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Travels in Russia

KLM Rocks Across Europe!
Santa Claus in Moscow
Television Is a Time Suck
The Reality of Irrelevance
Salute Mayor Luzhkov
Impeachment Happens
I Am Not The Only One...
I'm Back! Did Ya Miss Me?
Chechnya Burning
The Jews Are Here!
Gailyn Goes to Town
Is There a Central Bank?
Santa Barbara is Real
Nick's Thanksgiving in Russia
Den' Rozhdeniya = Birthdays
Those Crazy Expats
It's Just a Few Drops of Vodka...
Elections Are Always Rigged
The Blind Leading the Blind
Good Russian Grooms
You Say 'Boris Berezovskiy' Fast
Too Cold to Care!
Russian Oil Towns
Sneaky Siberian Tigers
Which Way is St Peterburg?
Where am I again? Oh, yeah...
I Love Me Some Vodka
It's a Gosorg Halloween
Hunger Comes to Us All
Why Don't They Just Learn English?!
Post-Crisis, Life Goes On
Is Yeltsin 'The Man'?
Murmansk - Brrrr!
Taganka Hides Her Secrects
These are Communists
It's a Power Vaccum
The Commies are Back
Propaganda is Good for You
You Better Buy Russian!
Sex Ed Soviet Style
Party over, oops outta time!
Russian Healthcare in Moscow
What Russian Financial Crisis?
YE Prices in Russia
The Hungry Duck
Russian Caviar Mafia
Magical Mushrooms
Shhhh! We're Bear Hunting
Soviet Street Scams
Bez Dollarov
A Koshka Konspiracy
On The Dacha
The Banking Implosion
Surviving Army Life
Shashleek is Steak on Steroids
Dacha Thinking
Beach Weekend
Dos Vedanya
Hello from Vladivostok
Equality Means Only She Works
Jogging is an Extreme Sport
Russians Have Reunions Too
My Folks in Massive Moscow
Better than Fireworks
Miners Are Real Men
The Russian Mafia is the Roof
No One Smiles in the CIS
One Year Anniversary
Russian Brides Rock
Laura is My St Pete Connection
Change is in the Wind
Chuck Norris' Beverly Hills Casino
The Expat Woman's Predicament
Street Food is Yummy!
Spring Flowers Make June Leavers
The Provinces Are Provincial
Ever Take an Elektrichka?
The English Invasion
Nuttin Like New Money
Rules Are Made to Break
All Black is Russian Fashion
Easter Memories = Easter Dinner
Politics, Russian Style
Theresa Tries to Russify
I Go to Gay Clubs Worldwide
I Hide on Women's Day
New & Shiny: Nizhny Novgorod
Psst! Wanna job in Moscow?
Fili Park Has All the Bootlegs
Web Page Reactions
Take a Break at Dom Odaha
Expat Living in Moscow is Swank
Why Are You Remonting?
They Look Like Telephones...
In Need of a Decent Hairstylist
Smashing Bottles in Red Square


Russia, December 7, 1998

Weddings in Winter

Russian weddings are quick! Don't be late.

7 December, 1998 NBC NEWS

Moscow: love among the ruble

By Carlota Zimmerman

MOSCOW - As Moscow leaders ponder the socio-economic virtual reality of the country's burning ruble, Russians continue doing what comes naturally - falling in love and planning one of the most bizarre events in traditional Russian life: a wedding. Misha's salary was cut by a third, while Katya lost her job altogether. But the two never hesitated in their plans to get married.


and several million brain cells to kill? How about a taste for mayonnaise-and-aspic-encased foodstuffs? Been waiting for that opportunity to drink yourself blind to a soundtrack of Greatest Soviet Classics as performed on the accordion? Good, because Mikhail and Yekaterina are getting married and you're invited. Mikhail Morgachev, 26, is one of my boyfriend Sergei's best friends. Growing up in a small northern Russian town, they detonated homemade bombs together, thus cementing a life-long friendship not known for its maturity.


Thus when Misha (short for Mikhail) decided to marry 20-year old Yekaterina (Katya) Chepaskina, he asked Sergei to be his svidatel, or witness, at the civil ceremony. I knew we were in for trouble when Sergei, deeply touched by his friend's request, responded by buying Misha the Russian version of "Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Sex But Were Afraid to Ask."

Touring the sights, thinking about kids..

Misha is a computer systems administrator at a Moscow bank, where he met Katya, a university student majoring in economics. They decided to wed this past June, before the latest economic crisis hit. The market downturn hit the couple hard. Misha's salary was cut by a third, while Katya lost her job altogether. But asked if they had ever hesitated in their plans, Misha shrugged: 'We decided there was no point in waiting. You have to keep on living.


I woke up cursing the unnatural idea of matrimony, wishing that everyone could just live happily and without ceremony in sin. For some reason, I was strangely unmoved about the idea of spending the next 12 hours celebrating a wedding. However, Serge informed me that I was getting off easy; he's been to weddings which last 3-5 days!

This is especially common in provincial Russia, where the entire village will be invited to drink up to impending cirrhosis. I can't think of anyone's wedding I could bear celebrating over the course of almost a week, including my own. I had also been duly warned about the Russian propensity for fist-fighting and general violence at weddings, when future in-laws meet over several gallons of vodka. In fact, there is even a Soviet film in which the groom is killed at his own wedding. It was probably a mercy killing.

Saturday morning, and we're driving halfway across Moscow to pick up the groom and his family. Mikhail meets us in a tux and tails. Outside Katya's building, Mikhail, Sergei and Pavel, a friend-cum-master of ceremonies, were greeted by a group of women, including the bride's svidetelnitsa, or witness. What followed was a highly complicated tradition of games that the groom, or if he fails, his witness, must complete before they can see the bride. Once upon a time, in pre-revolutionary Russia, these games had actual significance, but now, as with so many other things in Russia, the meaning has gone, but the song remains the same.


Mikhail, Sergei and Pavel were first made to pay 200 rubles (a few cents) to enter the building. Once inside, the stakes were raised and included identifying birth dates chalked on stairwells, reciting and singing love poetry and songs, and choosing the sugared water among three cups of sweet, bitter and salty water - which symbolize the character of their married life. Inside the apartment, the bride was waiting. The process, called vykup, or ransom, can, depending on the difficulty of the challenges, last for several hours. Finally, Misha and Katya were as one. We rushed forward to congratulate them, suffocating the the newlyweds in bouquets.

Now, having brought our bride, we were on our way to ZAGS, the Russian equivalent of a town hall, where births weddings and deaths are registered. Misha and Katya's brisk civil ceremony took place at Moscow's Wedding Palace #1.


Even though today Russians can have religious weddings (prohibited during the Soviet era), a preliminary civil ceremony at ZAGS is still legally mandatory, and, it seems for many people, enough. The ceremony was definitely a learning experience, a mixture of flowery platitudes and bureaucracy: as with everything else in Russia, don't even think of getting no smiles!married without your passport. I did enjoy, however, the live jazz band playing 'Girl From Impanema' during the wedding.

Seeing the sites in Moscow

Finally, Misha and Katya were as one. We rushed forward to congratulate them, suffocating the the newlyweds in bouquets. Now married, the day was half done: hallelujah. On to Park Pobedy (Victory Park, a World War II memorial) for the traditional post-wedding champagne-drenched romp, after which we raced to the restaurant for eight more hours of fun.


Since Sergei was the best man, we couldn't leave until all the little old ladies with purple hair had left; until the last party game had been played; until the last meat course was choked down; until the last slice of wedding cake was 'auctionedö off; until basically even Katya and Misha were wondering if and when this wedding would ever end.

Sometime later, much later, driving home in a stupor of vodka and thick salad, Sergei's father casually asked us if there would be more celebrating the next day. Silence, like the tomb, enveloped those words.

E-mail your congratulations to Katya and Misha:

The Independent (UK), 31 August 1999


By Helen Womack

OVER THE years, some of the children of Samotechny Lane have come to call me Tyotya Lena or Aunt Helen. One boy, Dima, whom I have known since he was 10, is 19 now and in the army. He has been going out with a girl called Tanya, one year his junior. The other week they invited me to their wedding. I was touched, and at the same time uncertain; I knew the wedding was likely to be a tense affair as Dima's parents had recently been involved in a bitter divorce. But he said he wanted me to be there, so I accepted.

There is a popular Russian folk song in which a young girl begs her mother to wait awhile before sewing her a red dress - in other words to delay a little longer before giving her away in marriage. Most Russians still marry at what seems a terribly early age. Partly, this is because of the housing shortage. Young people simply do not have anywhere to have sex, so they marry to be able to sleep with each other under their parents' roofs. Separately, both Dima's mother and father had advised him not to rush into marrying Tanya. Her parents had told her the same thing. This was another source of tension but the young people said they loved each other.

The ceremony was set for 3.30pm but Dima and Tanya, being inexperienced, had not known that the first thing a marrying couple must do when they arrive at the office is to hand over their passports for registration. They had waited shyly on the pavement while other couples in the queue had overtaken them. Their wedding was reset for 5.30pm. At last, Mendelssohn's Wedding March sounded for Dima and Tanya and they made their vows before the registrar, who managed to put remarkable feeling into words she pronounces over and over each day.

Afterwards, we repaired to Tanya's grandmother's for the reception. Tanya's grandma is one of the hero babushki of Russia. In a one-room flat in the suburb of Pechatniki, she had managed to put together a spread for 30 guests. We were packed in like sardines for the feast of red fish and Russian salads, drenched in mayonnaise and washed down with vodka.

First, though, two traditions had to be observed. Tanya's mother had to welcome the newlyweds with bread and salt, the symbols of hospitality. Mum stood at the door of the flat, thinking the couple would come up, while Dima and Tanya waited outside at the entrance to the building. Finally, Mum descended in one lift while, in the other, the couple rode up to the12th floor. For a quarter of an hour, the bread and salt in one lift and the meringue and liquorice in the other kept going up and down and missing each other. After that, the guests all had to shout "gorko, gorko" (it is bitter) to encourage the pair to sweeten the occasion by kissing. Then we could all attack the food.

Dima's parents were put at opposite ends of the table where they could not do much damage to each other or spoil the fun. One after another, those who had made messes of their own marriages stood up and gave toasts that amounted to moral lectures. When it was my inescapable turn to speak, I just said: "Dima and Tanya, you're very brave. I wish you luck." Four days after the wedding, Dima had to go back to the army. Tanya must now wait for him for another year and a half. If the adults stop nagging them, maybe they will find a way to survive.

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