If you’re dating a Russian person, eventually the moment will come when they want you to meet their parents. It’s important to know that family approval is crucial to many Russian people, and the mother’s approval is especially significant. Luckily, there are certain tactics you can use that will maximize the likelihood that your significant other’s mother (or grandmother – equally important!) will take a liking to you. Here is your preparedness guide to impressing that crucial person:
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Learn Some Russian
I once took a boyfriend to stay with my Russian grandmother in St. Petersburg for a few days. He did not prepare any Russian phrases – he didn’t even know how to say hello, please, or thank you! (Trust me, this was not because I didn’t try – but Russian is scary and difficult to learn, and many people shy away from it.) Needless to say, my grandmother was not impressed. She persistently tried to speak to him in Russian and got more and more frustrated each time he didn’t understand her. She even pulled me aside at one point to say – he’s nice, but couldn’t he at least have learned how to say “thank you”?
Don’t make the same mistake. Even if your significant other’s mother speaks English, having made the effort to learn how to communicate in her native language will provide you with massive amounts of bonus points. Learn – really learn, memorise and perfect – the very basics, and do your best to remember a little bit more. Trust me, it will be worth the effort.
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As is pretty standard when entering any family home in Russia, it is expected that the visitor (male or female) will bring flowers for the woman of the house. Luckily, flower stands are everywhere in Russia (many are even open 24 hours a day), so it shouldn’t be difficult to find a place to pick up a small bouquet. It doesn’t need to be extravagant, but it should be nice. Get a shop assistant to put one together for you if you know nothing about flower arrangements (like me).
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For men: Be a gentleman
Follow the standard rules of politeness and add as much extra traditional gentlemanliness as you can handle. This means (of course) opening doors, pulling out chairs, waiting to eat until everyone has their food. But it also means always (!) carrying as much of the women’s luggage/shopping bags/everything except their purses as you reasonably can, without them having to ask.
This was another mistake that my then-boyfriend made which (honestly) made my grandmother seriously dislike him. We were bickering over something on our way to the airport, so he did not offer to take my bag. It was a tiny carry-on that I could easily carry myself, and at home I wouldn’t ever expect him to carry it for me unless I had a broken arm. But in Russia, as gender-stereotypical as it is, men carry stuff. What he should have done is taken my bag as if it wasn’t even a question and carried it the entire way. And if I tried to protest he should have told me to stop being silly. As I’ve noted before, Russia is... still quite deeply entrenched in traditional gender roles.
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For women: Be a lady
Similarly, women are expected to be women in a Russian family home. This means, yes, looking neat and put-together (as Russian women generally do), but it also means helping with the cooking and the cleaning-up. This usually takes the form just a tiny bit less direct than the guys’ described above – the woman should offer to help insistently, as in saying “let me help you with that” as she’s carrying the dishes to the sink and turning on the water.
Other than being friendly, polite and sociable, the key to impressing a Russian mother or grandmother is basically to pretend you’ve gone back in time 50 years. As silly as it sounds – and as much as many modern Russian women would refuse it to be true – the more you can play to your traditional gender role, the better you will come across.