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I'm 15 years old, living in Israel. Occasionally, I visit senior citizens on their birthdays - bringing balloons and stuff, with a few other people.

These people who we visit are usually older Russians (there are a lot of Russian immigrants here), who are not very often so religious.

I, personally, am American, so there are three cultures at play here - Russian, American, and Israeli.

When I go into these people's apartments, very often they will offer me food, either packaged or something they've made. If it's packed I will usually have no problem eating it, but if it's something homemade I can't usually take it because I don't know if it's kosher. And if I ask if it's kosher, there are different standards, but I really don't want to offend these people by giving the impression that it's not kosher "enough" for me, since these people are usually not observant (keeping the rules of the religion strictly).

So I'd prefer to simply decline when offered homemade food during these visits.

The issue is, I don't know what the etiquette is in Russia for declining offers like this (or even Israeli or American etiquette).

Is there a specific etiquette for this in Russian culture? An accepted way to do it without being offensive?

37

Since I'm from Ukraine, the Russians are quite similar in offering food to guests. Ukrainians are even more persistent. For me, when I visiting someone, especially grannies, and I don't want to eat there, there is no special way to say it. I'd say it this way:

Thank you greatly for your hospitality, it’s surely very tasty, but I am not really hungry/in rush/had lunch already/don't feel good today/etc.

In Russian if needed:

“Спасибо большое за гостеприимство, это наверняка очень вкусно, но я /не голодный/спешу/уже пообедал/плохо себя чувстую/итд.

Transcription:

“Spasibo bol'shoye za gostepriimstvo, eto navernyaka ochen' vkusno, no ya /ne golodnyy/speshu/uzhe poobedal/plokho sebya chuvstuyu/itd.

They will not be very upset, because the offering is often given only to show the hospitality and how nice they are.

20

I am an American with multiple friends in Israel. I have been on the other side of this debate a great many times (actually almost got kicked out of a VERY nice hotel in Jerusalem for ordering non-kosher pizza while visiting) ... here is my take:

Do NOT lie

Saying you are not hungry, or you don't feel good, or any other excuse is lying ... which is also against your religion. If you are too devout to eat my gift of food, then you are certainly too devout to lie to my face about it.


If you believe something, you shouldn't be afraid of what you believe

I am giving you a gift, if your religion prevents you from eating it ... then explain as such. If you truly believe in your religion, then you should not fear explaining your beliefs as such. I have had long debates with multiple Jewish people that practice multiple levels of Kosher. I can't say I agree with their practice, but it is not for me to judge what they do or do not eat. And to that point, if someone does judge you for your adherence to your religion... then maybe it is not worth your time associating with them anymore.


Accepting a gift of food does not mean you have to eat it.

Just because you can't eat it doesn't mean you don't know of someone else who might enjoy it. Many of my friends have given me (damn heathen that I am) food that they have been given. This allows them to avoid the Kosher aspect while also not dealing with the confrontation of rejecting a gift... and they get to bring a smile to someone else's face (which was the intent of the gift in the first place). Everyone wins.

  • 3
    Comments are not for discussion. If your comment isn't suggesting improvements or requesting clarification, don't post it. – sphennings Apr 22 '18 at 0:03
9

That’s not an easy one since, as it’s already been said, most Russian hosts could be very persistent in offering you food even on a casual visit, more so if it is some meaningful event like a birthday. I googled this question in Russian and actually most popular etiquette suggestions were to put at least something at your plate and make an impression that you are eating more, compliment it etc, because it would be rude not to eat at least something. Obviously, that’s not what I think you should do, just saying this to make a point that, apparently, Russian people themselves haven’t quite figured out how to say no to a food offer, especially if your hosts are elderly people and very insisting. Now I thought about a compromise, maybe this could work, but I’m not sure.

Maybe, you could decline the food, but say that you will gladly have a cup of tea with them. Obviously, that’s in case you don’t have reasons not to drink tea and/or eat sweets and pastry. Drinking tea is omnipresent in Russia and is a great part of a culture. Many people would have it almost after every meal, especially with guests, and it’s also an important part of a birthday dinner, usually with cake, biscuits, pastry etc. I don’t think that many people nowadays make their pastry at home, therefore those should be packaged food. If you are still not sure you could bring some pastry you surely know what is made of, actually it could be a nice thing to do since it’s very common in Russia for guests to bring some pastry, like in many countries they bring wine. Just say, I brought something for the tea.

6

Russian-Israeli here. Refusing an offer of food is complicated. Elderly Russians feel absolutely compelled to feed a guest. If you refuse, they'll offer again five minutes later, hoping that maybe you're hungry now. Hospitality is really important in Russian culture, and food is how you offer hospitality.

If you're visiting a person once, and not likely to visit them again ever, any of the excuses Deutche Knabe suggests are great. If, however, you'll be bringing the same person balloons again next year, they'll notice that you're not eating anything this time either. In such a case, it might be better to be honest:

I'm sorry, I keep Kosher.

There are problems with this approach. A Russian elderly person would probably not get offended by their food "not being Kosher enough" - having been raised under communism ("Religion is the opium of the people"), they are more likely to regard Kashrut as this mystifying set of rules they can't attempt to understand. The problem would be rather them feeling "bad host, offering a guest something they can't eat / having no food to offer to the guest that the guest can eat". Which is why I would avoid it if you're only visiting once.

However, this discomfort is outweighed by the discomfort they'd likely to feel if you're visiting every so often, and never eat. The alternative explanations they're likely to imagine are more offensive.

4

Older Russians are often overbearing in their hospitality and would annoy you with multiple offerings to partake a dish. Reminds me of a funny phrase from "Oblomov" (1858) by Ivan Goncharov:

Local manners required that, what though twice or thrice invited to partake of a given dish or a given bottle of wine, the guest should not do so, since he was supposed to be aware that even the first invitation had conveyed a secret prayer that he would kindly abstain from the dish or bottle of wine after merely tasting of the same.

Just firmly reject with a friendly smile and expression of gratitude. Explain the reason: you're keeping Kosher, explain that it might be a bit different from their Kosher tradition. Don't make them guess about your reasons - they might for instance think that you loath them or don't want to eat off of them, which might feel offensive.

3

What will sometimes work is to ask for something else. The best thing is something which you know you can have, and which is quite certain to be available. The easiest thing is a glass of water. Or a cup of tea.

Thank you, but I really cannot eat that much right now. Could I just have a glass of water/cup of tea, please?

The reason why this can work is the symbolic part of hospitality being discussed here. Feeding a guest is a hospitality ritual, and refusing to participate in the ritual has social consequences. When you don't play your part, some hosts will assume the worst and feel insulted, but most will just prompt you again like a good suffleuse, giving you yet another opportunity to "get back on track" and fulfill the ritual.

By asking for something else, you are leading the ritual to a less traditional version, but you are not breaking it outright. The exchange of victuals still takes place, and there is less of a chance that the host will feel that there is something "wrong" with the visit.

This is not a surefire thing, it depends on how much the host is invested in, for lack of better word, the purity of the tradition. For some it will feel like they have fulfilled the script, for others there will still be the impulse to do it with food because the water is not "sufficient" to replace the ritual.

This is also what makes it rather difficult to decide what to ask for. On the one hand, if it is too "simple" like water, it may not be elaborate enough for the purpose (they will bring you the water and still insist that you eat). On the other hand, if you ask for something which is closer to what they imagine should be offered to a guest (maybe "do you have an apple, or some other raw fruit?") and they don't have it, they will feel guilty for not being able to fulfill your wish. You may have to try different approaches with different hosts and see which is better on average, and maybe learn which one works with whom.

As a long-term strategy, if you frequently visit the same hosts, you might find a way to tell them that you absolutely love X, where X is some kind of food that is safe for you (a brand of chocolates, or raw apples, or something else), and that you would love it if they could have some at your next visit. Unless you happen to choose something which they disapprove of in principle (like a luxury brand of chocolates when the host is a frugal person), this kind of demand is not impolite, but rather it makes them happy to know that they are not just feeding you, they are also feeding you a thing you love! Especially if those people are your elderly female relatives, it is probably the best way they know to express their affection for you.

0

I'm Israeli.

I somewhat agree with parts of chancletaporelmundo's answer and galastel's answer.

First of all, there's a difference if it's a one time visit or going to be multiple times. If the former, it's easier to explain briefly your Kashrut reasons in a nice way, or just say that you're not hungry (if that's also the case). In the latter, I would try to explain a bit further to let them understand.

I don't know about elderly Russians etiquette, but I had similar situations where the host tried to offer something that I don't want (for any reason).
In some cultures, it would be rude not to accept something from the host, and the fact the you won't let them give/do something for you can make them feel bad hosts.

I would start by saying something like:

No thanks, I'm good, really.

If you see that they insist or keep offering you can try to explain about the Kashrut, and that you still appreciate it although you can't take it.

I really appreciate you offering me this, it's very kind and it sounds good, and from my Kosher reasons I can't accept it.

In the case you think they might be offended or you see they're not comfortable with not giving you anything - ask them for something, it will make them feel that you're more comfortable and that they can bring you something as the host.
It's on your side what you can ask, perhaps tea/coffee? (If you don't mind using cups in another house). Try to think with yourself what you can ask from them to bring you, in a way that won't make you feel uncomfortable or conflicted, and will also allow them to be "good hosts". Think about what's important for you and the smallest possible gap you can close between your beliefs and your will to make the host feel comfortable, because Proper behavior precedes the Torah - דרך ארץ קדמה לתורה

In a case they offer you something to take with you, I would consider chancletaporelmundo's answer.

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