September 01, 2001

To Tula! Samovar Optional ...

To Tula! Samovar Optional ...

Peter the Great tried to impose coffee on boyar-dominated Russia, but tea would not give way. This, however, did not stop coffee from having some linguistic influence here. In fact, a Russian’s pronunciation of the word coffee (кофе) may help you discern their provenance: provincials often pronounce the final syllable with a hard “f,” making it sound like “фэ,” while the correct pronunciation sounds like “фе.”

The incorrect pronunciation can be heard in a scene from the classic film, Diamond Arm. The smuggler Lyolik, at pains to cure his accomplice Gena’s hangover, tries waking him with promises of “a bath, coffee, and even chocolate with tea.” (“Будет тебе там и ванна, и кофе, будет и какао с чаем!”)

But tea is king here, and the process of tea drinking is rich in protocol and etiquette. Even the least hospitable housewife, when admitting a guest or visitor into her home, is expected to offer him a cup of tea. This practice actually ends up giving a visitor an “out”–a way to escape an unwanted meal. “If only for a cup of tea,” can be the polite reply to the invitation. (“Ну, если только на чашку чаю.”)

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