Monday, 26 July 2010
One of the complaints that often does the rounds amongst expats in Moscow is that in up-market restaurants the waiter/waitress often fails to return with change after the bill has been paid, even if the amount remaining is much larger than a regular tip. This is the cause of much grumbling.
Funny that it should be in London that I finally 'get' what is happening in this situation - and again with much appreciation to V + K (saying hello above). The thing is, if you say thank you as you hand the bill over, this means that the transaction is completed, so the money is theirs. And since English people say thank you on every possible occasion - well you get the picture.
So to be completely clear; when you pay the bill in a Moscow restaurant, say nothing and preferably do not even look the waiter in the eye. This is not impolite as it would be in England, just normal.
Being in London, and with some Russian visitors to stay, means thinking a bit about what constitutes Englishness ("the houses are all joined together!' as I heard an newly arrived Australian backpacker say on the train from the airport, with true surprise). Once V and K had got over the issue of everyone speaking English ( V - "its like Lingaphone") and the fact that we really do say please and thank you an awful lot; and despite me quizzing them about any particular national characteristics that stood out, my guests have been quite coy about saying what makes us particularly 'English'.
So planning to read some of those recent books struggling with this phenomenon, beginning with Dara O Briain's Tickling The English. From his account, there are many things we might be thought to share with Russians - talking about the weather (well as least my Moscow friends do this with me, but they may just think it is what I want), expecting things to go wrong (although in England this leads to complaining, in Russia to fatalism), some kinds of eccentricity and some aspects of a shared sense of humour, particularly around playing with language (although the English one is is certainly less 'signposted').
And of course in the end, Dara - being a very smart man - doesn't fall for either national stereotypes or even characteristic 'tendencies'. What makes a nation (or parts of a nation), he suggests, is merely the mass of historically accumulated and shared cultural references. Absolutely.