Tuesday, January 11, 2011

That's just so...Russian!

This phrase is repeated by me or my American/British friends quite often here. We also tend to shrug and say, "Welcom to Russia" or "Only in Russia." Sometimes, its the only thing you CAN say. Like when you get locked out of your flat because the bolts "slid back in" and the locksmith can't do anything about it until he gets the right documentation proving it is, indeed, YOUR flat and you're not just trying to break in. Fast forward 24 hours and you're finally able to shower and start preparing your Canadian Thanksgiving feast that is due to start in in two hours.

Or when your hot water just stops. And the administrators don't do anything about it for two and a half weeks. Yeah. You can tell I'm still not totally over that one!!

Or when you glimpse someone wearing a jacket that has the word "Cool" emblazoned on the back in rhinestones, and you totally know that they are not wearing it in an ironic way, but they actually do think they are very cool.

But those are extreme, negative examples. We also say these phrases about other, little daily life things, and I want to write down some of them here so I don't forget! Just little unique things that make Russia...well, Russia. Here goes:

- You can't buy big tubs of yogurt, or even packages of yogurt, say four or six mini-containers together. Each container (roughly 100-250 grams) of yogurt is sold separately. I think this is genius! You don't have to worry about who's going to eat the nasty flavour (because there is always one gross flavour thrown in there...you can never buy JUST strawberry or vanilla, they'll throw in a prune/peach combo that just ends up sitting in your fridge!) and you can mix and match according to your personal preference. Plus, you don't have to commit yourself to a huge tube that might go bad before you finish it, or a new flavour you might not like.

- Clementines are also sold seperately here. In Canada, you can only buy them in those big wooden crates, which is great for a family but if you're a solo-shopper it can present some problems. For starters, it is a huge pain having to walk home with 5kg of mini-oranges. Then you have to eat approximately 20 oranges a day for a week in order to finish them all before they go bad! By selling the clementines individually, I can choose to buy however much I want/can reasonably eat without overdosing/can carry home. And you can also pick out the best ones! heehee...its not just me who does this...I see everyone manhandling the clementines here trying to get the "perfect" ones...

- Scrunchees. I haven't seen them in the West since the 90s, but here they are everywhere.

- There are men who are best described as outdoor or street "janitors" - their job is to pick up garbage, to shovel the sidewalks in the winter and sweep them during the rest of the year (you know, the other two months of the year where there's no snow!), and to generally just keep everything outside somewhat clean. This seems like one of the worst jobs in the world - you'll see them JUST finishing picking up some garbage and then some teenager will drop their McDonalds wrapper on the ground and keep walking...

- People spit on the sidewalks here a lot. I've never seen anything like it.

- Russians talk on their mobiles at a pitch approaching ear-deafening. It's like they think everyone else wants to know what they could possibly be talking about. But since I only understand one out of every 500 words, I can easily tune them out. I just find it amusing!

- There are warnings about looking up for falling icicles everywhere!

- On the buses, there's a woman who stumbles around precariously to each and every passenger. She asks you where you're headed, then enters some little numbers in on this box she carries with her, and tells you what you owe her for the ride. Then she gives you fifty (okay, more like four) random little pieces of paper that I think you're supposed to keep. She does this for EVERYONE who walks on.

I'm sure I will add onto this list later, but for now that's all I can think of and I have to go teach a class now!


  1. - If you're sitting between two people with the same name, you're supposed to make a wish. This happened at Orthodox Christmas when Svetlana was sitting between two Katyas! :)

    - At the KHL games, whenever there is a penalty, a girl appears on the big jumbotron, wearing a "referee" outfit (reminiscent of Halloween costumes that insert "Sexy", ie. "sexy nurse", "sexy angel", "sexy McDonalds worker"...you get the idea...so this is a "Sexy referee" outfit, and the camera zooms into her well-glossed, pouty lips as she blows a whistle. Then she makes the gesture that lets you know what the penalty is for, but she puts her hands down by her mini-skirt, so the camera obviously has to pan down to her legs. Then it zooms back up again, this time to her bust, as she wags a scolding finger in disappointment. This attempt to be sexy is so blatantly "in your face" that its hilarious. Of course, no one in the audience pays any attention to it besides us foreigners!

  2. I saw a bunch of people having a picnic when it was snowing and -10. Normal.

    Excessive amounts of ulta-pasteurized dairy products on the shelves.

    (and, wait, do people not spit on the streets in canada? 'cause that seems totally normal to me)

  3. - coloured and scented toilet paper (cuz, you know, pink raspberry-scented TP is totally necessary)

    And I don't know about the spitting thing...maybe I just never noticed back in Canada...but back when we could still see the sidewalks here (before the snow...feels like eons ago), I seriously felt like I was stepping in someone's spit every three steps.

    Yes yes YES on the excessive amounts of dairy products here!! :)

  4. May I add an "anecdote", a russian joke here? Hope you'd like it :)
    A winter day in a siberian city. -30C outside. A lil schoolboy enters a public bus. A big, draped in furs, conductor woman approaches him, demanding him to pay for his ticket. While he is collecting coins from his pockets by his cold-stiff fingers, she is asking him - how far will he ride? His answer - oh, its only a couple of stops, maam!
    So she motherly smiles, waves away his money and says "Ok, you have not to pay it... keep your money... GO AND BUY AN ICECREAM INSTEAD...

  5. I think the bus thing might be unique to your Belyaninovo bus, where there are different fares to different destinations. On the buses that go within Mytsichi, the fare is always 22 roubles.

    Also, don't people spit on the street in Canada?

    Personally, I've always found Russians to be really quiet people, especially on the phone. How do the always manage to talk on the phone on the metro though?