Magazine article Russian Life

To Tula! Samovar Optional

Magazine article Russian Life

To Tula! Samovar Optional

Article excerpt

Peter the Great tried to impose coffee on boyar-dominated Russia, but tea would not give way. This, however, did not stop coffee from having some linguistic influence on Russian. In fact, a Russian's pronunciation of the word coffee ([LANGUAGE NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) may help you discern their provenance: provincial Southerners often pronounce the final syllable with a hard "f," making it sound like [LANGUAGE NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] while the correct pronunciation sounds like [LANGUAGE NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII].

The southern pronunciation can be heard in a scene from the classic film, Diamond Arm. The smuggler Lyolik, at pains to cure his accomplice Gena's hangover, tries waking him with promises of "a bath, coffee, and even chocolate with tea." ([LANGUAGE NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII])

But tea is king here, where the process of tea drinking is rich in protocol and etiquette. Even the least hospitable housewife, when admitting a guest or visitor into her home, is expected to offer a cup of tea. This practice actually gives a visitor an "out"--a way to escape an unwanted meal. "If only for a cup of tea," can be the polite reply to the invitation. ([LANGUAGE NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII])

This etiquette inspired humorist Leon Izmaylov's joke about a mother-in-law ([LANGUAGE NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]) who comes for an extended visit. "I won't be staying that long, don't Worry," says the tyoshcha upon her arrival. "[LANGUAGE NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]" ("What, you mean you won't even have tea with us?"), responds the son-in-law, in a voice full of hope.

In general, an offer of tea is always welcome. This gave birth to the proverb, "[LANGUAGE NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]" ("Drinking tea is not like cutting Wood,"), often used as a joking reply to an invitation to have tea. Indeed, tea is seen to be the very antithesis of work, as in the popular Soviet-era marketing slogan which has become ubiquitous in recent years, often imprinted on hotpads and aprons: [LANGUAGE NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] ("Have a little tea and you will forget your anguish").

If you tire of the normal "[LANGUAGE NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]" ("drink tea" ), you can mine old Russian for some more colorful expressions with which to lace your invitations. In the 19th century Russians would offer graciously, "[LANGUAGE NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]" (literally, "Would it not be pleasant for you to eat [taste] some tea?") There is also the elegant verb [LANGUAGE NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]--perhaps best translated as "to tea. …

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