Sunday, May 24, 2009

What I miss from my native land

I will be back in the good ole U S of A for the month of July, and I have started to make a list of all the things I didn't expect to miss:

Whole wheat bread or 12 grain bread or ANYTHING hearty. While Russian black bread held my interest for the first 7 months, I now just want familiar bread ... that's not white!

Spicy foods. I'm actually scared that my stomach and taste buds will no longer be able to handle it, but I will eat all the spicy things I can handle when I'm home -- you know, the kind where you can't stand it because your mouth hurts from too much chili :)

Milk and milk products. Not that there are no milk products here, but the milk isn't exactly the type that I would like to sit down with a glass of, the taste is a bit off. I actually found the solution to this the other day, it's ultra-pasteurized European milk ... but it cost me 75 rubles for a quart/liter ... and at 32 rubles to the dollar, you do the math. Milk, even expensive organic milk, is CHEAP in the U.S. and I will indulge.

Drinking water from the tap. Sitting down at a restaurant and getting free water.

Driving. I actually don't miss this as much as one would think.

Wide open spaces.

Lack of people. This sort of goes along with the point above -- when you live in city of 15-20 million people, there is no hope of going anywhere where there isn't at least one other person (ok, except your flat when your roommate is out).

Supermarkets like Target or Fred Meyer - you know one-stop-shopping. I actually don't miss Wal*Mart at all. And Russia has worked hard so far to keep Wal*Mart out.

Buying inexpensive clothes, shoes, bags, etc. etc. etc.

Living rooms. A real bed. A real dining table. Soviet flats are small, and either the whole apartment is a common living area, like we think of living rooms, or the whole apartment lacks a common living area. Kitchens are generally tiny with itty-bitty tables. And the bedrooms are multi-function because instead of real beds, everyone sleeps on a sofa-bed. I had no idea there were so many varieties of sofa-beds.


Monday, May 18, 2009

Russian superstitions

It's funny. After a while, I stopped noting cultural differences and interesting things because they became normal and everyday occurrences. Despite this I have been slowly collecting some information about Russian beliefs/superstitions (of which there are many). Here are a few:

*It's a bad omen to kiss in a doorway.

*You should never give a watch as a gift because it means that your time with the person is short.

*A couple on a walk and holding hands should not allow another pedestrian to separate their hands.

*A bird dropping a gift on you is good luck.

*You should never give someone an even number of flowers, as even numbers are reserved for funerals and cemeteries. (This means a dozen roses is not flattering)

*If you drop a fork or spoon on the floor in the kitchen, it means someone will soon come to visit.

*You should never return home for something you forgot, it's bad luck. If you do have to return home, you should look in the mirror before leaving.

More on Yaroslavl and the service industry

As I said before, Yaroslavl is preparing to celebrate its 1000th birthday. With not quite a year until the big tourist event happens, the churches are all on track for being shown off. Weeds are cut, doors are opened, trash is collected. Yet, there is an overall lack of tourist spirit in the service industry.

Having lived in Yaroslavl about 5 years ago, Sarah did not expect to be able to find many places to eat. Fortunately this has changed a bit and there are quite a few different restaurants with various cuisines and prices. Unfortunately, the servers are of slightly lower quality than even Moscow servers. While Moscow servers generally don’t make eye contact and make it difficult for you to get their attention, they at least notice you when you enter a restaurant and aren’t scared off by a silly mistake on their or your part. Basically, they are used to dealing with foreigners.

On the other hand, servers in Yaroslavl seemed to be a little skittish of customers. Service at almost all places was slooooow. We would wait about 15 minutes to get a menu, then rush in the hopes of having made up our minds by the time the waitress graced us with her presence another 15 minutes later. Then, it’s always a hassle to get a check because a) you have to know to ask for it b) you need to expect to wait about 30 minutes before getting it c) once you pay the bill you will no longer get service. Basically, a lot of time needs to be devoted to venturing out to eat and when you are visiting a city and don’t want to spend all your time at your rental flat, then you should expect to spend most of your time eating or trying to eat.

The worst example of the simple lack of awareness was actually a bar with a great atmosphere. They had outdoor seating, so we waiting outside for about 30 minutes before someone finally asked if we had been helped, then once we got a menu and waited for another 10-15 minutes, we decided we would be better off inside. This was true until I made the mistake of wanting to know the difference between three different types of coffee. I asked Sarah how to say it in Russian, asked the waitress, and she ran off with the menu to the cash desk and promptly placed an order for the three drinks. Basically, if you are foreign, people stop listening to anything you say because it’s too much work, at least this was my impression. Needless to say, the city cafes have some lessons to learn quickly before next year. Granted many of the visitors will be Russian, but I wouldn’t be surprised if a fair amount of foreigners make it out there.

Friday, May 8, 2009


Yaroslavl is a city of nearly 800,000 people that is located about 4 hours north of Moscow. For the first of May holiday, I went with two other teachers to visit the town which is known for its many churches ... We walked around the city all weekend - enjoying the sun, eating, relaxing and looking at church after church.

Because next year is the city's 1000th birthday, the churches' interiors and exteriors are in the process of being spruced up. The frescos inside these churches were fantastic and covered the interior walls from wainscoting to ceiling. Unfortunately, because of the cost of taking photographs inside, you will have to close your eyes and imagine beautiful blues, reds, oranges, and yellows depicting various Biblical stories. These walls truly served a didactic purpose, educating the people and allowing them to reflect on stories they couldn't otherwise read.

First Photo in Yaroslavl.

Many of these churches are red brick and include decorative ceramic tile with various images of flowers, birds, or in this case grape vines. Yaroslavl churches are known for this tile and red brick.

This is the church in the center of the city in Yaroslavl's red square.

This church was definitely the most memorable with a daunting exterior, decorative painting, though faded, on the brickwork outside. The interior of the building was chilly, even on a hot summer day.