in each city (except Stockholm) the bus tour included a hot lunch in a local restaurant. We got alcohol with every meal — sparkling wine several times over, beer in Germany and Estonia, and vodka in Russia. Our first Russian meal was at a elegant little restaurant called “Troika” (see photo above) the legendary home of an evening cabaret that we didn’t get to stick around and see. They served us vodka in little shot glasses along with plates of Russian bread, salad, meat, potatoes, and dessert. (We ate a LOT of potatoes in Europe. Every hot meal included them.)

Some of our party didn’t want their vodka — not everyone follows the Russian model of banging down shots of vodka straight with every meal. But I was game, and reached out to take mine, and promptly knocked it over. (The tables were pretty crowded and all our utensils and glasses and things were packed in pretty tightly.)

Everyone around me gasped, automatically assuming that spilling one’s vodka was a major Russian faux pas. But I noted that the tablecloth was well-nigh impermeable and far from soaking through, the vodka was sitting there in a compact puddle, minding its own business. So I grabbed a piece of bread, sponged up as much vodka as it would hold, stuffed it in my maw, grabbed another piece of bread, and repeated the process.

So there I was, frantically soaking up spilled vodka right off a tablecloth with a hunk of bread. I looked up at Carole and the other tourists sharing our table and said “Um, this is, like, the most Russian thing ever, isn’t it?”

I footnotes