June 01, 1996

Why Going Dutch is not Russian

Why Going Dutch is not Russian

Once upon a time, waiters were kings in this place. Well, sort of. While they once enjoyed one of the highest incomes in the country, deep down restaurant goers hardly gave them the respect due a sovereign. In fact, there was even a standard parental threat – “if you don’t apply yourself at school, you’ll become a janitor or waiter.”

In short, the profession of waiter in the USSR used to be despised and frowned upon. Waiters – even more than other representatives of the Soviet service sector – were notorious for their хамство (boorishness). Plus, not only did they not smile back at you, they could easily cheat the client by fixing the tab (обсчитать), watering down his cognac (разбавить водой) or underweighing (недовешивать), thus saving a hundred-odd grams on each portion of veal, sturgeon or whatever, while replenishing their supposedly meager stocks of food at home.

Veteran travelers to Soviet Russia will also remember the ill-fated швейцар (door man) who would let you negotiate the infamous нет мест (sorry, we’re full) signs for a few rubles.

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