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If a Lithuanian invites you to dinner… || Survival tips

I’ve read on numerous occasions that people from Eastern Europe are best described as generous and extremely hospitable. So generous, in fact, that the majority of them would pull out their heart and give it to a, well, a good friend, a relative or even a foreigner. This hospitality can seem pushy and intrusive, especially when it comes down to drinking and eating habits, but they mean well.

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I took my non-Lithuanian fiancé to Lithuania several times, but one particular incident still pops up whenever he is asked to share his views on cultural differences.

While in Vilnius, we were both invited to visit my friend’s parent’s house for some lunch. The couple was very friendly and excited to see us both, as they also had a daughter who had moved to the UK a while ago and is now living with her English husband. So they instantly felt this bond – as if I was their immigrant daughter – and put on a show with three course meal.

Now, the first thing to do to break the silence, or to get things going, is to offer a drink. When Lithuanians offer you a drink, they don’t mean “Shall I get you a drink?” (i.e. water, juice, lemonade, alcohol drinks, beer – whatever liquid). What they mean by “išgerti” (to drink) is “We have some liquor, brandy, cognac, wine and vodka – which one do you prefer?”

So there we are, sitting with empty stomachs, very keen to just chat and relax, but oh no, we must have a drink! So a bottle of Lithuanian cranberry liquor called “Bobeline” (35% vol.) appears on the table, and here is Vytautas, the proud host, filling everybody’s glass. As the drink is quite sweet and strong, it is okay to sip it and not rush anywhere.

That is if you know the local rules.

My non-Lithuanian but trying-hard-to-blend-in partner decides that if his glass is full of strong vodka-like booze, he should down it in one go, rather that trying to explore the beauty and unique flavour of local cranberries by licking this red liquid for half an hour each time his glass is filled.

Now Vytautas, a truly hospitable and very traditional Lithuanian man, decides that his guest is somewhat thirsty and therefore needs some more “Bobeline”. It is very rude in Lithuania to keep your guest’s glass empty, and whoever hosts the dinner (lunch, party etc.) is watching the glasses like a hawk.

It goes without saying that it is still early, the food hasn’t been served yet, and it’s around 3-4 p.m. I am busy chatting to the lady, Vytautas’ wife, while the men are literally getting trashed on “Bobeline”.

One of them is, anyway.

I cannot believe my eyes when I see Vytautas is rather sober, while his puzzled South African comrade is absolutely drunk.

As it turned out later, my fiancé thought it was rude to ignore a full shot glass of a generously poured drink, while the Lithuanian host thought it was rude to not fill it up.

It is also considered very rude in Lithuania to not try at least a little nibble of everything that is served in front of you, especially if it is home made. I once attended a Lithuanian community get-together in east London, where tables were covered with goodies from Lithuanian delicatessen shops, as well as creations of Lithuanian cuisine (potato salads, herring, stuffed eggs etc.). This one lady sitting next to me brought a massive bowl of extremely odorous homemade rye bread salad with raw garlic, boiled egg and mayonnaise (if you need a recipe, give me a shout, I’m sure I will be able to find it!). She insisted, very assertively, that I try some of her masterpiece. I had no doubt it was delicious, but had to politely decline saying I had another party to go to, and I couldn’t afford to smell of fresh garlic. And what a mistake that was! I thought she will burn me alive with her enraged eyes! I still had guts to say no, though. I bet she still remembers that.

The morale of these two stories is that Lithuanians come across as extremely hospitable people, but by being so, they tend to urge guests, sometimes even annoyingly, to drink and eat even if the guests are not hungry. If you are too polite and not firm enough, any Lithuanian could possibly fit the contents of their fridge into your stomach, making you rather upset. And if you are too blunt to say no to an extra shot of “Bobeline” or a plate of smoked pigs ears, you won’t come out of it very happy either.

Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

20 Responses

16 January, 2008, 10:00 am, Luxeat said:

Great article! ! Its true that Lithuanian hosts can be too pushy and even annoying sometimes..

Aiste

17 January, 2008, 2:55 pm, shiny said:

Very nice survival tips! And so true.. I think I’ve heard some similar story about foreigner misunderstanding Lithuanian drinking traditions and thus getting really drunk unintentionally (: I guess, that happens quite often, heh.

28 January, 2008, 6:11 am, Rita said:

Oh, come on guys 😉 I’m lithuanian and my husband is english, but we both never felt like this before, it depends where you’ll go and what kind of family will serve you a meal 🙂 (like english or italian and etc.) Because I had bad experiences in English family as well, so it doesn’t mean that all British are like that 😉 So I could say, that all Europeans have something similar in serving dinner, but we all are diffirent people, so you’ll never know 😉 Bless the author of this article, but you shouldn’t judge all lithuanians just because of that one dinner party 😉 Keep that in mind, cause I could judge my husband’s english working class family as well :)))

30 January, 2008, 9:36 pm, Dovile to RIta said:

I think she didn’t mean to judge, just to describe;)

12 February, 2008, 3:10 pm, eNyu said:

But we truly have this issue. I am a pretty sober guy, I don’t like alcohol much, especially strong (vodka, whiskey, brandy, etc.) and when in parties I prefer to sip my long-drinks for the most part. But it sometimes seems that I am dressed all red and surrounded by bulls. Every lithuanian dude, who comes to a party with a bottle of vodka will feel the need to make me “drink with him”. And not some “girlie drink”, “be a man, drink pure vodka”. “I don’t drink” doesn’t work for them. Not only you will be gay for the rest of the evening but you will still be tempted to prove your worth. I usually tend to tell them I’m driving, it’s manly enough and usually makes them look some other way faster.

16 March, 2008, 1:34 pm, Keith said:

I had Lithuanian-American friends who drank what many here call a “Russian Cocaine”–pile of sugar and coffee grounds atop a lemon wedge to chase a shot of chilled vodka. I think they called it “Nikolauskas” or something. Do you know the proper Lithuanian name..?

23 March, 2008, 4:15 am, Mykolas said:

I am pleased to have read your Blog. I’ll be sure to add a link to
my own Blog. You have provided some very amusing and eye opening insights to
the “Eastern European” character and experiences.

BRAVO!

7 April, 2008, 9:03 pm, vitas nagys said:

i am a 41year old englishmen with full bore lithuanian blood. I can always remember certain dinner parties when i was young and my mother would comment that she was nicknamed ironguts.She is now 83 yrs young and drives to town every other day in her 4yr old honda jazz.The car had to be returned after purchase to have a sports pack fitted.
I am aware of what they used to drink at these dinner parties,i just got the spills.It was in the days of clip on candles on xmas trees.

9 April, 2008, 9:55 pm, DD said:

Brings back memories of my Lithuanian Grandparents – the only people I knew who kept half a pig in their fridge!

We couldnt eat all the chocolate fingers they bought for us when we visited – great memories.

24 April, 2008, 5:58 pm, Boak said:

Just wanted to say how much I’ve been enjoying reading your blog. You should update more often!

25 April, 2008, 9:15 am, Lithuanian Jotter said:

Thanks, Boak, for your comments. I’ve just been away for more than 6 weeks and now that I’m back on the UK soil, I will try update this blog more frequently. So please come by!

16 June, 2008, 4:50 am, Mykolas said:

After having read this article for the first time not too long ago it brought fond back memories of my own experiences with ‘Lithuanian Hospitality’ I’ve included a link to my own account of similar experiences. I hope you will also have a good laugh after having read it. I’ve enjoyed reading of your experiences as though I was there
watching the evening unfold. Could even taste the booze halfway through your story. It’s articles like this and others which you have offered that bring home that personal sense of ‘belonging’ to our people. Please continue to share the memories with us.

mykolas

My experience with Lithuanian Hospitality;
http://bieksia.wordpress.com/category/tourism-hospitality/

20 August, 2008, 9:15 pm, D said:

sounds similar to experiences I had while travelling in Romania..it got a bit annoying in the end when I had to eat things I didn´t really like first thing in the morning!

13 November, 2008, 8:32 pm, Andy said:

wonderful,
I have a lithuanian partner and she feeds me all the time, morning noon and night.
I did try to tell her that I only eat once a day and that would be a light meal late in the day (cos I did a lot of sport). well now I dont run much, dont think my hips can take it and I can drink vodka like it comes from a tap.
The best way to put on the pounds is to marry a girl from lithuania and forget the word NO.
oh and a small joke!
a lithuanian has to do twice the work that an English man does to get the same pay. but thats not hard is it!!?

13 December, 2008, 1:55 am, Nancy said:

I have to laugh… I’m an American of Lithuanian descent. After reading this, I think that the hospitality thing must be genetic. I put on a show for my friends, as do my mom and aunt… My sister and her best friend (who is partially of Lithuanian descent) used to throw elaborate parties in their dorm room in college. My boyfriend is particularly well fed, also.

15 January, 2009, 6:20 pm, garbane said:

Great post! I have already send the link to my partner 🙂 The problem is – he is not the only one suffering over my parents’ dinner table – as he’s too polite to say ‘no’ to them, he asks me to do that and at the end i turned out to be the ‘bad girlfriend’ that does not allow her man to eat! Because, although i just (on his behalf) said no to another cepelinas, he allows my mum to put another one into his plate whereas i get ‘i knew he was hungry’ look from my mum!

16 January, 2009, 11:48 pm, Ricardo said:

I’ve been in that exact situation,.. thrasshed to the floor drinking vodka shots son an easter morning BEFORE breakfast,.. and force fed on kindness,… But I just LOVE lithuania,.. just need to find a way around the mother in law’s hospitality 😀

30 January, 2009, 8:51 pm, Lina said:

Hi,
I agree with Rita,not every family the same, some of them might offer just something little,and they won’t be insulted if you won’t try every food what’s is on the table. i think this hospitality thing hapining more with older generation,it all came from Russia,full tables and drinking very strong drinks. Sometimes it’s kind a competition who will drink more and still will be almost souber.

17 May, 2011, 2:31 pm, BeeMan said:

Athough I’m English, I have the pleasure of working with two very talented and friendly Lithuanian colleagues and have met very many more Lithuanians, both here in the UK and over in Lithuania. I have to agree that Lithuanian hospitality really is ‘something else’. If you really want to wake up with a bloated stomach and a really bad head the next day, don’t ever turn down a chance to go to a Lithuanian wedding -a most fantastic experience!!

17 March, 2016, 9:23 am, Calmn said:

Yeah, thats the tradition, never leave anyone’s glass empty its considered very rude and for example at big parties, like weddings etc, people choose special “officers” who would look out and always fill glasses whenever any gets empty.

Most people think that they should drink everything in one go, but its not entirely right and you will get your glass filled instantly again, thus never ending cycle, so you need to drink as much as you want and dont even think about the finish, because the glass will be filled anyway.

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