03 May 2009

Russian Home Ways in St Petersburg

We saw the Grand Canyon for the first time in 2002. Americans think they built it. Our bus from Las Vegas stopped in Williams and we spent a night there before getting a van to the canyon.

We were walking along the side of old Route 66 and talked to an old timer at one of the gem stores. He asked where we were from, expecting to hear Louisiana or New York. When we said we were from St Petersburg Russia, it gave him pause.

Then he said in his best friendly manner, "Well I guess now it's pretty much the same over there as it is here."

Actually life here is уником... unique. Our apartment was built in 1986, and has an excellent floor plan. Now I am comfortable with the small and large differences in home life as compared to that of the United States.

A few American visitors were too polite to ask or state some things, but I remember my explanations and can guess what they were thinking...

-Why are the grounds so unattractive? It's a long winter and in spring the snow melts to reveal last year's litter. Apartment exteriors are usually not attractive. But the Uzbeks living in our basement have transformed the outside. Fresh paint, grounds raked and swept, walks clean of everything but cars. The residents do not have practice in effectively organizing to make things their building a better place in which to live, and show little interest. Have you ever heard of a St Petersburg block party?

Life is risky in St Petersburg!
.-Elevator... works poorly, sounds like a dying frog, is marred, stripped by vandals of some panneling, has some grafitti, and... what is really scary to me... has no safety record chart on the wall... never has. Our American visitors startled and stood back on seeing the inside of the elevator car they were to ride to the 10th floor.

Please take off your shoes, and leave them in the corridor. The first rule of Russian behavior is to always wear...
slippers inside the apartment. I like this practice and would find it hard to wear clunky laceup shoes straight in from the outdoors as they do in America. This way is much cleaner and more comfortable.

You're free to look over my books, but don't be confused because the...
-Book titles are written going up on each book spine. If you hang your head to the left, you're reading a Russian title, if you hang your head to the right, the book is in English. Sort of like our politics before.

Maybe you'd like to watch some TV...Sorry, the...
-TV Pr
ogram listings... are quite confusing...each channel has a column... no composite listing by time. Why, I keep asking like an obnoxious child, why don't they list all programs on at 9 pm together, as we do in the west? This is nuts. You have to look at a separate column for each channel to find everything that's on at on at a specific time.

Before dinner you can wash your hands towards the back, in the vanya...
-Vanya and toilet... small rooms, one with sink and tub, the other for the toilet. This makes a lot of sense. There is much less waiting than in the typical American home.

What's that instument of torture hanging by the shower? It's a ...
-Мочалка... Every Russian bathroom has a skin scrubber hanging by the shower. And you had better use it! Russians have a thing about legs and feet. It isn't enough to sing a song and slap a little soap on your legs and rinse... you have got to put the soap on the michalka... and scrub! Separate towel for drying the legs.

Don't walk into a dark room... that's stupid! Put on the light, and then enter... sensible.
-Light switch... outside the doors. Useful to tell if anyone is in the vanya or toilet by looking at the switches. Ventilated spaces, but never windows, so if the switch is on, either someone's in there or he forgot to turn off the light...probably the husband...again!

Watch the hot water, Fred!
-Water taps... hot right, cold left. Everyday I have difficulty with this swapper-roo, which only proves I was and am a klutz.

We have plenty of hot water... sometimes too much!
-Unpredictable hot water. Americans are spoiled with a standard plumbing valve that save you from scalding. Here Russians are not much interested in accident prevention, and think it's your responsibility to just be careful.

Can you turn the heat up?
-Thermostats...none in most apartments. The heat is turned on around October 10 and shut off in May... who knows when? It can only be regulated with the window method... open them as wide as necessary to cool the room.

I wonder who called while we were at the supermarket. We'll never know!
-No answering machine Our cordless phone includes one, but thatt is an exception. Russians rarely used answering machines and have never written checks, but with cell phones and debit cards they can skip these outdated systems.

I can't find their number, so forget about it. Why not look it up? No one is in the phone book and we haven't bought a new one in years, anyway.
-Phone book... You'll never find anybody with a listing in it. It's equally strange to Russians that most people in America have such information listed for anyone to see. They respect your privacy, sometimes more than you want them to!

Let me see what service organizations have meetings soon. Sorry, no paper has any local information.

-Kitchen sink... far away from the window. In the States, people assume there will be a window at the sink, but with an apartment anywhere the limited number of windows often doesn't allow this pleasant feature, which Russians can't see the benefit of anyway.

Where can I plug in my ce
ll phone charger?
-Newspapers... none for a local neighborhood... no place for births, graduations,marriages, death announcements, organization news, want ads. To me this is a sign of isolation... a community can not exist without sharing information.

I like looking out of my kitchen sink window while doing the dishes... not a pleasure you will have in Russia.

-Electric plugs...placed above floorboard in wall. This has to do with planning code, but no one inspects improvements. I think it mars the walls and baseboard sockets are better.

Why do you hide the blanket in a cover?

-Паддодеяльник... a blanket sack which I don't like... too hot, what with the blanket inside and sheets on both sides, but an item of religion for people here. Using a sheet, you touch and make the blanket dirty over time, but blankets are rarely washed and it isn't good if your face routinely touches the blanket. I refuse to follow this practice/custom and use a sheet and blanket. I know, the weird American!

Wow! Not just the titles are drunk, but the pictures on the wall, too!
-Pictures hung at an angle, but you won't often find those of family displayed on desk or wall... even the
Hermitage follows this angular practice! When I saw my first wall hanging I thought it was hung incorrectly and would fall down!

Are you planning a short war? Why three months all showing at once?
-Wall calendars show three months, and start with Monday It takes up wall space but it is a good idea if you, like me, sometimes forget what month it is. Also includes a nifty red slide that indicates today, if you remember to move it!

Why does St Petersburg look much worse than in the early 90's?
-Enclosed balconies Since around 1995 people have enclosed most of the balconies, but not according to building code, but however they want with no renovation certificate required. A big problem in Russia is nonenforcement of existing good laws. The result is a hodge podge that has a slummy appearance. But it's interesting to sit on our enclosed balcony and look at all the wild creativity of the people here... different size windows, unpainted and painted trim, panelled and bare balcony walls.

So, except for the water taps, I am acclimated to Russia, and catch myself thinking We when talking about St Petersburg. Someone asked... How long is it before an expatriate becomes a native? My answer...I will always be a Scottish-American but I have taken on Russian ways!

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