Life in Belarus
The Potato Eaters
Belarusians adore potatoes – particularly served as draniki. In fact, they eat so many spuds (around 170kg per person annually) that their neighbours have nicknamed them Bulbashi: potato-eaters. Potatoes are such a staple that it’s hard to imagine any meal without them. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Association, Belarus grows more potatoes than any other country on earth (Russia is ranked 18th)
Toasting has its own set of rituals. When being formal, the first toast is made to the guest of honour. The second is for friends and the third is to women (praising their beauty and talents). You can toast any occasion or object (except the deceased at a funeral). Toasting a new car or fur coat is a charming local custom, showing appreciation of good fortune. Glasses are filled while on the table. Raise your glass during a toast, ‘clink’ glasses with everyone (a show of friendship and trust), keep eye contact, then down your vodka in one gulp. Don’t let your glass touch the table again until it’s empty. In military circles, it’s traditional to toast the award of a medal: you place it in a glass of vodka, drain the spirit, then remove the decoration and put it on.
Singletons should never sit at the corner – unless they want to remain unmarried. If you drop a fork or spoon, a female guest will soon appear. A fallen knife indicates that a man will arrive. To reverse this, tap the utensil on the table three times and say ‘stay at home.’ Playing with your knife is bad form – supposed to encourage arguments. If there are 13 people at the table, two must be in love – even if they are unaware of the fact; this gives plenty of scope for teasing. Once a bottle is empty it should be speedily removed from the table, otherwise there will be no full bottles in future. Sitting between two people of the same name is thought to be very lucky however.
Reactor number 4 at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in northern Ukraine exploded on 26th April 1986. The explosion released over 100 times more radiation than that seen in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Belarus lay directly in the path of danger, with winds blowing the fallout straight over the border. The south and southeast of the country remain particularly affected by radiation, having taken around 70% of the total fallout.
The long term social and psychological effects have been significant. Incidences of depression and alcohol dependence in affected areas have risen – exacerbated by a lack of employment opportunities and a sense of fatalism. Many women from these regions have long been scared of having children, fearing abnormalities; those who move away may try to keep their former home secret, anxious that men won’t marry them. The Belarusian government is now implementing a revival plan to set up factories and provide modern housing, schools and hospital facilities, addressing a desperate need. Gradually, hope is returning.
The text used is ‘verbatim’ from her book (Culture Smart Belarus)
She has also written a book called “Culture Smart Belarus” under the pen name of Anne Coombes. You can find the book at this link. http://www.amazon.co.uk/Belarus-Culture-Smart-Essential-Customs/dp/1857334728
Life in Russia
Near the confluence of three rivers, the Oka, Moskva, and Kolomenka stands the oldest and probably one of the most beautiful cities, Kolomna. The city itself is only 117 kilometers away from Moscow and the center point on the way to Kyazan.
What draws people to this settlement is not necessarily tangible but the peace and quiet of this quaint old town could be part of it. Unchanged for a hundred years, with its colorful and ornate wooden two-story houses lined up on neat little streets, all surrounded by the formidable red brick walls of the medieval Kremlin could certainly be part of the formula.