26 December 2010

A Startling Moon, the Barbershop Reprise, and an Expat’s Christmas in Russia


There’s a moon out tonight...

Early 21 December around 2 PM, I pulled back the bedroom curtain to do some sky gazing.  The nearly full moon was in the western sky.  It looked like an egg yoke from a poorly fed chicken, on a drab yellow-grey blanket with tinges of red... the worst, most depressing, moon I have ever seen!  It told me... Get thee outta here now!  With ghastly visions like this, my expectations of better village views keep me going.

The lunar eclipse occurred between 829 AM and 204 PM.  It was still dark until 959 AM but I was either sleeping it off the effect of my moon viewing, or stumbling around and didn’t notice a thing.  SDC10696

Country summer life is a safety valve for frustrations in Russia.  The stars are simply wonderful in late July (after the residual effects of the White Nights), and the rainbows are spectacular.  Nothing matches the beauty of late night stars except those I saw crossing Texas in August 1964.

Low cloud cover, pollution, and too much surface light...

Besides pollution, living in an apartment makes celestial events observation difficult. We see less than half of the sky from our side of the building.  New Jersey has varying measures of light pollution, but otherwise I could walk around the yard or sit on a blanket, and pretty much see what I wanted.

How much has pollution and star dimming light increased in ten years?  I sense they are more of a problem now, as clear skies and sunshine are a rarity this season.  People care about pollution in New Jersey, but in St Petersburg citizens complain, but little effective action is taken.

Larissa and I are too on-in-years to make a change, have limited resources, and need to watch our health.  Life here is usually pleasant regardless... good friends, good food, comfortable apartment... but if we were younger and healthier we could move south to Krasnodar on the Black Sea, or Saratov at the confluence of the Don and Volga.  Somewhere with a good climate, maybe even buy a trailer in Florida!


Barbershop Sanitation

At last I got to my local barbershop/salon and asked the question posed in a recent post. как вы делаете дезинфекцию инстумена (How do you disinfect your instruments?)

Larissa, an older stylist, finished with a lady patron, swept and called me to the chair. Scissors and brushes lay on the shelf.  I asked Larissa my magic phrase, clearly, syllable by syllable.

She said with confidence, that they have a machine that uses ultra-violet light. I asked to see it.  Apparently they only use it once a day (if that... it had a radio on top of it).

It’s around the size of a breadbox, plastic, with a sliding tray.

Ultra-violet has been used for sterilization for over a century in TB sanitoriums, and is effective.  It is outlawed in the USA as a means to dry nails, as that procedure is carcinogenic.  Of course, if scissors are getting UV only overnight, it will not protect you from bacteria, viruses, and  pests from the last customer. 

With time I hope I will find a barbershop/salon that follows sensible sanitation procedures. More likely to find the Holy Grail.

Working Conditions in a Russian shop.

Yalena, the other stylist, eagerly asked questions about America and my life here.  I explained that in America the owner of the salon usually works side by side with the other stylists, and the mood is more upbeat. Just as here, the stylist gets around 50%.

Most St Petersburg salons have a woman whose only work is to take money from customers.  This is a waste of payroll dollars, but evinces the lack of trust between owner and worker. 

Russian bosses often look down on their employees and can treat them unapologetically with contempt.  They often don’t work in the business, but just take any profits they can squeeze.  I believe much of Russian rudeness comes from being treated badly at work. 

Article Suggestion! at end of this post, Trust Nobody!  It explains some typical Russian attitudes.

It’s very hard to be successful in your own small business here, so most stylists don’t see a better future to shoot for.  Long hours, low pay, and little opportunity are their problems.

Tipping is rare.  I usually give the 20 rubles change I get when paying for my 180 ruble cut ($6.00).


An Expatriate Christmas

Christmas is just another day in Russia. Friends and family telephoned good wishes, as many people know this is an important holiday for Americans.  People don’t send cards, but are very good about telephoning on an occasion.

Larissa and I asked her friend, Leeda from the 5th floor immediately below us, for a Christmas Eve dinner. We had three cold salads (including an especially tasty one of shredded carrots and cheese), smoked fish on French bread, and a white wine.  Then I served an American smoked ham casserole.

How some returnees to Russia react...

Since we all lived in the USA at some point, I asked if Leeda was as happy to be back in Russia as Larissa was on our arrival.  Leeda said no.

She missed the casual friendliness of American people on the street and in the  shops, how they would say, “ Excuse me!” if they bumped into you.  It was agreed that public manners have gotten worse in Russia since 2000.

It seems this is a difficult season for travel... no matter how or where.

On Christmas Day we planned to splurged on a taxi across town to have dinner with a couple from Britain and the Ukraine.  We packed wine and some small presents but no cab arrived. Traffic was impossible and it would have taken hours to get to the south of St Petersburg... so we had to cancel, losing our little bit of British Christmas we had looked forward to so much. 

We were very crestfallen.  The day after Christmas we were invited to try again in a few days, for the same menu and lots of Christmas singing!

Our wish...

Larissa and I wish you, the Reader, a happy 2011, with good friends, good health, and lots of interesting plans for the future!

Just click Comments...

How’s the moon where you are?  What’s on your mind about boss/employ relations?  Has travel been a struggle this year?

Article... Sveta Kononova, Russia Profile, “Trust Nobody!”


  1. Merry Christmas to you also! May your New Year be full of interesting occurrences to write about,happiness and good health!

    After 10 years of teaching at a private school,my school closed and I was forced to look for other work. The economy being in the shape it is, jobs are scarce and I was relieved to find a job anywhere I could- in my case, Walmart. There are many disparaging things said about Walmart, but I have to say that I see many good things about the boss/employee relations. The guidelines, most of which are carefully followed, provide a welcoming place to work, with safety and respect for the individual (both customer and employee) the most important topics. Although there are over 300 employees in our store, I have felt valued and appreciated from my immediate boss,those over her, the department managers, the co-managers, right up to the general store manager. The pay is low, the work demanding, but it is a friendly place to work, and there is a good opportunity for me to work my way up into management within a short time. On the other hand, there are a few people who complain constantly about the store, about the job- but they are not willing to put themselves out and 'go the extra mile' that it takes to stand out and make progress in their job. Here I think is the main difference between our countries- if you are willing to work a bit harder, a bit smarter, look for opportunities and go for them, the chances of moving up are there. It seems to me, from your posts and from speaking with Russian friends, that in Russia one does not have as much opportunity to advance. I can see how that would breed frustration and anger, and how it would contribute to a bad attitude about friendliness.

    Travel... we have had relatively mild weather here in Idaho. Our first snow was more than a month later than normal, we had a week or so of LOTS of snow, and then it returned to very mild weather. Most days have been between 25F and 40F- very warm for this time of year. The holiday weekend has had fantastic weather- dry roads, mild temperatures. No plane troubles, no road closures. So, in our little part of the world, the weather has been perfect: white snow on the ground and warm hands outside!

  2. Hi Margo,

    We need more can-do spirit in Russia! You have a strong background and intelligence, so I know you will prosper!

    I hope your good weather continues!

    Happy New Year,

    Rob and Larissa


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