The Parallax Brief


Unrepentant Subjectivity on Economics, Politics, Defence, Foreign Policy, and Russia

Standing Room Only an Alien Concept in Russia

Everyone has indulged in a clichéd joke at the expense of another culture’s habits. But sometimes a similar look at your own culture can help you better understand the trials of living abroad

A Russian friend today asked me why Portugal was so popular with British people. He described a town (the name of which I forget) that he said was so full of Brits he could only ever hear English on the streets. The aspect that amused him the most, though, was that every single bar – despite doing a roaring trade – was an ocean of empty seats because all the Brits were either standing at the bar drinking and chatting, or standing outside doing likewise. He just didn’t get it.

Conversely, one thing that irritates and puzzles me here in Moscow is that for a great many bars and ‘pubs’ it is necessary to book a table. It’s near impossible just to walk into a bar on a Friday night.  Sometimes I arrive at the chosen drinking venue to be told by the hostess (the Moscow bar equivalent of a Maitre’d) that there are no tables. When I ask if it is possible to sit or stand at the bar, which is usally empty, oftentimes a facial expression shoots back at me that I would usually only expect to see if I had said I would sit next to the urinals in the men’s room.

Now I know why. Standing and drinking in a place that isn’t a nightclub is obviously viewed with the kind of mirth we reserve for German sun-lounger behaviour, or fiery, emotional Italian lotharios. I mean, why would you want to drink without waitress service and a reserved place, anyway?

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