Before you begin working your way to foreign language fluency, it helps to understand the culture behind the language you’re learning. After all, language exists to help a group of people express their ideas and beliefs. Russia is a vast country with a rich history and culture. As you begin your Russian language program, gaining a strong grasp on this history, the values, and the etiquette will help you rapidly achieve success. In particular, Russians indulge in a vibrant nightlight and culture behind going out.
The popular Russian toast “Заздоровье!” which means “To health!” only scratches the surface of its meaning. Toasts are strategic and complex. Russians love to toast, and their toasts follow a strict series, beginning with the host making a toast in honor of the guests. The host may say “Завстречу!,” which means “To our meeting!” At a wedding, the first toast goes to the health of the newlyweds or to the birthday girl or boy at a birthday party. The second toast is usually made to the parents at a birthday party or anniversary, or to friendship at a corporate banquet. The third toast is to women, and all the men stand up and toast “запрекрасныхдам” (“to the beautiful ladies.”) The third toast goes to a missing friend if you are a sailor. During the third toast, they might say “Заздоровье” (“To your health”), the popular and shortest toast. Near the end, there is “Напосошок,” which means “for the walking stick,” or “one for the road.” This toast is made to departing guests as the evening of glee starts to wind down and guests make their way home. This toast continues the tradition of pilgrims, who were invited to a final drink before their long journey. The astronauts even have this traditional toast before a space flight.
All drinks during a toast should be completely downed because the Russians believe you don’t have a real toast without wine, so finishing the entire glass is customary. Furthermore, the brevity of “to your health” is not usual. The contents of a toast are usually an anecdote with a jovial or ironic ending.
If you think you have outgrown the circus, think again. “Цирк” (the circus) has been the most popular and most egalitarian Russian form of entertainment since the time of Catherine the Great. It is still a popular form of entertainment today, and the circuses of Russia boast some of the most talented performers and elaborate acts in the world. The high level of talent is cultivated by four-year courses in the Russian State Circus School. If you visit the Moscow Circus on the Boulevard “Цветной” your inner-child will be delighted by the chimpanzees, awed by the courage of those who enter the tiger’s den, and laugh with the Russian clowns. The Russian circus isn’t just for children though, or those who are young at heart. It is an amazing spectacle that delights and awes native citizens and tourists alike of all ages.
Despite the many bars, restaurants, clubs, museums, cultural centers, and music halls, the most popular activity in Russia is still just getting together. Whether it’s a barbeque in the woods, visiting relatives for lunch, or gathering in a café, Russians greatly enjoy the act of simply sharing in one another’s company. The expression “хорошосидим” literally means “sitting pretty” and reflects a culture where the ability to be comfortable with each other and enjoy being around each other is highly valued.
While Russia is known for its unique dishes and variety of vodkas and various beverages, there is more to do in an evening than just eat and drink! In fact, the English actor Simon Callow said the neon lights of Russian nightlife made the country look like “Las Vegas with Cyrillic Script.” It seems years of gray, muted colors and forced restraint have made Russians hungry for previously forbidden fruit. This ‘fruit’ is well-watered by the amount of cash flowing into the capital; 85% of all Russian cash is circulating in Moscow, according to official sources. The options for evening entertainment are many and varied. You can find everything from vodka bars and cocktail lounges to strip clubs, themed discos, and clubs such as “Пропаганда” which promote values quite different from those found on the red and white soviet posters.
Don’t count on being able to gamble though! Casinos have bid farewell to major Russian cities due to an unprecedented attempt by the president to control the gambling business. A new anti-gambling law was passed and went into effect on July 1, 2009 which restricted gambling to four zones, and required super casinos to be built in the middle of nowhere. Gambling is now illegal in the rest of Russia outside of those designated areas. If you really need to get your gambling fix you can travel to one of the four zones or super casinos, but you would probably be better off sticking to more culturally rich and popularly accepted destinations.