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Culture news, 16.12.2005 11:41

The Words Worth

party Ah, the holiday season is upon us. Trees are decorating the squares, streets are lit by flashing lights, and you are planning to max out your credit cards and happily eat your way to mid-January. If youll be in Russia, prepare for some serious partying. The Russian version of a good party is , a simple but packed word that means the act and art of sitting around the table: a long evening around a table laden with food and drink, filled with toasts, stories, conversation and jokes. This is very different from the American holiday cocktail party that is anathema to Russians: two hours of standing around trying to balance a plate of finger food and glass of egg nog while making polite chitchat with boring strangers. ! (God forbid!)

If you are the host or hostess for a traditional , its good to know the dinner table lingo. First, you have to pry the guests away from the canapes in the living room and get them to the table. ! is the polite phrase for Please be seated. Then you will have to urge them to dig in. Ive never figured out why guests sit staring at platefuls of salads and platters of (starters) with hands frozen in their laps as if they were vegans at a barbeque. ! (Please help yourself!) you say encouragingly. The shy ones can be cajoled with the very polite and slightly coquettish ? (May I serve you?) Among friends, you can pick up the serving spoon and their plates and say, ? (May I put some on your plate?) With family, you can simply say, (Pass me your plate) and start piling it on.

Then theres the fluid concept of -. As we all know, - means just a little bit, but when you are a host, you are supposed to pretend that - really means as much as I can load on your plate before you shriek.

If youve done your job in the kitchen well, once guests finish the first round, theyll be ready for more. ? (May I give you some more?) you ask. With friends, you can be blunter: ? (Who wants seconds?) One of my friends just asks: ? (Literally, this means Shall we repeat the process?) After a few rounds of this ritual, when you try to ply your guests with yet more food, they will show the universal sign for If I eat any more, Ill explode: hand on protruding belly, expression of horror on face. , . (Oh no, I cant eat any more). Or the more explicit: . (Im full.) Or the pained: . (Im stuffed.)

At some quiet point in the evening, someone may sigh contently: . This phrase comes from the movie (Autumn Marathon) and literally means Were sitting well. What it really means is: Im having a wonderful time the food and drink hit the spot, the company is delightful, and I wish this could go on forever. If you hear that, you know your party has been a success.

Michele A. Berdy is a Moscow-based translator and interpreter.

Sergey Chernov is on vacation.

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