When in St. Petersburg, do as the Russians do. I was there with a big group of international Erasmus students and we opted for a traditional Russian night in a restaurant. There were exchange students that came from all over Finland and not just the uni where I was staying at that time. I barely knew the other students from my uni and this night mostly reminds me of how awkward I can be.
Above the door hung some Russian dolls and the inside was also over the top Russian, like a true tourist experience. Of course the food tonight would give us an impression of Russian cuisine and a big part of that was a toast with vodka. There seemed to be a toast for everything and whenever someone made up a toast, you had to drink. Not being a big drinker at all, and not a fan of plain vodka, I didn’t feel comfortable in this atmosphere where peer pressure went back to high school level.
The tables were soon filled, and entering the building as one of the last I ended up with people I really didn’t know. Immediately there was a toast for health. This was closely followed by the first dish of cabbage with some sort of fruity dressing. It looked very pink and wasn’t my favorite. There were also big plates with bread, cucumber and meat. A second toast was for love and came with a dish of mushrooms in sauce with a crusty layers on top. And why not have another toast. This time for the women, so the men had to drink in a special way. They had to put the glass on a flat hand and then drink it. The third dish was soup.
For entertainment there were Russian musicians; a man on accordion and a man and woman singing. At first everyone was watching, but soon we were invited to join in. Some had to dance, others had the clap. One of the songs was about a girl looking for a man. One was too short, another an alcoholic, but eventually she found her love. Of course, the boys had to play the parts. People were put on the spot and looked ridiculous. I guess I would have enjoyed this with friends, but being surrounded by complete strangers and small groups that shared inside jokes, I couldn’t really appreciate it. I remember just sitting there, trying to smile and waiting for dinner to end.
The main course was pork with mushrooms and potatoes. There was dessert and some more entertainment. Two people had to steal each others hat or tail, of course accompanied by some funny tunes and encouragement from the crowd. One person was dressed up in a suit and one of the real Russians put his hands through the suit as well and started playing guitar. The boy in the suit managed to make such strange faces that it was really entertaining to watch. The night ended with a cup of tea. After all the toasts of vodka, this was a welcome alternative. I’m not sure if I would go to one of these folk nights again. It was a nice way to get some insight into Russian folklore, but everything was a little bit too forced and it seemed like I was watching someone else’s party. There was constantly that awkward feeling of not fitting in.