Your parents just returned from a trip Moscow…What gifts do you think they bought? If your first thoughts are vodka and nesting dolls, it might be time to broaden your knowledge of Russian culture. Here, then, is a description of Russian souvenirs with photos I took this afternoon.
The above shirts are called ‘vweesheevanka’…though I personally just call them, “Those Russian/Ukrainian looking shirts.” These folksy, rustic designs date back hundreds of years, and you’ll often see people wearing them, especially on national holidays. There’s really no analogous piece of clothing in the U.S. Let 700 years pass, and then I suppose blue-jeans will have a similar significance. In any case, a quality ‘vweesheevanka’ is surprisingly expensive – you can spend $40 easily — but the quality is very high, and they’re all done by hand. It’s fairly lightweight and thus makes for a good souvenir.
Though the scale might be hard to determine from the photo, the wooden spoons pictured above are easily a foot long. Hand painted, they are intended to be used and not merely hung as decorations (though if you buy one, wash it by hand and not in the dishwasher.) Each unique, they are things of beauty, but cost surprisingly little (especially when compared to those shirts). Figure about $5 per spoon. They are a very good Russian souvenir option due to their low cost vs visual appeal.
The ‘rooshneekee’ pictured above are like thin rugs, meant to be draped over framed religious icons. They are also used to decorate wedding and other holiday tables. Figure paying between $15 to $20 for one, depending on the length and intricacy of design.
The mound-shaped items above are actually breads, not cakes. Called ‘karavai’ they can sometimes be sweet, but are usually plain white bread. The elaborate decorations on top are themselves edible, made simply of flour and water. Karavai are consumed only at weddings. They are torn into chunks which are then handed out to the guests. A fair price for a large one is about $20. Hey, that’s wedding favors for you! I havn’t tried packing these in my suitcase and not sure what customs would have to say, since they are food.. but I still thought they should be included as they would make for a fairly unique Souvenir from Russian.
Ah, the boolavah! My favorite Russian souvenir! It’s actually a Kazakh weapon (think Ottomans and ancient Turks). Only the head Ottoman warrior carried such a spiked club. Though intended now, obviously, just for decoration, the tips of those spikes are sharp as pencil points! It’s fun to hold, and you almost hope for a ruckus to break out, so as to find fair opportunity to wield it.
Speaking of Kazakhs, you can find paintings of them everywhere in the F.S.U. This one, about 24” X 24” is on sale for $17 or so. I’m not bowled over by the quality – they often have a paint-by-the-numbers feel about them – but hey, it’s not for you, it’s a gift for a dear friend or relative.
So, forget those tacky nesting dolls, and the thoroughly predictable bottle of vodka. When you come to Russia or Ukraine, get something more authentic. Anyway, that’s the scoop on Russian souvenirs!