It was the day of my high school graduation. I was sitting on the stage of the Larkin Theater on campus while the stage lights were shining into my face. The British ambassador to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was standing on a small podium, addressing us graduating seniors.
Meanwhile my parents were sitting in the audience and as the ceremony was approaching the end, my German dad asked my Belarusian mom, “will she be upset with us later? We didn’t bring any flowers…” To that my mother replied with a smile, “don’t worry. She won’t mind. She lived with you for long enough after all.”
Yeah, women and flowers. Even though most men seem to not understand that, they are somewhat important to women and especially to Russian, or any other east european women.
With all the Russian women of Berlin in mind and all the men that are trying to make sense of them but just can’t, I have come up with some things that the one or the other may want to know about Russian women and their attitude towards certain things.
I can’t just throw everybody into one pot. So I am pretty sure that most of the things could possibly apply to any woman, however some things may be specifically related to our culture in eastern Europe.
Take it or leave it. Anyways, it might help you to make sense of us women. Many of you will see this as some sort of dating advice. That may even be true but these things are actually relevant even outside of a romantic relationship. Even if you find yourself in eastern Europe and have to deal with women on a general basis, be it friendship or be it even a business dinner among colleagues, some of these would still apply. See this as a little course in Russian social norms.
1. Flowers make the world go round
As pointed out above, flowers are very important to us. That is like a traditional thing. Russian women do not expect flowers every day at any second but on important days they are absolutely essential. If you dare to show up on her birthday and have no flowers, be sure she is going to make a scene. I guarantee it. No flowers on an important day is like paella without rice or kabsa without laban or german curry sausage without curry. You can’t have that.
2. Keep an eye on the calendar
How do you know when to get flowers you may wonder. Well, there are two main days that you should know about. Her birthday and international women’s day. Also, NEVER forget women’s day or her birthday but especially women’s day. I did not get any women’s day wishes for a long time and I must say that I am not too much into the whole attention fuss but I remember one time in school when my physics teacher in grade eight wished a happy women’s day to the girls in our class. My assumption is that he was east German but it was nevertheless a nice gesture, Even though it was difficult to like him as a person, by doing that he seemed a tiny little sympathetic. Of course there are also things like christmas and easter and all but for most women the first two mentioned above are really the important ones.
3. The bill please!
In Russian culture, men always pay the bill. I don’t know why that is but the Russian women that I have met so far appreciate and pretty much expect a man to pay the bill. A Russian childhood friend of mine, who by then was of dating age, went out with a German guy somewhere in Berlin, When the two of them finished dinner and the waiter was about to bring the bill, he asked, “are you paying together or separate?” “I was in a shock”, she told me later. “How come he was asking that question? Isn’t it obvious to those Germans that the man should take the bill if he is asking a girl out?” A little correction here: nowadays, most women would probably prefer to pay for themselves. If she tells you that she can and wants to pay for herself, let her do it but at least make an attempt at pying first.
4. The old fasioned gentleman
That may or may not tied to the fact that Russians love their culture and many social norms are somewhat traditional. Even though it is the 21st century by now, full of solar energy, expensive cars and gadgets that are smarter than some human beings, used by “strong and independent women”, russian girls appreciate men who are gentlemen in the old fasioned way. It might be useful to know that she would expect you to open the door for her, help her get out of the car or even off the bus stairs if you don’t have a car, help her to get into her coat etc. When I was younger and visited my hometown Belarus, I have seen it happen many times that a man would help a woman down the stairs by holding out his hand to her and that happened betwenn total strangers that just happened to leave at the same bus stop. She might not be a fragile little one but for some reason women from eastern Europe like to be treated in such a way. Part of being such a gentleman is also the right language usage. The best thing to do is to sound educated and avoid slang. Believe it or not, but some of us women will be more concerned about your IQ rather your salary.
5. The deal with the gifts
If you have a Russian wife or life partner, do not be surprised if you find her standing hours in the kitchen making cake or spending a bunch of money to buy flowers or a gift before visiting your parents, relatives or friends but especially the parents. In Russia and most other countries in the region, we never go to someone’s house empty handed. Not even if we were to come over just to see a movie together. This might seem like a strategy to kiss oneself up to someone but in reality we just consider this a normal act of politeness that is just part of social interaction. Whenever my family and I visit someone, we bring something with us and if our hosts have kids, we also make sure to bring something for them. It doesn’t have to be anything big. Maybe just a box of chocolates but it still expresses gratitude for being invited over.
6. Making compliments
Russian girls are taught from the very beginning that they have to look stunning no matter what. From early childhood on, mothers try to teach them how to dress well and as soon as the little ones reach a reasonable age, they learn how to use make- up. Therefore, after so much hard work, a decent, well spoken compliment about their looks will be very appreciated.
I like to dress up, too but after so many years in the west I prefer doing that only for special ocassions. I don’t even like make- up that much. I remember my aunt once telling me: You are Belarussian. You HAVE to put on make up. Even though I protested loudly, I even had to dress up when going to do groceries. When I was little I found myself walking down the street to the library to bring back a book, dressed in a white lacy t-shirt and a long skirt. I am going to check out books not getting married, I thought to myself. Well, that is just how we are. Even when we go to the bazaar we tell ourselves that we have to look good.