It's not about manners, my friends. It's about strategy.
Why? Here's an example. Yesterday my boss and his wife invited me over for dinner. Over the course of four hours, I had:
tomato and cucumber salad
peas and corn
short walk in the garden
three kinds of cake
Seriously, how is it all supposed to fit? I'm no slouch when it comes to eating, and I still have trouble getting through the gastronomic marathon that is the Russian prazdnichny obed (lit. "holiday dinner"). And you're not given a choice on any of it, either. I think the only thing on this list that was not served to me (as in, placed on my plate) was the cheese. Oh, and one of the kinds of cake. I really don't understand how Russians do it.
Suggestions (should you ever find yourself invited to dinner at a Russian's house):
1. Say no. Say it politely but forcefully. Be prepared to say it several times to the same offer. Be prepared to lie ("I'm allergic to mayonnaise!") if faced with a particularly insistent host.
2. Fast for 24 hours beforehand. I haven't tried this, but it might work...
3. Alternatively, research competitive-eating exercises and train for a week or two.
4. Pull the classic push-food-around-the-plate-instead-of-eating-it move, but be careful not to look impolite.
5. Elastic waistband.
6. Under no circumstances should you ever take seconds of anything. This may require saying no. See number one.
7. Be careful about complimenting the host's cooking too profusely, especially if saying no is your weak spot.
8. Conserve stomach space – drink as little as possible and chew thoroughly.
Sadly, I failed at many of these, especially number one. But despite the fact that I stalled out during the soup and had a rough time rallying for the main course (really, it would all be so much better if they just got rid of the appetizers/salads – who needs three different variations on the theme of chopped vegetables in mayonnaise??), it was still fun. My boss and his family are what I would consider (and what they themselves consider) intelligenty, so the conversation – about politics, civil rights, the free press, the St. Petersburg theater scene, Taganrog architecture – more than made up for the fact that I sort of had to waddle home. And may not eat again for a week.