Monday, December 27, 2010

Planes, Trains & Automobiles...oh and Vodka & Christmas Day!

Before I discuss my Christmas day on a bus/train, let me preface this post with a short description of my Christmas Eve.

Friday, or Christmas Eve, was the party for all faculty members of Kalmyk State University and it was a very fun/odd evening.  First off, unlike office parties in the US, everyone here got really drunk and that's the norm, in fact it's expected.  There were gifts handed out and contests going on and it was really fun! It was a little weird though too because I felt like it was a combination of Hansel & Gretel and night club in the geriatric district of Miami.  I was force fed more food and types of meat than I could count and groped by more women over the age of 50 than I care to think about it.  But really I had a great time! Oh and it was at the same club where I saw that guy get shot (I was told he's out of the hospital and fine now) and I was happy to see the club now has signs posted saying you can't bring in guns...

Anyways, onto CHRISTMAS DAY! Yay! Well...kinda. I got up at around 5 am on Christmas to make sure everything in my dorm room was in order, since my bus was leaving for Volgograd at 6:30.  Everything was good and I made it to the bus stop at around 6:10, found my bus and sat down.  We didn't leave Elista until 7 since the driver was waiting for people who didn't show up, but that was okay too since my train wasn't leaving until 3 and it's only a 4 hour drive or so.  The bus ride passed uneventfully as I slept virtually the whole way, waking up only when we stopped in random villages to pick up other passengers.  I was lucky that there was a woman on the bus who spoke English very well and was very helpful in helping me to get to the train station and finding my train.

Anyways, we arrived at the train station at about 1 and I sat and waited for my train.  When it finally arrived I bid my English-speaking friend adieu and boarded the train, taking special care to make sure I was in the right место or bed, unlike the last time I had ridden a train alone.

I was the first of four to arrive in my cabin, but the others slowly started coming in.  The first was a woman, I'd say in the late-30s, who was nice enough, but maybe trying to act a bit young for her age and not quite pulling it off.  The next was a younger woman with her very young daughter (maybe a year and a half?) who provided all of us in the cabin with entertainment during the waking hours and annoyance as she cried during the night.  The last to enter was a bald man, whom I did not realize was a serious alcoholic.

Anyways, our train starts to move and not 20 minutes later, this guy, figuring me to be a Russian guy, asks if I want to join him in the restaurant.  Of course I say sure and we make our way to the restaurant car a few cars down.  We sit down, he takes the menu from me, says I don't need and that, if I'm not opposed, we'll have some beer and vodka.  I reluctantly agreed.   Well, our vodka arrived (I don't remember which brand it was, but it wasn't good) along with our beer.  Before we even started drinking, this guy was having trouble getting the beer in the glasses, which I initially attributed to the rocking of the train.

4 large beers and 6 or 7 or 8 shots of vodka later, I was sufficiently buzzed and this dude was hammered.  I had trouble understanding him at first, but now the words were like kasha coming out of his mouth: pure mush.  At this point, he started getting angry that I wasn't understanding most of what he was saying. I told him I had to go to the bathroom and he got fairly upset and pushed me back in my seat. I talked him down and eventually he let me go. When I returned, the waitress said my friend had gone off in the opposite direction of our car and I told her I didn't care; he was drunk and not my friend.  So I went back to my car, found the bathroom and due to an awesome combination of vodka, beer and perpetual rocking motion of the train, vomited it all back up (but I felt good in the morning!).

Speaking of morning, the darling little girl in our cabin wakes us up at around 7:20 or so in the morning and my alcoholic friend disappears for a bit as we pull into this station a few hours outside of Moscow.  He shows up with, for me and him, 4 liters of Russian beer. "Great!" I think to myself.  Lots of vodka last night and now, I get to really life the alcoholic life at 7:30 in the am with 4 liters of beer.

Of course, as you must have guessed, I did in fact drink. I had maybe a liter of all that and this guy must have had 3 by himself. It was a display to say the least.  I was also able to finally try dried fish or whatever it's called (I don't know the Russian word or the English one) and it wasn't bad, just very salty and fishy tasting.

At this point, we're about 25 km outside of the station in Moscow when our train stops for no apparent reason.  Here we sat, with only 15 minutes to go to reach our destination, for a 4 hours! Ugh! 4 hours and I still have no idea why.  To top it off, my alcoholic friend had discovered that before boarding yesterday, he had purchased a liter of beer, which he 'graciously' offered to me and which despite my gentle 'нет спасибо' (no thank you) I ended up drinking even more or this deliciously above-room temperature beer.

Finally, our train started to move again and we pulled in the station...4 hours late, where I, severely buzzed at this point, left as soon as humanly possible and went to my hotel for a nap and a shower.

So, Dear Readers, Christmas was spent drunk and on a train. It was my first Christmas away from home and weird if only because it didn't feel like Christmas at all. It was simply another day traveling and an interesting one at that.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

My First Shooting....oh and My 25th Birthday

So this past weekend, I saw someone get shot. Literally shot. Twice.

So here's the rundown: It's Friday, December 3rd and some friends ask me if I want to get some dinner and a few drinks for my birthday. I, of course, agree and go meet them at a little place next to my dorm.  We weren't there very long when we decided to head for a restaurant/dance club 'Даян' (if you can't read that, sorry). I was little upset when we sat down because I learned that I HAD to order dinner, something I had just eaten not 20 minutes before.  But I obliged and ordered some sort of pork with, конечно!, cheese and mushrooms. Regardless of the garnishes it was pretty good, especially with the Carlsberg I was washing it down with.  Anyways, we had eaten, had a beer or two and danced a little (well not me really, my friends) and it was around 12:30 and we were sitting at our table talking a little bit. That's when it happened....

A group of obviously drunk guys was walking down the center aisle after getting their boogie on, about 10 feet away from our table. Well one guy decided to push another, which as it turns out, was a very bad choice. The drunk guy who got pushed wasn't happy about being pushed, pulled out his gun and let off three rounds.

It all happened really fast and it wasn't until it was over and saw the blood and the hurt girl behind me that I realized what had actually took place.  The drunk guy had hit his target twice, though I'm not sure where and I believe a third shot grazed the head of a girl sitting as she was bleeding a fair amount, but not seriously injured.  During the shooting something ricocheted off my head. I'm not sure what it was, but I THINK (though I know next to nothing about guns) it was a casing as it came pretty fast, but didn't really hurt.

I understand things kinds of can happen anywhere and as such the most disturbing part of the evening was the reaction of the people in the restaurant.  While I've never been present during a US club shooting, I imagine that people generally run and scream and try to leave.  Elista, Russia? No sir. After a few moments the patrons of the restaurant continued with their evening of eating, drinking and dancing as a janitor lady mopped up the blood while my friends and a few people who knew I was American passed the situation off as "That's Kalmykia!" or "That's Elista!" No, good people of Kalmykia/Elista, no that is not the correct response.

Anyways, I'm not sure if the guy died or if the shooter was arrested.  I was ready to leave, but my friends said we needed to wait for the police to arrive and make sure we wouldn't get shot on the way out, which seemed smart to me.  The cops finally showed up and it was about another hour and a half before we could actually leave, during which at least two more fights broke out.  But I finally managed to get home, though I didn't get much sleep.


Well the next day was my birthday and due to a lack of sleep, I spent the better part of the morning/afternoon in bed.  However, I had class at 3 and I was excited for it. It was with my Access students and they had decorated the room with some posters and a banner.  It was a very sweet gesture and we ended up having a great class.

That night I decided not to go out, something I figured I was totally justified in doing even though it was my birthday and to relax and watch movies in the safety of my room.  One of the Mongolian students in my dorm, one who regularly attends my class brought a cake, a card and a little gift.  It was very sweet and I was a bit moved as it was very unexpected.  After this, two OTHER Mongolian students, whose names I don't know and had never actually talked to before, brought me some Mongolian keychains in honor of my birthday.

Overall, Dear Readers, it was perhaps the best/worst and most interesting weekend I've ever had.  Not necessarily one I'd like to relive, but certainly one I don't want to forget!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Auto-Tune Yo-Self!

So the latest rage in the music scene is to use auto-tune (one word?). T-Pain kinda got this trend going and now everyone uses it.  The idea, for those of you living in a cave who don't know, is that this adjusts your voice to put in tune with whatever key you are supposed to be singing in.

Well now it's used by virtually everyone, whether they can kinda of somewhat sing (T-Pain...I think) or those who are just plain annoying and need to disappear from the music scene (T-Pain....haha, but more specifically...Ke$ha).  As far as real music goes, it's fairly disappointing, but as far as playing around with it on your computer? Uh, yeah. It totally rocks!

Or at least that's what the Chinese kid in my dorm seemed to think.  He was blown away by the simple version of auto-tune that Garageband uses and after I gave a quick model of how it works, it took very little provocation to get him to sing a song and allow himself to be auto-tuned.

I feel vaguely bad about actually posting this on the Internet, but since none of you will ever meet or know his name (I only know his Russian name, not his real Chinese one), I don't feel that bad.

Anyways, here's his song (with a picture of T-Pain).  It's in Mandarin so I've no idea what he's singing about, but he was way into it! Enjoy Dear Readers!




video

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Finally...Elista Idol Videos!! Watch them here!!

The videos are a bit grainy because I had seriously change file sizes to get them up here.  However, you can finally watch and see Elista Idol!!


This first one is a girl singing in the local language of Kalmyk, along with a guitar player and a pretty decent beat-boxer.  It was my favorite song of that particular evening.


video



This next video is of a guy doing some crazy version of Ricky Martin's 'Mamma Mia' and, well, it wasn't the best song choice in my opinion...


video



This next video is the same girl from the first one.  Here's she's singing Beyonce's 'Halo'.  This girl won the overall competition the next night when it officially happened.  


video



This video is of Ruslan (the only name I remember) and his rendition of Ol' Blue Eyes' 'My Way'.  Take a peek!


video



This last video is two guys who weren't in the competition and I've no idea what they're singing about, but the ladies were going NUTS over them!


video


Please enjoy Dear Readers!

Friday, November 12, 2010

The Foreigner

It's always interesting to be in Russia because, as an American, Russians are less conservative about asking you questions about America, many of which involve stereotypes received from music, movies and TV.  You're also going to get some crazy propositions as well as have random, stupid things shouted out to you in English.

Let's start with the first.  Here in Elista, as I say in the StuffRussiansLike post, Eminem reigns king of music.  It seems that all the Russians I meet love Eminem.  One girl, who's going to America this summer, told me she wants to go to Detroit (Detroit of all God-forsaken places) because that's where Eminem is from and she wants to see where he lived. I found this really weird, but whatever.  Another student asked me a question once (unfortunately I cannot remember the exact question), but it was from an Eminem song and was either about the way Americans live or the slang we use.  As I said, I don't remember the question, but I do remember finding it so hilarious I had to stop walking because I was laughing so hard.

Just the other day I had a really interesting experience.  A man, dressed very un-Russian, but looking very ethnically Kalmyk was going to university with a bag in one hand and a cake in the other.  We approached the door at the same time and I held it open for him as his hands were full.  As we reached the next door, I again held it open and he looks at me and says, in English, "Are you Cameron?"  I'd never met or even seen this guy, but he knew I was a foreigner.  Well, when I got to my department's office, he ended up coming there as well so I told him that yeah I'm easy to pick out here as a foreigner (read: I'm white like casper, I don't wear black pants or shoes and I have looonng blonde hair), but he told me the reason he knew I was a foreigner was because I opened the doors for him.  This was incredibly interesting to me and also a nice compliment.

Turns out this guy is from Elista, but hasn't lived there for sometime.  He worked illegally in Tel Aviv for 10 months and then moved to Dublin where he has been living since 2002.  He was fascinating to talk to and we talked for quite some time.  He was back visiting his old professors and when they came in and everyone started speaking Russian, it was very fun (for me, anyways) to watch this guy, a native Russian speaker, occasionally (very) stumble over his Russian after speaking English for so long.  It was one of the chance encounters where you meet someone cool and make an international friend.

Anyways, back to being "the Foreigner".  Here in Elista, I am the lone English speaker and that has resulted in some interesting words being thrown my direction.  I've had several requests while walking about to meet someone's daughter (usually the mother asking me) that I've had to turn down.  I've had "Hi! Hello!" shouted at me by male students who found it absolutely hilarious.  And the latest was from students in my dorm who gave me a nice loud 'F*** yourself!' and had a nice laugh.  I'm pretty sure they don't really understand what it means, but they've seen enough American films and heard enough American music to at least know HOW to use it.  One of those situations where you ignore them and keep on walking.

So, Dear Readers, I urge to you travel and experience the world and see what there is to see because there is more than can be seen in a lifetime.  But while you do so, keep an open mind and a cool head otherwise you'll find yourself hating it more and more.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Grandma-Bag Person

So as I sit here in the dark, at 7 on a Saturday night, hoping the tape job I did on my window will keep it shut, I've been thinking about a few habits that I cannot seem to break and that have followed me, most willingly and unwanted, to Russia.

First is a messy room.  My room is an absolute mess.  I meant to clean it this week, but, well, I didn't have the energy.  Or the time.  Or I didn't feel well.  Any of the those excuses work, feel free to chose the one you think fits best or make your own.  Anyways, this is a bad habit, but one that I've perfected from years of living the bachelor life.  It's marked by dirty dishes, clothes all over the floor and creating a 'path' from your door to the important places in your room/place.  You know you've reached this stage when you wait until the last possible moment to do laundry, then when everything is dry, you put it all in a pile and just pick through it, finding what you want rather than actually putting anything away.

The next isn't as bad as it was in Seattle, where the food was so delicious and there was such variety, but I eat out quite a bit.  I'm better with it here because I'm considerably more limited with my options, but I still do it.  The hordes of Mongolian (no pun intended) and Chinese students that invade my dormitory kitchen everyday is slightly intimidating...plus I'm pretty sure they only sleep, study and cook.

There's several more, but less important habits as well, but I wanna get to the bulk of this post.  Somewhere at some point in time I started to become a grandma bag person (if Ana wants to comment on this she should, since she was the person to point this out to me!).  What is a grandma bag person? If you're in Russia, you might think it means that I love stylish plastic bags, but no.  If you're somewhere else you may just think I'm nuts, but n....well okay yeah, but that's not the point.

A grandma bag person is someone who carries literally everything humanly possible in their bag.  I think some of this started after my jaw surgery this past spring when I would carry all sorts of mouth stuff with me in case anything went wrong, but I can't be sure.

In the US I carried everything.  I had food. I had medicine. I had mouth supplies. I had books and papers and pens. I had computer stuff. I had drinks. I had everything.  And here in Russia...the same.

Here in Russia I have my documents. I have computer supplies. I have water. I have food. I have tons and tons of markers. I have tons of notebooks and books. I have medicine. I have napkins. I have matches. I have a hat. The only thing I apparently don't have....my dignity.

When did such a useful misfortune befall me? I mean it's saved my ass countless times, but it's just a little crazy. I'm not shrinking, nor do I have a hump growing on my back, but it seems I am well on my way to babushka-status (I've already got the mustache!).

Anyways, Dear Readers, enjoy what makes you unique and then comment about it! ;-)

Friday, November 5, 2010

The Ladies Who Run My Dorm

This quick blog is going to be a bit of rant, simply because at the moment I'm really pissed.  It's a 4 day weekend here in Russia, celebrating God knows what and people are entitled to their rest, I'm not denying that.  But the women who run my dorm, spend the majority of the day sitting at the entrance doing one of two things: 1) Watching TV 2) Talking on their phones.  Depending on whether the TV is on or not, I usually have a good idea about who is working and who isn't.

Anyways, it's day 2 of the holiday and I was told yesterday that I COULD (then again, it is Russia) was clothes today.  So I go down there today to try and wash my clothes and get told: "Nope, we're relaxing, it's a four day holiday."  First off, they do NOTHING. Second, how much work is it really to open one door, watch me put my clothes and soap into the machine and turn it on, then go sit back down and wait for me to come back when my clothes are finished.  It's not hard.  In fact it's so easy they could most likely literally train a monkey to do it.

Sorry for the rant, Dear Readers, but there's one particular lady at the dorm who seems to go out of her way to be mean to me and of course she happened to be working today.

A Blast From the Not So Long Ago Past

Not so long ago, before I had any idea I was coming to Russia, I had taken an elementary internship at the American International School - Dhaka, in Bangladesh.  At the time, I was excited and ready to go, not knowing that while I would be traveling in the same general direction, I'd end up some place completely different.  This seems so long ago, but in Russia I think your past always seems far away. Anyways, here it is:



Well folks, I made a decision.  It took me long enough and god knows it caused me enough stress, but I made a decision; I took a job for the next school year in Dhaka, Bangladesh.  That's right, Bangladesh.  For those of you who don't Bangladesh is smashed in between India and Myanmar (Burma) and is the 7th most populated country in the world (162 million, more than Russia) and one of the densest countries in the world.

I have to admit that I'm a little scared.  It's a scary though to just pack up and move to another country for a year, especially a country as different from the US as Bangladesh, but for the little bit I'm scared, I'm extremely excited!  The possibilities are unlimited and I'm really excited about what I can do as an intern there.  I don't feel ready for a class of my own and I think this opportunity will allow to really hone my skills as a teacher to take on a classroom of my own the next year.

Bangladesh is going to be an extremely interesting place and man I couldn't be more excited!!



I find it incredibly interesting that I even compare Bangladesh to Russia in this little blog, not knowing I'd be returning to the motherland.  And a part of me will always wonder about the experience I never had, but I don't regret coming back to Russia over Bangladesh.  It's an honor to be here and I'm excited by my opportunities here.  Anyways, Dear Readers, make of this what you will, but always keep in mind how quickly things can change.  

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Russia Doesn't Exist!! ...wait..what!?

Apparently Russia has been broken up and no longer exists.  I was told this by a woman who works for paypal.  Man have I been out of the loop.

Anyways, while trying to use paypal whilst in Russia, I continually get holds put on my account since I'm logging in from Russia.  This is hassle, but I'm glad to know the security measures work.  Yet when it happens I have to call paypal each time and get it straightened out.

Now this had happened earlier in the day and the first woman was brilliant and nice and made a note on my account and everything.  So after the second time, I called back, was on hold for 25 minutes and got this other woman.  She had me verify a few things and then the insanity began.  Here's how the conversation went:

PP Lady: So you're in Russia. Where are you?

Me: I'm in Elista.

PP Lady: Okay, but what country?

Me: ...Russia...

PP Lady: Okay, but didn't they break Russia up not to long ago?

Me: No

PP Lady: So you're in Russia then?

Me:  Yes. I'm in Elista.  It's in Russia.

So after that little number, where I somehow managed to hold my tongue and not offer up any smart-ass remarks, she proceeded to hit a a number of wrong things on her end, turning what should have been a 5 minute conversation into a 17 minute conversation.  Ridiculous.  But at least she was nice.

So, Dear Readers, goes the life in Russia...

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Хэлловин...Halloween in Russia!

So this past weekend was Halloween and while I didn't particularly celebrate like I would in the US, I did organize two parties at the university: one for university students this past Friday and one for our Access (middle/high school) students on Saturday.

Before I get too into this, I'll just tell you that I was Chuck Norris for Halloween (thank Ana for the amazing idea!).  Chuck is a brilliant idea for Elista because he's been here and people seem to like him, but anyways this is the ONLY time you will EVER see me in Wrangler's Jeans...enjoy.
Again, the ONLY time you'll ever see me in Wrangler's...as seen here as Walker: Texas Ranger


On with the story! Friday night we had a ton of people, many more than I had expected and/or was prepared for.  I think overall there were about 60 of us, counting teachers and students and it was nuts.   Unfortunately, however,  there were only about 12 people with costumes, myself included.
All the costume wearers!
Costume Contest Winner!
















There were a few student presentations: one girl gave a nice little history about Halloween, another had prepared a rudimentary Halloween-esque crossword (first year student, but he did very well), and a group of girls had a riddle, which was unfortunately solved and answer spouted out before the girls could finish their presentation.

Then we got into our activities that I had planned.  The first one we did was play a 'rousing' game of Halloween pictionary.  Some of the things were very easy (bat, monster, etc) and others were more difficult (scarecrow and particularly, Edward Cullen....hahaha yes I know that's lame).
Igor trying to cheat at Pictionary...check out his good Cullen drawing though!


Our next contest was a 'Mummy Wrap!'  I bought 48 rolls of toilet paper, which was really just perfect for two Halloween parties, and the students had a blast doing this.  It was fun to see the different methods students chose, and the different ways they dressed their mummies, take a look!
Sergei the Bloody Mummy





Our final contest was bobbing for apples.  Since there were so many people there and so few apples and places to bob, we had a little contest with two people going at once: the first time round it was whoever grabbed an apple first; the second time there was only one apple and they had to fight for it.  This was really awesome and fun to watch, but the two people at the same time thing, especially when there was just one apple, kinda made a huge mess....oh well.      

In the end I had wanted to do a dance competition to Michael Jackson's 'Thriller' and then watch the music video, but the cleaning ladies wanted us out so we settled for just watching the video sans competition.  Overall, it was great fun and I think everyone had a good time!


Saturday was our party with Access students, where did pretty much the same activities.  We did a simpler pictionary (their English language abilities aren't quite the same), we did the mummy wrap (they loved it!) and we did bobbing for apples.

Since this group was much smaller than the previous night's and since we had made a big mess the night before, I opted for one at a time bobbing to see who could do it the fastest.  This was hilarious to watch since these are teenagers and are generally reluctant to do anything anyone asks of them, but we got everyone to do this and ridiculousness ensued.  The water was much colder on Saturday than it was on Friday, making grabbing the apple a much more daunting task.  Some students went about things a bit dainty-like and others straight up plunged their heads deep into the water, pinned that apple against the bottom of the bucket and whipped it out!
Director the University


We also ended up doing the dance competition with this group, but the 'teenager' thing kinda got in the way and the dances, while entertaining, weren't exactly enthusiastic in any way.

After it was all said and done, I was a bit Halloween-ed out and decided to head home and have a nap.  Those two were pretty much the extent of my Halloween celebrations and while they weren't exciting in the way I might have celebrated in the US, they were fun nonetheless and I think everyone had a good time!
Playing a name game!


Dear Readers, I'd love to hear about how YOU celebrated Halloween this year! Leave a comment and let me know who you were and what you did!

Monday, November 1, 2010

StuffRussiansLike

This will be a running blog entry about the various things I (and hopefully others) encounter in Russia on an extremely regular basis.  These are listed in no particular order and I'm hoping that my fellow cohorts will contribute in the comments section.  Anyways, I'm not trying to promote stereotypes, but these are simply things that are quite frequent here and are, more or less, unavoidable...

As I said, this blog will be updated as I have more time and as I think/realize what others there.  Also, if you, Dear Readers, have anything you'd like to add, please leave a comment and I'll update the blog (looking at you CIEE & Fulbright ETAs!)

1.  Vodka: It is a huge stereotype that all Russians love vodka and that Russians drink vodka all the time.  However, Russians do tend to drink lots of the stuff.  Why you might wonder? I'm not sure, perhaps to soften the blow of the winters.  Perhaps to counteract all the sodium I assume that Russians take in.  Who knows, but they do drink vodka and they have some good vodka here...and I don't really like vodka!

2.  Dill (Укроп): Dill.  It's literally everywhere in this country.  Soups, meats, salads.  Doesn't matter.  9 times out of 10 it's gonna have some dill on it.  My first go-round in Russia had me hating the stuff, but I actually find myself liking it this time for some odd reason.  I cannot, however, make any claims whatsoever as to why this stuff is everywhere.  It just is.  But like with sour cream (read on), I hated this the first time in Russia, but now I'm really enjoying it!
See that green stuff? Yeah, dill!

3.  Cigarettes: Russia is very much a smoking country and cigarettes are cheap. Real cheap.  Imagine a pack of Marlboro Reds selling for $1.40; yeah well that's Russia and those are American cigarettes.  A pack of Russian cigarettes goes for maybe half of that.  It's economically stupid to NOT smoke here.  Seriously.



4.  Cell Phone Cases:  Russians love their cell phone cases.  Everyone here seems to have one.  These aren't the cases we have in the US where the just protect our phone, but the kind you actually have to physically take your phone out of in order to use it.  Along with this, many people also rock the little cell phone charm thingys.  I'm not really sure how to call these, but they are also everywhere.  Craziness is guaranteed daily.



5.  Sour Cream (сметана): Like dill, this stuff is literally everywhere.  Order some soup....expect a pile of this stuff.  Order...well, pretty much anything and your likely to encounter, on some level, sour cream. Actually hated this stuff the first time in Russia, but now...no so!  It's still not my favorite, but then again borsch without sour cream isn't really borsch, so it's not all bad! It's pretty good!



6.  Hot Dogs (сосиски): No beating around the bush here.  In Russia, and in Elista particularly, hot dogs reign king.  In the US I don't mind hot dogs, at least not a very limited basis, but they're a bit too prevalent here for my tastes.  In all fairness to Russia, I've just never been a big hot dog/sausage eater.




7.  Locked Doors: If Russia were a choose your own adventure book, it would be incredibly boring.  Why? Because you'd find very few doors open and for those to which you had a key, there's a 50-50 chance it wouldn't work.  Why are so many doors locked.  I believe only Stalin knows.....



8.  Weird American Music: Okay not all of it is weird, but I'm always fascinated by how musical artists we no longer hear about in the US, are hugely popular here. There are exceptions too, for example Eminem is like God over here.  I hear 'Love the Way You Lie' EVERYWHERE! Mainly it's from my Mongolian dorm-mates, but that doesn't matter.  Limp Bizkit - he's here.  Avril Lavigne - she's here. Sum 41- they're here (I despise Sum 41).  There is some other stuff too that you hear in the US, just not as often anymore: The Offspring, Metallica is on a lot, and a few other older rock bands.  Brings back some serious flashbacks!














9.  Cognac: This is Russia's other main liquor.  Usually if it isn't vodka, it's cognac.  I don't really encounter either vodka or cognac much here (thank God), but if I do, I tend to prefer cognac.  Yes I know Russia is known for its amazing vodka, but I don't like the stuff, unless I'm 'dude-ing' it up and drinking a white Russian.  Generally, cognac is my preferable way to go should the occasion arise.



10.  Not using articles when speaking English: This is one is just funny, but I can't really blame Russians for it.  Learning a new language is really hard and they don't have articles in Russian so it makes sense that they would consistently leave them out.  I, on the other hand, get flustered when speaking Russian and I can't put articles in.  Really throws me for A loop...haha





11.  Tea (Чай): Russians drink tons and tons of tea...kind of how people drink lots of coffee in Seattle.  This is a pretty sweet habit I have to admit, and one I've gotten myself into (though I still drink a ton of coffee).  The main coffee here is really bad instant, but that's because coffee, like I'm used to, is quite expensive.  While in Moscow I was able to pick up a single cup filter and some ground coffee...wow was it overpriced (though I don't care).  So instead they drink tea, which is generally better for you anyways I think.  It's pretty awesome.
Very popular, but cheap tea. Delish!



12. Security (Охрана): I was going to lump this in with the whole locked doors thing, but I decided it was something completely different.  Many buildings here have security guards or something similar (my dorm has old women, but same concept).  These people often times make you show ID before you can enter or explain yourself...often even after they've seen you come in and out a thousand times.  In my dorm this isn't a problem, at least for me, however, when I go to the university sometimes I still have to, even though I have been here over two months and they've seen me come and ago almost everyday. 








READER ADDITIONS!

I'd like to thank Лия for these next few submissions, thank you for reading Лия!!

13. High Heels: I do not know HOW I forgot about about these!! Russian women wear high heels EVERYWHERE, on EVERYDAY, for EVERY occasion and no matter the weather.  This is no small feat ladies, none at all.  Russian sidewalks are faaaarrr from being easy to walk on, even with hiking boots. And in the winter when it's icy?  Lord knows how they do it.  In the big cities, they rock these things on the metro and don't have to hold on to nothing! If there was an olympic event in wearing high heels, no one would come close to the Russians!




14.  High-heeled Boots (AKA Stripper Boots): These are exactly what they seem like: knee-high boots, often leather or pleather, with ginormous heels.  Like regular heels, Russian women sport these with a confidence I can't begin to imagine and do so in the most trying of circumstances. It's downright impressive.  Also, please don't take offense to my calling them stripper boots, it's simply the first thing that comes to mind when I see them.  I love that these boots are totally workplace acceptable for virtually ANY workplace in Russia.  College professor? No prob. Airport security? You're rocking the boots.  Working at the Kremlin? ...well I'm actually not sure about this one, but sure why not!




15.  Rapid Verb Repetition: This something I notice, but wasn't something I would have actively thought to put on the list until Лия brought it to my attention.  While this is something I see everyday in Russia, I think it's common to pretty much every country/culture around the world.  Whether it's давай, давай, давай!!! or сидесь, сидесь, сидесь!!! Russians are good at repeating the imperative forms of the verbs!  But as I said, you're likely to encounter this in many different places, whether the US or Mexico or Germany.  But still, the Russians do it well.


Thanks to Amanda for these next few! I appreciate it!

16. Documents (Документы): Again, how did I ever overlook this one?  This is actually one of the things I dislike about Russia.  Everywhere you go in Russia you need your documents and your papers. If you're in a city for more than 3 days, you need to register with the police.  Russians have an in-country passport and a passport much like us Americans.  I spent 30 minutes once trying to explain to a girl that we don't have to show documents in the US, we don't have two passports, etc.  This one I actually don't like.



17. Mayonnaise: Russians love mayonnaise.  This is one I tend to avoid at all costs, but regardless it's everywhere.  There is a pizza shop here and you'd be hard pressed to find a pizza without mayonnaise on it...yuck.  Also, one day I spent a 1,000 rubles at the local grocery and lo and behold, what do I get for spending such gargantuan amounts? 1.5 liters of water and a pack (yes pack, not bottle) of mayonnaise....mmmmm boy!



18. Fur (Мех): Fur coats, hats, whatever it is you want made out of fur, you can probably get it here.  I myself have an ушанка (fur hat) made out of rabbit...or so I was told.  You can get a bear skin rug, you can get whatever you want.  Though I'd suggest you keep it here since PETA is considerably less active in the Federation.



19. Plastic Bags: Whether you're shopping or just carrying your stuff around, Russians tend to rave about plastic bags.  I saw a couple once talking about how nice a plastic bag was once and even though I can't remember what INCREDIBLY ridiculous thing was on it, I can guarantee you it WAS ridiculous.  



Here are a couple more of my own that I completely forgot!

20. Sushi (Суши): You don't find a ton of Asian food in Russia except for Sushi.  I remember when I studied in St. Petersburg, sushi was everywhere, though I'm not sure I ever had any, except one time and I think it was either eel or snake...not sure.  But they love Sushi and I've had it several times since I've come to Russia this time and even here in Elista...the middle of nowhere....there is some pretty tasty sushi.  Not as good as what I had in Seattle, but certainly not as bad as I had there either (sorry Seattle).
Russia's biggest sushi chain


21.  Milk in a bag: Yes you heard correctly.  I said milk in a bag. What?! How?! Don't worry, you're not alone.  The first time I saw this I thought to myself "Okay, now if I buy this bag of milk, I'm gonna have to use it all in one go...ain't happenin."  I was miffed and, to a point, still am.  Apparently there's a straw thingy or something you're suppose to use, but I don't care to figure it out.  I'm sticking to milk in a carton. However, I don't think this phenomenon is limited to Russia.  While we're on milk, Russians also love milk high in fat.  I struggle to find 0.5% as 1% is the lowest I see on a regular basis, but 4.5% sure, why not? 

*DO NOT google 'milk in a bag russia' or any of the variants. The search results are considerably more disturbing than one would expect.*


22.  Vkontakte.ru: This is Russia's Facebook and it's ginormously popular and I hear Facebook hates it.  If you don't really know what this is, it's more or less a crappier version of Facebook (slowly starting to update), but probably has better privacy policies...zing! Anyways, anyone who's anyone here has a vkontakte account...maybe you should too.



Thanks to redrelic17 (i.e. Ted Hixson)  for these next submissions!

23. Pushkin: The guy is a national hero here and rightly so.  He was a brilliant writer and poet and if you've never read any of his works, I recommend that you do so.  Any and every city in Russia, I'm pretty sure, has a Pushkin ulitsa or Pushkin Bul'var or Pushkin Prospekt and will most certainly have at least 1 statue and a few busts of the man.  Yet it's all worthwhile.




24. Poetry: Unlike (sadly) in America, poetry here is also really popular (see previous).  Russians learn poems by heart from the time they learn to speak I'm pretty sure.  Poems here, poems there, poems in books and everywhere.  Russia is a country of poets and they do it well.




25. Kasha: Again, this one isn't necessarily limited to Russia, but it is hugely popular here.  I don't like this stuff.  Never been a fan of American-style oatmeal either.  I'm not a horse, I don't need oats...at least not in this way.  But they love it here, maybe with an egg in, maybe not.  It's kasha so go wild!!!



These next few are from Molly Perkins...thanks Molly!


26.  Sunflower Seeds: Yeah this is a big one here.  Men chew these things like they're going out of style.   I haven't actually seen these sold anywhere (then again I haven't looked ever either), but man the piles you see next to benches is ridiculous.  You'd think you've been sitting at Yankee Stadium and the game has gone into extra-innings.  Hmmm...I wonder if they have any of the crazy/delicious flavors we have in the US?




27.  Football/Soccer: One in the same, but however you call it, it's popular here as it is in virtually every corner of the world, except for the big open spots...the oceans...oh wait I mean the United States.  Being American means I suck at football and actually played with some students not long ago; my team lost all the games.




28.  Apple Products: This one is interesting.  Russians DO love Steve Jobs and every sweet, amazing, glorious, delicious product his company puts out (as I type from my mac! :-D ).  However, very few people here have Apple products.  Why? Because they're ridiculously expensive.  An iPhone 3G (not 3GS) maybe $500.  iPhone 3GS...$1,000.  Computers are almost double what you pay in the US (US people...no more complaining about how overpriced Apple's amazing products are) and so is everything else.  But many seem to want them.



I need to add one more of my in here really quick!

29. Parentheses:  I finally had to ask what this trend was all about.  In the US, we love our emoticons and we use them to their full extent.  Russians, however, operate on a different level.  Instead of a smiley face as you may be used to [ :-) ], Russians opt for the more excited, but considerably less obvious approach [ :)))))))))))))))))) ] and they often forgo the colon symbol making it less comprehensible.  This is an important one to know if you ever type with a Russian:))))))))))))))))))))))))))


Alex Leeding, thank you ever so much for these next few entries.  Your experience is valued!

30. Exact Change: Got any change? I definitely noticed this more in St. Petersburg than I do here in Elista, but old women (generally) and anyone else who happens to be taking your money...well, they don't like big bills.  They prefer...no they love...wait...no they DEMAND exact change or as close to it as possible.  And should you have the ultimate misfortunate of coming across a really mean one and you don't have exact change, something close and/or just big bills - well be prepared to get publicly berated or quite possibly be unable to purchase whatever it is you wanted in the first place.
The fabled 5,000 ruble note. Should you
come across one of these, you may as well toss it out because NO ONE is going to accept it....


31. Lines: This one has several different factors involved with it.  The first being that there are two kinds of lines in Russia: one where there are 3 different lines all leading to the same place and one where your spot in line doesn't mean jack squat because anyone and everyone is going to come up and cut in front of you.  The latter is hard to get used to as an American where we patiently stand in line for our turns to come up. The 3 different lines thing is confusing, but not the worst thing in the world, unless you combine the two and not only are you in the wrong line, but people are cutting.  Lines also have lots of pushing in Russia, in the metro, at food places, anywhere and a majority is done by bashuskas, whom, if you push back you're a giant tool.  So three line variants and when all three come together, it's the worst.




A few more I remembered...

32. Mushrooms (Грибы): I was reminded of this one yesterday as we celebrated the birthday of a fellow teacher.  Most of us ordered the шашлык (shashlik - a kind of bbq), but she ordered fish that came smothered in mayonnaise (mmm!!), cheese (see next entry) and of course mushrooms.  Everyone here loves mushrooms and they come on virtually anything and everything.  Mushroom picking is a national pastime in many places as well.  I'm 50-50 on this one as I only like certain kinds of mushrooms so it really depends on what kind they decide to give me.



33. Cheese-covered food: Russians cover everything in melted cheese and I've no idea why.  I mean fish covered in cheese...meh.  Don't get me wrong, I LOVE cheese, but it's not the kind of thing you can just throw around haphazardly.  It needs to be taken care of and coddled and loved.  You have to respect cheese.
It looks like this, but mushrooms, less artificial and on something much less appropriate than toast.

34. Fake Crab: This one is completely baffling.  Yes, I'm sure it's incredibly difficult to get real crab into Russia from wherever it might be imported from, but man this stuff is gross. It looks fake, smells fake and tastes fake...maybe it should move to LA! Haha okay that one was a bit lame. But in all seriousness, this stuff is really popular here...perhaps against better judgment.



Thanks to Sara for these ones!!

The dreaded 'female' mullet....
35. Mullets: I, and many other Americans, call this the Dima Bilan.  It's my understanding that this style is around thanks to him.  Now many other countries, especially in Europe have a sort of pseudo-mullet style, but the Russians take it one step farther.  There's really no better way to describe it than through a picture or two.  Since the majority of my readers are American, they tend to know what mullets are.
The 'Dima' if you will

                                        


                                        









36. Slippers (Тапочки): Russians love their slippers and like in many Asian cultures, you generally don't wear shoes in the house, but rather slippers.  There aren't anything special or even that particularly comfortable (my slippers back in the US are mucho better), but they're just the standard here.  I wish I was better at forming good habits, then I could adapt this into my lifestyle....


37. Hors d'oeuvre/Appetizer (Закуски): These delicious little morsels of whatever they decide to serve are everywhere.  Usually some meats and cheeses with some dill and sour cream in their somewhere.  Definitely some black bread, possibly some caviar and usually a few other items.  These are more than just appetizers though, this might be the only actual meal.  If you get invited to dinner, you maybe not get a meal as you might be used to, but rather this sort of family-style snack thing going 'round with maybe some vodka or cognac to help wash it down.


38. Piroshki (Пирошки): These delectable little treats are everywhere in Russia as well.  Some are fried, many are baked, but all, well almost, are delicious.  In Seattle you can get these awesome things at 'Piroshky-Piroshky' (check 'em out! http://www.piroshkybakery.com/) at Pike Place or up on Madison.  If you're in Seattle, I recommend it (the one on Madison has a much larger menu).  Here in Elista, the Золотой Лёвь (Golden Lion) supplies me with mine. My favorite? Капуста (Cabbage). My least favorite? Some kinda that I bought that I think had fish and it was absolutely disgusting. No idea what it's called.




Thanks to Jeremy over in Virginia for these next few!


39. Dried Fish: This is a staple in Russia as it is in MANY countries and while I hear that these things are delicious, I'm slightly more hesitant.  I've never been offered a dried fish by anyone and have no real desire to actually buy one of these things and try to figure it out on my own.  They're a mystery to me, much in the same way a Rubic's cube is.




40. Ringtones: It seems like every Russian thinks they need an awesome ringtone.  Whether it's a student headed to the university or a babushka with her cane and bags of groceries, you can almost bet that their ringtone will be more stylish, flashy and up-to-date than yours.  It's hilarious when an older person has a flashy ringtone, especially coming from the US where it seems like a lot (but not everyone!) of people over 50 don't know what a cell phone is.


41.  Kvass (Квас): This is an extremely mildly alcoholic drink (like O'Doul's has more alcohol than this) that is actually made from fermented bread.  It's hugely popular here in Russia and well to be honest, I don't particularly care for it, but that doesn't mean it's bad.  I guess I'm just not in the same 'kvass' as Russians....




42.  Narcissism: I actually wasn't going to include this one, but I recently had an experience that brought this little number to light once again.  I'd forgotten how prevalent it is.  Russians are generally well-groomed and dress nicer than the average American.  At the dance club the other night, mirrors lined the wall and if a Russian wasn't dancing with someone, then it seemed they were dancing with themselves in the mirror.  They just better hope they can pull themselves away...






Thanks to Steph for these next few!


43. Banya (Баня): These are basically Russian saunas and they are the greatest. thing. ever.  My home will have one someday.  Anyways, they're tiny little wooden houses with brick ovens where the temperatures get ridiculously hot (A guy died in Finland this year during the national sauna contest).  You strip down to your birthday suit and cram in there with your best friends where you proceed to throw some awesome smelling stuff on the heat (Eucalyptus many times), beat each other with birch branches and then either jump or get doused with 40 degree water.  The Russians believe these extremes to be extremely beneficial in terms of health and I agree. You go to a banya and you walk out feeling like a million bucks. (Again, if your in Seattle, there's a banya place that's a little pricey, but the early morning happy hour is great. I recommend it! Check them out here: http://www.banya5.com/)
This picture is absurdly weird and correct....


44. Putin: Prime Minister, ex-President Vladimir Putin is hugely popular in Russia.  He's sort of the MacGuyver of Russia.  Women want him and men want to be him (he's a black belt in Judo you know).  He casts a huge shadow over Russia even though he keeps Russia's leader tradition alive by being short: standing a menacing 5'5".




45. Weddings (Свадьба): I don't know what a Russian wedding costs, but it's gotta be expensive because they go all out. They have the limos, tons of photos in every beautiful, important place in the city.  Lots and lots of vodka is involved and there's tons of people there.  Russians love weddings and they have a 'no holds barred' kind of attitude towards them. Go big or go home...or maybe don't get married in this case.
Yes...those ARE doves....


Again, thanks to Alex for this one!


46. Shawarma: This tasty little guy is pretty much the Russian version of the Middle Eastern Gyro type things we see in the US.  They're cheap, super filling and d-e-l-i-c-i-o-u-s!  They are, however, undoubtedly questionable in terms of health, both in content and in the way they were prepared.  After returning home from Russia the first time I remember reading an article that said a few homeless men had been killing other homeless men and selling the meat to these stands.  It didn't say where in Russia this happened, but you might as well start calling me Hannibal Lector....







47. Walking like You're Drunk: Perhaps this is just in my city of Elista, but I'm posting it regardless.  Older women in my city seem to walk like they're completely smashed, moving from each side of the sidewalk to the other.  They aren't drunk and this generally isn't a big problem, except for every time I walk. Walking has become equivalent to the Indy 500, but at much slower speeds.  Every time I try to pass these women on the street, they swerve to the side I'm trying to pass on. This usually goes on for several tries, until I bust out my Heisman moves, press A+B and do a quick juke and a spin to get around them. Geez....




48. Pirated Everything: Russia, like China and many other places in the world, are big users of pirated everything. This means movies, music, software, everything.  I'm a bit skeptical, however, at least as far as software is concerned since it seems every computer I've encountered here is fraught with viruses so I don't know about the software bit.  And I'll discuss movies in the next one!




49. Dubbing Movies: Russians are notorious for dubbing movies. Putting subtitles in films costs too much money and takes too much time. Dubbing is simply easier and cheaper.  They have, however, gotten considerably better at it.  Back in the good ol' days it was one male voice for every male actor in the film and one female voice for every female character. I've even seen a film where a male voice is dubbed over every one in the movie, regardless of whether the person in the film speaking is male or female.  For Russians, this isn't bad, but for foreigners it's a pain, especially when buying pirated DVDs claiming to have English. Well, they don't.




50. Computer games: For the, let's say 25 & under population, computer games are ginormously popular.  Stroll into any computer cafe in Russia and you're guaranteed to see dozens of Russian kids playing WoW or some sort of zombie level from some COD game online.  Most of which are played on Russian only servers of pirated copies of the games!






*UPDATE - FEBRUARY 26, 2011


51. Staring: Russians are masters of the deep, glaring stare.  The first time I was in Russia it was unnerving, at least until I got used to it and started staring back.  They will stare you down until you're nothing but dust and they'll enjoy it.  The trick is to a) get really good at staring back (this is both quite easy and fun!) or b) make faces when people stare (this is also pretty fun!)






52. Public Displays of Affection (PDA): PDA is about as rampant a problem in Russia as stray dogs.  When the weather is nice, everywhere you look you're bound to see a couple making out and/or more or less doing it on a park bench, in a cafe, on an escalator, anywhere!  We always figured this was due to many young people living at home and unable to get some privacy around their families and couples making the most of the 'babushka by 30 rule' (if curious, ask me about this).  While it gets pretty annoying, it can be entertaining. I can't tell you the number of times I seen men getting handsy only to watch the women slap their hands away. It's pretty funny see that happen.




52.  Homophobia: This one is considerably less entertaining and quite sad, but true nonetheless.  Homophobia is rampant here in Russia and when it comes up in my lessons or conversation, the words 'gay' or 'homosexual' conjure up giggles from virtually everyone.  Russia seems to be more tolerant of lesbian couples, but not by a wide margin. Either way, being homosexual in Russia is a struggle (and they certainly do fight) and definitely scary.




53.  Space: Russia is really the only competitor the US has in the space race.  I mean Russia (or well the USSR) put the first man in space and now they, along with the US, operate the International Space Station.  They are really into space and Yuri Gagarin (1st man in space) is a pretty big deal here.































54.  Oil/Gas: Russia has a lot of crude oil (which it can't reach cause it's under the permafrost), but it also more or less controls the natural gas into Eastern and Central Europe, giving them their heat. Ever heard of Gazprom? Yeah, they control the most natural gas in the world. Guess where they're from. So when Ukraine or Belorussia does something to piss off Big Brother, Russia cuts off natural gas screwing them and a lot people further west...especially during winter.




55.  Siberia: I'm not entirely sure Russia likes this, but like it or not, Siberia is a large, large portion of their country. It's big, it's cold in the winter time (I pretty much consider it uninhabitable) and it's a great place to stick people you don't like.  Anyways, Siberia takes up 10% of the EARTH'S landmass and 77% of Russia's, but has only 25% of its population (thank you Wikipedia). Depending on who you talk to, depends on where it ends, but it begins, in the West, after the Ural Mountains and pretty much goes to the Pacific.  Anyways, out there in the East also lives Putin's favorite wild animal: the Amur Leopard, one the rarest cats in the world (only 30-40 left in the wild).
Yes this cute little guy lives through snowy, snowy winters. Weird right?
















Bolded posts are the updated ones. Thanks for your comments so far, keep 'em coming!

So, Dear Readers, these are some very common things you're likely to come across should you visit the great country of Russia! Again, don't think I'm promoting any stereotypes, these are just daily (many, but certainly not all) experiences I have had whilst in Russia.