Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Russia Vs. USA: A Guide on Country Differences

After living in Russia a year I feel completely at home. I get asked all the time if I miss America and my family or how I like living in Russia. I do miss my family and I do miss some aspects of American culture (I'm looking at you Mexican food and the ability to understand the language). However, living in Ufa feels like living back in Mentor, Ohio. There are a lot of differences in the cultures and ways of life but its pretty easy to adapt to living in Russia.

Before I begin I will start by saying I'm comparing Russia to suburban, Midwestern life in the United States. I lived my who life in Ohio, mostly in Cleveland with five years in Cincinnati. So, from that point of view, understand that you may have a different interpretation on things. If you've been to Europe you may see that there are similarities between Russia and the European country you visited. I noticed more similarities between Russia and Madrid than Russia and Cleveland. Also, this isn't a comprehensive list. I know there are things I'm missing. It's what happens when you live here for a year and everything that was overwhelmingly different in the beginning is completely normal now. Finally, I'm trying to avoid stereotyping an entire country so I'm going to stay away from social and political issues. I don't want to give you a warped view of the country based on my own views. Also, every Russian is an individual and it would be ignorant of me to categorize their beliefs into a single view.

  • House clothes - Russians usually change their clothes when the are inside and rarely wear "street clothes" when lounging around the house. Anton and I argued about this one because I would would usually change my pants when I got home, and he used that as an argument that Americans change their clothes also. I HATE wearing jeans so almost immediately I'd change, but I'd almost always leave the same shirt on. So, yes, I changed but it's not the same. I think I win the argument.
  • Tapochki - They never ever wear shoes inside the house. A lot of homes have an extra pair of slippers. called tapochki, for guests who come into the home. Russian streets are incredibly dusty so I understand why.
  • С лёгким паром- The phrase means Enjoy Your Bath, and is a phrase they say to people after a shower. Anton told me this one, and I can't say this is widespread because I don't take many showers at different Russian homes, but I thought it was worth mentioning.
  • Apartments are rented by rooms not bedrooms. An apartment with a kitchen, bathroom, and room (living room and bedroom as one) is considered a one room apartment. An apartment with two bedrooms and an extra room (living room) is a three room apartment.
  • Dachas - Dachas are pieces of land for growing fruits and vegetables and may contain a house of varying size. Almost every Russian I know either has a dacha of their own or their family has one. They are located outside of the cities.
  • No dryers - Almost every apartment has a washing machine but rarely do they have a dryer. You need to hang your clothes up to dry. 
  • Most times they will leave one menu at the table or ask if you'd like to keep one menu with you.
  • There is a difference between restaurants and cafes. I still don't know the difference but I think cafes are more casual and usually cheaper.
  • You have to ask for your check.
  • Napkins are small squares and usually colorful. I think I've been to only one or two restaurants with American sized napkins good enough for my big mouth.
  • Servers will sometimes tell you the time it will take for your food to come out.
  • There is no tipping, although if I have exceptional service or I'm in the mood I'll leave about 50-100 rubles depending on how much my bill was.
  • It is very common for food to come out at different times. You friend might get their food five minutes before you.
  • I wrote a post on Russian fast food that you can read here.
Grocery Stores 
  • Cashiers never bag groceries
  • They start next person right away even before you have a chance to move.
  • There are less options in stores except for certain things like pickles and milk.
  • There are many different kinds of milk and milk even comes in a bag!
  • It is very common for things not to be there the next time you go. For example, I wanted tomatoes and I remembered seeing them there one day and the very next day there weren't any. It makes cooking extremely difficult for people like me who aren't creative in the kitchen.
Food & Cooking
  • "Salads" are heavy in mayo. Caesar salads are becoming very common, but it's hard to find lettuce in stores. If you can find it it is usually very expensive. 
  • It's very hard to find things like peanut butter and parmesan cheese. This is due to both sanctions and the fact that they just aren't that popular here.
  • Measuring spoons and cups aren’t common. I had to have my parents ship me these because I couldn't find them anywhere.
  • No cooking spray - parchment paper or oil is usually used to keep baked items from sticking.
  • The wedding ring is worn on the right hand. 
  • Men usually pay on dates, and it's not very common to "go dutch." 
  • Men don’t shake the hands of women. 
  • I wrote a post on 5 things I learned in an intercultural relationship here.
  • Weddings are usually two days long. The first day is the ceremony and a formal dinner and the second day a celebration somewhere outside. 
  • Russians usually go out late. While I'm usually in bed by 10 it's common for them to meet up around 11.
  • Cafes are a more popular place to hang out than bars.
  • They are very superstitious. I plan on writing a separate post on this at some point because there are so many superstitions.
  • They don’t follow order or lines. This makes me so mad and so often I just want to cuss people out in English, but I don't because I'm not that kind of person. But it's so common for people to cut in line or there to not be a line at all.
  • To go along with my last point there is less personal space. There isn't a bubble around you like in the United States.
  • You should always bring something to a persons house if they invite you over. This can be wine or dessert and they should serve you until you want to explode. 
  • Eastern Orthodox is the Christian religion most people here follow, but in places like Bashkortostan or Tatarstan Islam is very popular.
  • Men constantly spit in the streets and you feel yourself dodging spit wads every time you walk outside. This is definitely one of my least favorite things next to the lack of lines and order.
  • Russians aren't as pressed for time as Americans and it's common for them to show up late.
  • They clean a lot and many times weekends are reserved for cleaning the apartment. More than that there are always trucks cleaning streets and once I even saw a lady cleaning the dust of shelves in a clothing store. This cleaning doesn't happen every once in a while either its several times a week.
  • Grades are called marks and they follow a 1-5 point system, 5 being the best of course.
  • Saturday is a school day. 
  • Russian schools consist of 11 classes: Elementary (1-4), Middle (5-9), and Senior (10-11). First class starts around 6-7 years old.
  • After 9th class students can choose to follow a university route or a technical school route for their remaining two years. 
  • Cheating does happen more often than in the USA and many teachers will help students cheat on state exams. 
  • Physical education is more strict and it is required even at the university level.
  • Teachers are paid the same salary everywhere in Russia regardless of standard of living except in Moscow where they are paid more. 
  • It is very rare for someone to have voice mail on their phone.
  • Phone and internet plans much cheaper.
  • There is a 12 month required military service for every male between 18-27. Many men choose to do this before or after university. Although it's mandatory it's very common to be excused from serving.
  • Cities shut off hot water for a week or so every summer. I don't think this happens in Moscow, but it happens in most Russian cities. Supposedly, it's to fix the hot water pipes in the city. Most homes do not have a hot water tank. The city provides hot water.
  • Police will ask for people on the street to act as witnesses when writing reports.
  • Everything has a stamp, literally everything. 
  • Russia uses the metric system and military time, like pretty much every other place on the planet.
  • Women walk in heels all the time even just through the park.
  • They don’t own a lot of clothes, so it's common to wear the same thing more than once a week. 
  • Russians tend overdress. Anton ironed a t-shirt just to walk to get lunch. A T-SHIRT!
  • New Years and Victory Day (May 9) are the most popular holidays in Russia.
  • New Years is similar to Christmas.
  • Субботник, or mandatory day of volunteer labor, happens on Saturdays hence the name and usually in the springYou will see people sweeping sidewalks or painting fences all over the city.
  • The birthday person pays for everyone at the cafe or restaurant.
  • Russia doesn't follow daylight savings.
Health Care
  • Free health care 
  • Small pox vaccine scar - You can tell who is Russian based on a scar on their arms. It looks like a circle and almost everyone has one. When I'm bored in public I always look to see who has one. 
  • Peace sign means victory not peace.
  • Most public places - like malls, schools, and theaters, restaurants - have a coat check where you can put your coat.
Does anything surprise you?

Friday, August 26, 2016

One Year Anniversary in Russia

I Love "Ufa" in Bashkir
It's been a year! I've lived in Russia a year! The date really snuck up on me and had I thought of it sooner I would have written a way better post! Sometimes it feels like just yesterday I was stuck in customs for three hours because I had too much baggage while other times it feels like I've been living here my whole life. The hardest part was dealing with culture shock and having to get through American holidays abroad. I decided to write a post looking back at all that has happened while I've been here and adding comments of what I hope happens in my next year in Russia!
My first photo in Russia

Russian Holidays

Since living in Russia I've experienced different Russian holidays. Kurban Bayram was the first holiday I "celebrated" meaning I got the day off of work. It's not a national holiday, but Bashkortostan has a large Muslim population so it's our Republics holiday. I also experienced the overwhelming holiday of Women's Day, which is supposedly celebrated in the USA but nothing like how it's celebrated in Russia. It's the Valentine's Day of Russia. While Valentine's Day is celebrated in Russia, I think Women's Day is more popular. Finally, I saw the end of the Labor Day parades in Moscow. This coming year I would definitely love to see a Russian New Year and the Victory Day parades. 
Labor Day Parade

Russian Food

Of course I ate lots of lots of Russian, and Bashkir, food. My diet here has consisted of potatoes and cabbage. Unfortunately, I still can't cook, but I'm actively looking for someone to teach me. I wrote this post about five specific foods I tried, but some of my other favorites are borscht, blini, and kvass. I also drank lots of Georgian and Crimean wine, but I don't think that counts. This coming year I definitely want to try Russian vodka. Is it a travesty that I've been here one year and still haven't tried it?
Assortment of Russian food


I did so much traveling this past year that sometimes I think I've been to more Russian airports than American. It actually may be true, but I haven't counted. I've been to five different Russian cities and one different country! I'm trying to save money by exploring as much of Russia as I can before I leave. 
I went to Madrid, Spain for the first time to spend New Years with my cousin and her husband. Spain was my first Western European city.

The Russian cities I've visited are Ufa (of course)...
and St. Petersburg...
and Kazan (three times)...
and Moscow (twice)...
and, finally, Irkutsk and Lake Baikal.
I have so many other Russian cities on my list including Nizhny Novgorod, Yekaterinburg, and Sochi. I would also like to see more of Bashkortostan and go to a Russian village at some point. I found out the other day Anton has never been to St. Petersburg, so I'd like to go back with him but not in the winter. I don't want hypothermia again. Unfortunately, this coming year I'll be pinching pennies so we'll see how much I will be able to travel.

The Terrifying

I did something in Russia I never thought I'd do again. I rode a Ferris Wheel. I'm terrified of Ferris wheels, and I don't know what I was thinking when I went onto it. I guess I wasn't really thinking. I experienced so much anxiety that I ended up having a dream that night that I saw the devil, and I woke up to my first experience of sleep paralysis. It was actually my first "date" with Anton, and I keep telling him we'll ride another Ferris wheel, but I don't know if I can do it.
The wheel of death

The Offbeat

If you follow my Instagram at all you'll notice I like weird things. I love finding those hidden gems in a city, and it actually makes living in Ufa a lot more exciting. Russia is full of cool, and especially abandoned, things. I've been to an abandoned observatory, an abandoned sanatorium, and an abandoned town. I've seen some really cool street art in all of the cities I've visited. I went to some really cool museums that I totally recommend. The Forest Museum in Ufa, Museum of Soviet Life and Museum of Illusions in Kazan, and the Memorial Museum of Cosmonautics in Moscow were definitely worth seeing and I would highly suggest all of them. I also recommend visiting Novodevichy Cemetery in Moscow - blog post to come! 
The movie theater at Green Cape Sanatorium


The last thing I did this year was start a new tradition and hashtag. I have taken pictures with every Vladimir Lenin statue I have seen and posted them under the hashtag #selfiewithvlad on Instagram. I wrote this post in June, but since then I visited three more bringing my one year total to 13! My goal for next year is to visit at least one new statue. Since I don't have a lot of money I'm not sure how often I'll be traveling which means I don't know how often I will come across a new statue.
I absolutely love Russia and although their are times when I wish I was back in America I wouldn't trade this experience for anything. The friends I made here, both Russian and foreign, have been great and have really helped me love my time here. A few more things I'd like to do in the next year are improve my Russian, learn how to cook blini and borscht, visit more abandoned places, go to a banya and dacha, and continue writing more blog posts that will convince you to come visit!

Bonus! While there aren't many great Russian musicians I have really come to appreciate Dolphin, and I recommend you listen to some of his music. I hope to go to one of his concerts before I leave.

What kind of blog posts are you hoping to see in the next year?

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

The Hike to Vvedenskaya Sloboda

There really isn't much to do at Innopolis. Like there is one grocery store and that's it. If you want to do something other than work out or hang out on campus you either have you make sure you are able to find a seat on the bus to Kazan, pay an outrageous amount for a taxi which may not even come, or find some other alternative like hiking through nature. On our way to Innopolis from the airport we drove over the Volga River and from the bridge you could see sands and people laying on the beach. Elmira decided at that moment that she wanted to go to the beach. Unfortunately, we didn't know how to get there. Then, Zach told us he knew a way to another beach, we convinced Elmira to go through nature, and then on our day off we headed down to the river.
Can you see the Volga River in the distance?

Within five minutes my feet were already covered in dirt from the pile we had to climb over to get to the grass. The grass we walked through was up to my waist and I was continually covered in burrs. We had to watch our for holes and dead animals. I even experienced krapiva, the Russian name for stinging nettle. I don't think we have nettles in Ohio, if we do then we care more about poison ivy. All Russians know krapiva. It's not as horrific as poison ivy but it definitely leaves your skin with a burning sensation that lasts about 15 minutes. Are you familiar with Indian Rug Burns? When you twists the skin on someones arm to make it burn? Surely you did it to someone as a child. Well, in Russia they don't call it Indian rug burns they call it krapiva.
Zach had walked the path before so he kept pointing out landmarks he remembered last year when him and a group of guys decided to walk to the river after a fire drill. We came upon a dried up stream that he said had water in it last year. This summer has been HOT! Both in Kazan and Ufa it's been in the upper 80s to 90s, and it'll rain once every 2 weeks. I'd rather take this heat over Cleveland's though because there is a lot less humidity. My hair and humidity don't get along.

After the river we continued walking and eventually made it to a path made by car wheels. The path led us to a little village where we saw some chickens and you could even see Innopolis in the distance. We weren't exactly sure where to go from there so Elmira stopped to ask a boy directions to the river. He told us where to go, so naturally we took the complete opposite direction because Zach didn't want to walk on the asphalt.

We eventually made it to the road and took the road the rest of the way. In case you plan on walking on the road in Russia (which I don't recommend) you need to walk on the side of the road as the oncoming traffic. It's Russian law, just so you know. We met a goat along the way and I took way too many pictures of it because it was so cute and friendly. We stopped in a little store where we got some ice cream to give us energy and cool us down. Right before we got to the beach we walked past a natural spring where you could fill up your water bottles for free. I wish I had taken pictures of the building because it was pretty neat. It reminded me of this spring my mom used to take us to to fill up jugs of water for our water cooler until chemicals were found in the water and the stopped people from doing that.

Does that island in the picture below look familiar? Yep, that is Sviyazhsk Isand. It's pretty cool that the island is so close. There is also a ship near the island digging up sand from the river and it sounds like something out of Jurassic Park. I would not have been surprised if I saw a Tyrannosaurus Rex break out of the ship. When we settled down Elmira lay out in the sun while Zach and I stayed in the shade to relax. Elmira didn't understand why we walked all that way to act like we wanted to go back but we said the adventure was the best part! I enjoyed watching all the children swimming and reading my book. I didn't want to go in the water though because it seemed kind of dangerous to me, but I spent a lot of time at Lake Erie and I don't think it can get much worse than that.

We wanted to hitch hike back since we were all tired and hangry but our attempts to do so were unsuccessful. Eventually a taxi driver drove past us and Elmira flagged him down. He was kind of a jerk overcharging us when we were actually doing him a favor, but Elmira talked him down 50 rubles. The ride was still overpriced but split three ways it was definitely worth it. There is a way to the river that is much easier, but I'm kind of glad we took the path less traveled because I haven't experienced much Russian nature since being here almost a year! Has there been a time where you took the path less traveled either physically or metaphorically? How was it?

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

A Day at Innopolis Boot Camp

Innopolis, Tatarstan, Russia

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about Innopolis, but I didn't go into much detail about what I was doing there. Let me tell you, it was a lot. I worked at a bootcamp that prepared incoming students for the school year at Innopolis. Since Innopolis is built on the American university model many of the Russian students weren't prepared for how the university would function. Also, all classes are taught in English, so it was important that they practiced their English skills. I'm not really sure how the day functioned for the students but I know they were busy from 9-9. I'll just focus on what the bootcamp English teachers did.

Since I was still on Ufa time (2 hours ahead of Moscow time) I tried waking up around 7:00 am every day. I'm one of those people who feels really productive if I start my day early even though I like sleeping in until about 10. I'd go to breakfast around 8-8:15. Afterwards, I'd go to my dorm room and either hang out for a little bit or go right up to my classroom where I'd prepare what I needed for the day. We got our first groups from 11:50-1:20. We had an hour break for lunch and some of the English teachers would meet together for lunch in one of the university canteens. Then we got our second groups from 2:20-3:50. We would see the same two groups for one week then switch groups with our local Russian teachers for the second week. Twice a week the native teachers were required to teach a workshop which usually lasted from 4-5:30. Then the rest of the night was ours to hang out, go to the gym, or travel to Kazan.

The native teachers were told to focus on reading and speaking and the local teachers focused on listening and note-taking. Since Innopolis is an IT school we were supposed to focus on IT and technology. It was the first time I got to feel like a real teacher and I loved it. At my job in Ufa I only focus on speaking and it's so hard especially when you feel like a substitute. I finally got to put into practice what I learned back in Cincinnati. We did 4 corner debates, socratic seminars, jigsaw activities, presentations, and we even played Jeopardy the second week. Of course we did other things like learn how to annotate notes and summarize articles, but it was great being about to make lessons that scaffold off one another and feel like I had some real responsibility.

As I mentioned earlier twice a week the native teachers ran different workshops based on different themes. I didn't really know what to do, so I focused on American TV shows. I made a worksheet with previewing, viewing, and post-viewing questions. I had three shows prepared, but the discussions took more time than I thought so we really only focused on two shows. I chose The Office because I feel like it is a good example of American humor and because it isn't very popular in Russia. Russians love Friends, but I hate Friends, so I showed How I Met Your Mother because I love that show and I feel like it was a good alternative to Friends. Finally, I had an episode of The Simpson's entitle Simpson's Tide which I chose based solely on the fact that there is a scene where the United Nations realizes the Soviet Union never broke up. You can watch the clip here.

What are your favorite television shows?
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