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 dark (which admittedly, at this time of the year in Russia is not saying much) 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 am and 10:30 pm.”
“Sometimes the Generalniy 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 plead, “last night I made Pasta Norma, which is even better the next day: I’ll put it in something to keep it warm—“
“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 US, 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.
And HRH had the good grace to look thoughtful.
This post originally appeared in The Washington Post and Russia Beyond The Headlines under the title “Nyet To the Brown Bag” on October 27, 2011.