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Monthly Archives: November 2011

I’m not the biggest fan of babies. In fact, they sort of scare me. It’s the way they squirm around and can’t control their movements, not to mention how easy it is to just drop one on the head by accident. My former roommate is an even bigger anti-baby person and has joked about throwing one in a washing machine on multiple occasions, but I won’t get into that.

But I do have to admit: Russian babies are adorable. Precious. Just so darn cute. Seeing one bundled up even momentarily switches on my maternal instincts! And then seeing them proceed to scream, cry, throw up, etc immediately switches those instincts back off. I always have an urge to take a picture of a particularly cute baby that I pass by, but that’s creepy, not to mention border-line pedo. So, thanks to google images, here is a bundled up baby for your viewing pleasure. Everybody now: Awwwww.

This baby is prepared for the cold. Photo credit: Dreamstime.com

It’s something about the way that they’re dressed during the winter that melts my heart. Since being in the cold makes you sick*, parents wrap their kids up in massive puffy coats, puffy pants, boots, and a hat (most likely with pom poms on them). Kids sort of waddle around because their arms and legs stick out due to the bulky winter gear. And to up the cute-factor, parents drag them around on sleds everywhere!! Currently, there’s a lot of snow on the ground (because remember, winter started in October), and I guess it’s easier to transport children on sleds rather than in carriages.

Babies on sleds! Photo credit: russiawithlove.blogspot.com

Russians who are reading this are probably thinking that I’m strange for writing about their babies, and while that’s a fair judgment, I’m just writing about yet another difference between Americans and Russians. I have never ever seen kids being towed around on a sled before in America, and I think it’s awesome. And I like the Russian toddler style. Don’t judge me.

*Let me just be loud and clear about this one. Being in the cold does not make you sick. I repeat: Being in the cold does not make you sick. When it’s cold out, people tend to stay inside more, and with more people inside, that means more germs are bouncing around. Which means that you are more likely to get sick because there are so many germs and viruses circulating in a room. But you don’t get sick just from being outside in the cold without a hat on. So lay off me, alright Russian grandmas? Sometimes I don’t like wearing a hat. You can deal with it.

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So while millions of Americans are currently in a post-Thanksgiving trytophanic, comatose state, I am currently leftover-less in Russia, mourning the inability to be with my family and to go shopping at four in the morning on Black Friday. Russians don’t celebrate Thanksgiving (for obvious reasons), so I had to work on Thursday and Friday. But I was not going to let Thanksgiving quietly slip by unnoticed. Oh no. I had Thanksgiving celebrations (read: forced my students to celebrate) in one of my classes and in English club. Ain’t no party like a forced Thanksgiving party!

Typical fare of a Russian Thanksgiving party: pickles, mandarins, salted herrin under beet salad, brown bread, and cookies. Notice how there's no turkey or stuffing or anything remotely related to Thanksgiving.

English Club celebrations included hand turkeys and pizza. Again, no real turkey. I made cranberry sauce though!

This poor turkey had a mangled gobbler.

 

Thanksgiving is all about being grateful, right?* So while I missed being able to gorge on Vietnamese food and spend a few days in an MSG-induced stupor, I am very thankful for having the opportunity to be in Ukhta. I’m thankful for the friends I have made here, and I’m even more thankful that they like to hang out with me and teach me all about Russian culture, sometimes until the wee hours of the morning. There will be plenty of more Thanksgivings in America, but this is the only time I’ll be able to celebrate it in Russia.

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*In giving preparing for my Thanksgiving lesson, it was hard to not completely rip into the American government for how they annihilated the American Indians. Russians have compared Andrew Jackson to Stalin, and it’s a fair assessment — the trail of tears, the forced “reeducation.” We can’t forget.

I’m in the midst of preparing for war with a brutal and unrelenting opponent. A venerable foe most notable for defeating the Swedes during the Great Northern War and for decimating the French army during 1812. The enemy, dear Reader, is the Russian winter.

Apparently, this isn't even really winter yet.

The locals really love telling me how cold it’s going to be, probably because they like the reaction they get from me. I’m cold here, dammit, and I’m going to be cold until May. To give you a taste of the lovely weather here, last week was apparently “balmy,” with one day being above 0 C! The sun also has been “rising” around 9, and setting around 3:40. I use quotation marks to denote that the sun doesn’t actually rise — it’s more like the day becomes grey, and then it becomes dark. Love it.

So how am I gearing up for the six-month war ahead of me? By putting on a nice layer of fat. It’s the best protection against the frigid, negative temperatures! I can’t even help fattening up for winter. For example, I’m usually not too keen on Russian salads — a salad should be bursting with crisp, fresh vegetables, not bursting with meat, potatoes, and mayonnaise (don’t get me started on the dill). But with winter well under way, I find myself craving these “salads.” As well as sour cream and cookies. My colleagues in the Foreign Language Department help me in preparing for winter by feeding me candy. I tried to refuse candy from the French teacher one day, and she responded in a very grave manner: “You need to eat this to stay warm. It’s cold out.” How do I say no to that?

Salad Olivier: the epitome of a Russian salad (despite the fact that it was created by a Frenchman). Ingredients include cubed bologna, peas, potatoes, carrots, dill, and mayonnaise. Photo credit: everydayrussian.com

In my own defense, my scale says I’m 56 kg in the morning. My scale also might be broken, but that’s a different matter.

Yesterday, I got the chance to attend the Student’s Ballroom Dancing Competition, where students from all over (not just the Komi Republic) competed. I was absolutely floored by their level of ability — they were so good! There were different age groups that competed yesterday, ranging from little tykes to college-age students. Ballroom dancing is apparently really popular over here in Russia, and many kids start taking classes when they’re quite young. I don’t think it’s nearly as popular in the US — girls start off with ballet or tap dance, not ballroom dancing. Boys…don’t really dance at all, they’re geared more towards sports like soccer.

Man, I wish I could dance like they did. I was too rolly-polly as a child to ever seriously engage in physical activities. I remember asking my parents if I could take ballet lessons, and they told me that I’d have to stop eating chocolate and cookies to become a ballet dancer. That was one sacrifice I just could not bring myself to make.

These are two Russian champions in ballroom dancing. Andrei Zaytsev and his partner (can't remember the name)

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An exhibition on Eastern dance

There are days when I love teaching, and then there are days when I absolutely hate teaching. Yesterday was one of the latter days.

It can be painfully frustrating when students just don’t care. For example, yesterday I taught a lesson on the Civil War. Or at least, I tried to. I had given the students some basic reading and a list of vocabulary words to look over so that they would be prepared for the lesson today. I knew I was in trouble when I asked the class if they knew anything about the American Civil War. Only two out of the six students had done the reading and looked up the words. Was it too much of me to expect my students to read 3/4 of a page and look up some words?

I naturally assumed that students here would be interested in coming to my classes, because I’m a native speaker of English, and let’s face it, there aren’t that many of us here in Ukhta for the long term. I’m almost 100% sure that I’m the only American living here. So for those who are learning English, I’m like a linguistic gold-mine! But I assumed wrong — there are students who really want to learn something, and then there are students who don’t. And I’m not blaming my students. Some of them have no need to learn English, and they’re taking the class because it’s mandatory. But from the point of view of a teacher, what do I do when students don’t want to be there? What do I do when they are perfectly content to sit and stare at me or play with their phones?

I don’t teach grammar. I give presentations on history, culture, etc, and it takes me a good amount of time to make these presentations and think of exercises. It’s not as if I can just waltz into class with a grammar book and wing it. So when students decide to skip class even when they know I’m coming to teach, or when students aren’t cooperative, it hurts. It hurts because I honestly do want to help my them and they just don’t care that I’m here. I’m not trying to make it sound like all the students here are dilatory and inactive, because that is not true in the slightest. I have some great students — students who participate, who ask questions, and overall, are very eager. I love working with them and I enjoy teaching them a little bit about American culture.

I am more than willing to give my time and energy to those who truly want to learn English. But for those who don’t really care, it is beginning to get tiring.

And to all my former TAs and professors, I profusely apologize if I ever was a lazy student. I am beginning to know how you feel.

Yesterday was the First Year Students’ Festival (День Первокурсников), which was held at the city’s main theater, the palace of culture (дворец культуры). To sum it up in short, the first year students from each department put on a skit, sang a song, or danced. Not going to lie, I was a little skeptical at first about it, because let’s face it, freshmen aren’t really capable of doing much. So I was pleasantly surprised when the concert turned out to be really good! I definitely would not have been able to dance like that, and God forbid anyone ever hears me sing. I was impressed by all the work that had gone into it — the choreography, singing, and skits were all great. Here’s to you, freshmen!

And now, some pictures. Apologies for the quality, I was sitting a little further back.

The IT students performed a skit. Here, two students are rapping, with some medieval knights by their side for support.

The humanitarian students also put on a skit. It involves a crazed babushka and a diploma.

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Someone please explain to me how lines work in Russia. Why can’t you just wait in line? I know it’s a cultural thing, but it just does not make any sense to me!

Today, I went to the post office to mail a few postcards, and I stood in what I thought was a line, until seven people out of nowhere got in front of me. They were apparently all behind the woman who was in front of me. I then went behind a woman who had earlier told me that I was behind her.

“I’m behind you, right?” I asked.
“No, no you’re not.” She looked at me as if I were an idiot.
“What? You told me that I was behind you.”
“That was in the other line. I moved.”
“Who am I behind then!?”
Everyone just looked at me and probably thought: “Stupid foreigner.”

From my understanding, you don’t actually wait in line, you wait behind a person. Upon entering a crowded office or building, you ask who the last person is. Then, once that person approaches the cashier, you get behind that person. I think that’s how it works. I don’t actually know, because the person who I was supposed to behind of kept changing.

Now all the babushki and dedushki will probably remember me as the American with the anger management problem, because as I left the post office (without having mailed my postcards), I said angrily to no one in particular: “Russian lines don’t make any fucking sense.”

If you wanted a postcard, you’re not going to get one for the time being. Not until I learn the mechanics of a Russian line. My apologies.