by Kriston Capps
Not with a Stakhanovite appetite would you enjoy dill if you have ever lived in Russia. There, dill is not merely traditional, an herb that occasionally mars an otherwise acceptable dish like potato salad. Dill is as Russian as the long winter and bears-as-pets. It belongs right up there with the castle/rocket from Tetris, every line uttered by Sean Connery in The Hunt for Red October, and utter, utter hopelessness.
Like Yglesias, I was once young, foolish, and in Russia. My trip happened even more recently — I spent the summer of 2003 in Moscow — and though by that time the Russians had enjoyed more than a decade of practice with capitalism, the finer aspects of a service economy still eluded them. Meals at restaurants often eclipsed two to three hours. Not those famous European dinners, either, where you dine on the patio and enjoy wine and baguettes served by boys in Newsies-esque knickers and read the Slow Web while the sun sets over St. Somebody’s square. Track down a waitress for any reason in Moscow, even to pay her, and she will harangue you: “What do you want! How do you not see that I am busy!” Finally, you will eat something, very likely made of onion or potato, quite possibly flung at you, and most certainly drowned in dill.
The frustration of dill at every single meal will eventually lead you to make the walk of shame down the tony Arbat to Т.Ж.И.Ф. That’s right, a Friday’s: This is a marked-up tourist trap every desperate American willingly, eagerly waltzes into in hopes of escaping the national dill-emma. It takes a while to reach this broken state: You might endure a documentary’s worth of trips to Макдоналдс first. But it is here where you learn a real Russian lesson about disappointment feeding the soul. There is no American menu at Friday’s in Russia. There is no flair at Friday’s in Russia. And there is definitely no refuge from dill at Friday’s in Russia. Only the same servings of boiled oats and translucent cabbages await you. There is a “spaghetti” available, which is a bowl of kasha in beet juice, and a “hamburger,” an entree that will kill you. All of these things are demeaning enough, but they are transported to a new and transcendental kind of horrible by heaping applications of dill. Т.Ж.И.Ф stands for: God Is Dead, Now Eat Your Dill.
It’s not just the sit-down restaurants like Yolki Polki, where you can order any traditional Russian hot salad (mmm!) of two boiled vegetables plus one seasoning (guess which!). I learned the instrumental declension case by practicing each day at a Gorky Park blini stand: begging, whimpering, pleading, “без укропом.” While the literal translation is, “without dill,” it would appear to be an idiomatic expression prompting laughter, derision, the occasion spitting, and gobs and gobs of extra dill. It may in fact mean this.
Imagine a society not designed by Dr. Seuss where asking, please-and-thank-you style, to be excused from something will only get you more of that thing. That is Russia, and that thing is dill (and vodka shots). Dill tastes like mean service. Dill will punch you in the face, alright. But here in the USA, you don’t have to take it.