Nyet to the brown bag

Source: GettyImages / Fotobank

Source: GettyImages / Fotobank

HRH, my “handsome Russian husband,” puts in, on average, a 17-hour workday down at The Difficult Start-up. He’s up at an ungodly hour in the pitch black and comes home long after what I consider cocktail time and what many people feel is past dinner time. I miss his company, of course, but what really sticks in my craw is that he’s not doing his fair share of consuming all the food I make, photograph and write about. HRH claims that he is also sorry he’s not home more since he often goes without lunch.

“You can’t skip lunch,” I said, aghast. When you work at home in your yoga pants as I do, lunch is a major highlight of the day. “You have to eat something between 7 a.m. and 10:30 p.m.”

“Sometimes the Generalniy [director] and I go for a steak,” he said, “but not every day. And I can’t go to the canteen too often.”

“Why not?” I asked.

“Too political and too complicated,” he said. “If I sit with one of my subordinates, I’ll have to sit with them all in a rotation.”

“Let me pack you a lunch,” I pleaded. “Last night I made Pasta Norma, which is even better the next day.”

“We’ve had this discussion,” said HRH shaking his head. “I’m not taking lunch to work.”

Yes, we have had this discussion many times, and yet I still don’t get why Russian men don’t brown bag. HRH refuses to expand beyond saying, “It would be misunderstood.” I keep at it, though. I’ve purchased innocuous-looking insulated lunchboxes and cool packs, which sit on the pantry shelf, unwrapped. I’ve suggested slim thermoses and chic metal “Tiffin boxes,” and been given a scornful look. But I was genuinely hurt when he vehemently rejected my attempts to get him to drink more water.

HRH definitely wears the sweatpants in our family. He swims, he fences and he’s run three marathons (a fourth, I have declared, there shall not be.) He also loves to sauna, which, like all Russians, he believes is the generic cure-all for everything from the common cold to stage four cancer. I worry HRH doesn’t drink enough water. During a recent trip to the United States, I noticed that everyone carried large stainless steel bottles, which looked sharp and seemed practical. I bought a particularly manly gunmetal 40-oz. bottle for HRH with both a sports top and a sippy-cup lid so he could choose between the two.

“I cannot take that to work,” said HRH after I presented him with the water bottle. “It would be misunderstood.”

“In what way?” I wailed. “You can fill it up with ice water and lemon and just have it on your desk!”

“People would not understand,” said HRH again without any explanation.

“People don’t drink water at The Difficult Start-up?” I asked.

“People drink tea,” responded HRH, “until lunchtime anyway.”

“And after that?” I pushed.

“After that,” said HRH, as he left for another 17-hour day, “we don’t need anything nearly so large.”

“And how about the morning after?” I prompted.

HRH looked thoughtful.

Jennifer Eremeeva is a a freelance writer and longtime resident of Moscow. She is the curator of the culinary blog, www.moscovore.com, and the humor blog www.russialite.com.  

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