How much can you learn in a month? Turns out its a lot- as I prepared this blog to look back at the last month (crazy, but true: I’ve been in Russia for a month now!) I came up with over 30 things. Here I’ve tried to give you the lessons that I think are the most important-new lessons, or lessons that were once again reinforced:
- It’s not always cold, snowing, or grey in Moscow. Although I expected this to be a myth, its interesting how much images of the USSR, black and white photographs, and the rhetoric of ‘otherness’ still persisted in the crevices of my mind.
- Put away your phone: in Russia its normal to ask for directions.
The flip side of this is don’t be shocked if someone asks you for directions. Although mobile internet is fairly cheap here, it seems to be the norm to save time and actually talk to people around you. There tends to be a gendered relationship here, women asking women and men asking men, although this might be coincidence of my experiences.
- The Russian attitude towards Germans and Germany is multifaceted. And weird.
On the one hand, we are still the conquered enemy and have alligned with the distrusted forces of the English-speakers, on the other we are a valuable trading partner and an honoured birthplace of culture and important ideas.
Russians love cake, ice cream and sweets. Its a sweet-toothed person’s heaven. Try the gingerbread, jam filled blinis, fruit cakes, chocolates…
- It’s difficult to fit everything into a work schedule.
Being a tourist feels like a full time enterprise. Making time along side studies, sport, and ‘down time’ is a real challenge. No wonder time goes so quickly.
- The man/boy at the post office does not have a crush on me, I just keep on failing at filling out the paperwork correctly.
Nuff said really. That’s why I keep on getting slips from the post.
- Pancakes are a meal. Any meal. Whenever you want them.
Honestly, I knew this before, but I’m happy to be living somewhere where its the accepted norm, and pancakes (or blinis) are available any time of day or night.
- Running on a treadmill in a gym is unusual.
This one genuinely surprised me, and still baffles me. Treadmills are most often used for walking. Although, I suppose in a culture where going to the gym has a lot to do with appearances rather than fitness, it should possibly surprise me less.
- Russians love roller skates and outdoor parks.
Having just pretty much said that fitness is a cultural anomaly, let me complicate that picture: strolling in parks and open spaces, especially after work and on weekends is a common part of life, and you can see old friends, families and couples walking, talking and sharing small drinks of vodka in the parks.
- It’s easy to be oblivious to suffering around you.
Like every city, Moscow has a variety of social classes. When you are busy looking at beautiful architecture and puzzling out new signs, its surprisingly easy to overlook old women standing quietly with their hands out, old men drinking in the park, young men sitting on cardboard with dogs, or young pregnant women with two word signs: ‘Please Help’. I don’t yet know how to react to this, but I’m starting with trying to be more observant.
- Facebook limits your creative potential.
Blogging is rewarding. Although its easier to upload a few photos without commentary and remind people you are alive and having fun, you lose personality and ability to show others (and yourself) what you really want to show- and its harder to find memories and meaning when you return to it later.
- Making friends can be as easy as sharing a snickers. People are have common traits no mater what the cultural background- all of us have associations with food, and are social creatures. Be open, friendly, and share ideas, impressions, stories, and food, and connections will be made.
- Personalised messages can brighten whole hours of the day.
When living with your head, heart and body split across different countries or even continents knowing that people care, are there, or simply think of you helps through any rough patches. Thanks so much to everyone who has been in touch, and thank you for your lovely personalised emails, skypes and photos!
- I can drive here with my driving licence. I don’t want to.
Although its a useful thing to know, I’m convinced it would be suicidal. Although perhaps I should reflect on the following…
- Things seem harder when you’re scared of them.
Half of the challenge is starting, people always used to tell me about essays. Turns out life is much the same- if its a journey, a conversation, a relationship, or your Russian homework, conquer the fear and you get much closer to your goal. Plus you often get a wonderful sense of achievement as well.