“Pour me some tea?”

Methinks that today is a perfect occasion for a little story…about a married couple. The only hitch to this is that she’s English and he’s Russian. I read this on a newspaper a couple of years back, and now decided to share it with you guys. The story is rather interesting because it talks about the ‘obvious’ cultural differences between a simple Russian guy and a simple English woman. She is annoyed by his lack of politeness and direct attitude; he, on the other hand, is annoyed by her hypocrisy and kindness that is sometimes on the verge of being pathetic. Who wins this round? Afterall they were raised that way, and there are certain customs you simply cannot get rid of. See for yourself:

Good manners are always good manners. That’s what Miranda Ingram, who is English, thought, until she married Alexander, who is Russian.

When I first met Alexander and he said to me, in Russian, ‘Nalei mnye chai – pour me some tea’, I got angry and answered, ‘Pour it yourself’. Translated into English, without a ‘Could you…?’ and a ‘please’, it sounded really rude to me. But in Russian it was fine – you don’t have to add any polite words. However, when I took Alexander home to meet my parents in the UK, I had to give him an intensive course in pleases and thank yous (which he thought were completely unnecessary), and to teach him to say sorry even if someone else stepped on his toe, and to smile, smile, smile.

Samovar – the thing that boils itself

Another thing that Alexander just couldn’t understand was why people said things like, ‘Would you mind passing me the salt, please?’ He said, ‘It’s only the salt, for goodness sake! What do you say in English if you want a real favor?’

He also watched in amazement when, at a dinner party in England, we swallowed some really disgusting food and I said, ‘Mmm…delicious’. In Russia, people are much more direct. The first time Alexander’s mother came to our house for dinner in Moscow, she told me that my soup needed more flavoring. Afterwards when we argued about it my husband said, ‘Do you prefer your dinner guests to lie?’

Alexander complained that in England he felt ‘like the village idiot’ because in Russia if you smile all the time people think that you are mad. In fact, this is exactly what my husband’s friends thought of me the first time I went to Russia because I smiled at everyone, and translated every ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ from English into Russian!

At home we now have an agreement. If we’re speaking Russian, he can say ‘Pour me some tea’, and just make a noise like a grunt when I give it to him. But when we’re speaking English, he has to add a ‘please’ and a ‘thank you’, and a smile.


      1. Aha ~ makes me think I’ll post about the Arabic coffee culture. Would be very interesting to read about the Russian tea culture, but I am also interested in your stylistics as a writer. It is clear to me you have it in you. Keep writing please!

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