Trying Not to Smile

Since I don't have/want a description I'm going to put my list of cool people with blogs here. If you have a blog, email it to me. If I don't post it... well, I guess you're just not cool.


Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Useless post

My реферат is done!!! Partaaaay! I love Russia, I love everything!

P.S. I got Adam's pics and added an awesome one from his collection to the picture blog.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Giving Thanks, Being Against Bad Things

So it’s getting towards the end of my study abroad experience, and I’ve been reflecting on what it’s meant to me and all that deep emotional self-help kind of crap. Interestingly, the result isn’t at all what I had expected. For example, one of the things the coordinators said was that at the end of the semester, we wouldn’t be able to answer the question “what are the Russians like?” That’s totally not true. I have constantly been struck by how strongly they display a national character, how often they fulfill the stereotypical Russian role. Of course there will always be exceptions to the rule, but I knew that before coming to Russia.

One of the strongest changes I’ve had is actually coming to appreciate the United States. I think there’s a tendency for fairly educated liberals to reject aspects of our homeland and cultural heritage (I'm gonna take a wild stab at this one and guess this stems from the emphasis on individualism and independence that is characteristic of that culture... how's that for irony?). For example, I rag on our press a lot. But you know what? I haven’t heard of any American television networks that were forced to shut down because they were too independent, or any journalists that were recently disappeared because they criticized Bush. We’re not perfect… but on the other hand, we’re not Russia.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve really enjoyed my time here in Russia and there are a lot of things I’ve come to appreciate about it, but it has also shown me a lot of things I’ve never fully appreciated at home. I wouldn’t want to have studied anywhere else and I certainly wouldn’t have wanted to miss the study abroad experience as a whole, but I’ll be glad to go home.

Without further ado, the purpose of this post (and with a thanksgiving theme too!)--things I’ve come to be thankful for:

  1. EFFICIENCY. You can say Americans are obsessed with efficiency and it’s some capitalist something or other, but you know what? I don’t care--I like efficiency.
  2. People are interested in things. Seriously. People choose majors and classes that they like, for the most part, and are actually interested in what they do. Yeah, our voter turn-out is kind of abysmal, but you’ll feel a little better about this if you take a look at the numbers for Russia. That whole thing about Russian pride in their literature and so on—it’s true insofar as they’ll brag about it, but even though any Russian will tell you his favorite poet is Pushkin, usually he hasn’t actually read much of his work (except what he was forced to memorize in gradeschool).
  3. Independence. My babushka is a sweet lady, but seriously, if I forget my freakin’ перчатки (gloves) in the morning, I’m not going to die. I can remember the trolleybus number to the train station—I don’t need you to write it down for me every time. If I go out to a club, you do not need to wait up for me—if I get stabbed there’s nothing you can do about it anyway.
  4. Feminism. If I’m not worried about the fact that I don’t have a boyfriend, neither should anyone else. I know I’m about to finish college and after that, dang it, I’m just going to be an old spinster, but honestly I think Russia could do with some satisfied spinsters or at least some more lesbians. There are too few men here—they seem to think it makes them special (despite the mullets and lack of deodorant). Of course, if I do manage to bag one of these fine specimens, at least I won’t need to worry about that pesky work thing (never mind that he’ll probably drink/smoke himself to death in a few years, leaving me to support the children we had by picking up trash/sweeping snow on the streets for the next 40 years). And even if I decide I want to save myself the trouble of the kids at least, the Russian legislature is considering a law requiring a husband’s approval for an abortion so I'm stuck with the buggers (ok, that was a little morbid, or depressing, or something...sorry).
  5. Salad without mayonnaise.
  6. Respect for justice. I’m sure it’s a function of having been oppressed for… well, forever, basically, but Russians really do not have a sense of fair play in my opinion. They follow the laws because they fear them and because the have a certain respect for bureaucracy, but not because they genuinely believe in the rule of law. Thus, they will follow all sorts of stupid, useless laws and rules when it doesn’t help anyone, but often take/give bribes, cut in line, steal, cheat, etc.
  7. Free things. This is kind of silly since things are often cheap enough that they might as well be free here, but I just like the ease of it. I like getting bread and free refills for free at a restaurant. I think it should be assumed that I’m going to want sheets to cover the nasty bed on the train and just include the damn things in the ticket price. I don’t think there should be a charge for me to go into the market and buy things. Who gets that money, anyway? There are just a million things that I have to dig a couple of rubles out for and even though it’s nothing, it’s also kind of a pain in the butt. This definitely is not a problem with Russia, just a cultural difference, but it’s still a little irritating.
In case you can't tell, I seriously скучаю (miss) home. It's funny, we all have pretty similar feelings--it's not like we hate Russia now, we're just ready to go back. The thing I've been feeling is just that I don't have much to look forward to since we only have a couple of weeks left--no more trips, and I don't think my language is going to improve much before I leave. HOWEVER, I received hope that cool things can still happen from the "protest" we saw the day before yesterday.

A couple of the guys and I were leaving and there were all these young folks with patriotically colored scarves and hats yelling things. They were waving flags that translate to "young guard." They started ripping up pieces of paper and throwing the pieces into a trash can (we later found out these papers had a list of words like extremism, fascism, and injustice written on them), and a guy on a microphone was saying "we're against fascism, we're against extremism!"

Being the political junkies that we are, we started asking people what it was all about. This one random old guy was arguing with one of the demostrators and their conversation went something like this:
Demonstrator: We're against fascism.
Old guy: You're against Russian Orthodoxy!
Demonstrator: No, we're against fascism and extremism!
Old guy: No, you're not!
Demonstrator: Yes, we are!
Old guy: No, you're not!
Demonstrator: Yes, we are!
Old guy: Well yo' babushka so fat she's got her own sputniks! (ok, so not really)

The same old guy also explained to us how the Caucasians (not white people, people who are actually from the Caucasus) are controlling everything in the рынок (market) and screwing all the poor normal Russians. I'm not sure quite how this is relevant but I'm a little afraid that he might have been saying that racism/"extremism" against them was ok.

We also talked to this girl who was one of the demonstrators and were trying to figure out exactly what they meant by "we're against extremism and fascism." When I asked if the demonstration was in response to a certain event, she said no. When we asked for examples, she gave two. First, Muslims. Second, people who do not want to let foreigners live in Russia and have rights (seems kind of tailored to the American asking questions, ne?). We had also heard something about "edinaya rossia" (Putin's party, which is by far the most powerful and continues to change the laws so that it will remain so), but we weren't sure whether this group was saying they were they were for it, or against it. Of course, they were for edinaya rossia. We asked if they were a part of the party--no... they just got funding from it. Interestingly, her response about wanting to be welcoming to foreigners is totally not edinaya rossia'a style (we're speaking in terms of actions, not words here). So basically, it was a pro-government rally with difficult to disagree with slogans that had essentially no meaning. What was that about the fall of communism in Russia again?

Anyway, it was incredibly interesting and has given me hope that there are still things to look forward to before I leave. If you count depressing spectacles of self-indoctrination something to look forward to, that is.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

A Couple of Random Things...

We were talking about the elections in the US with my politics professor and she told us: "Russian political scientists want the Republicans to win because there are a lot of human rights violations in Russia and Democrats care more about human rights."

Russians really like the movie Kill Bill and I hear songs from the soundtrack all the time... including a commercial for a company that makes gravestones. I really don't think it's supposed to be ironic either, they just liked the music. Maybe I'm weird for noticing it but it just seems odd.

That's it. Just procrastinating really. My "реферат" (15 page paper for politics) is looming. I think I'm going to uploada few more pictures too.

I'm turning into one of those bloggers, aren't I?

Tuesday, November 07, 2006


Now, some of you folks may think you call that city founded by Peter the Great on top of a swamp in order to have a decent port "Saint Petersburg," but that just means you are not a hip, in-the-know person like myself. What you should really be using is a nice, friendly, short "Peter." I went to Peter. It's snowing in Peter. How did you like Peter?

If only I could speak, then I'd be like a real Russian!

Highlights of the trip:

Random old couple of Russians skpping down the street during the first snow, the old man saying "Зима, зима!" (or "Winter, Winter!"). The snow was absolutely beautiful.

The Hermitage. Wow. Seriously, wow. But... more on this later. Monster Mashed in line, two people to an ipod. That was fun.

The Bronze Horseman. I don't know how much y'all know about Russia but the bronze horseman in a statue that Catherine the Great made of Peter the Great (so many greats!). He's riding a horse, which is stomping on a snake. There's thing whole controversy around it and how it represents Russia because 1) you can't really tell whether the horse is rearing forward or backwards and 2) yeah, the snake's not doing great, but it still isn't dead (and it serves as a third point of support for the statue). It is most famous for that super famous poem Pushkin wrote, but it also pops up ina lot of other Russian literary works. I just think it's fascinating that the monument is so ambiguous--usually they're so heroic and positive and boring (and certainly not just in Russia).

Ok, unless Hannah reads this no one else cares, but I went to the Nabokov Museum and I think I finally know how strongly religious people feel when they go to church.

Museum of Political History: one of the best museums I've ever seen. It was surprisingly critical of the Soviet era for a Russian museum. I loved translating the posters. They also had tapes of various Soviet bigwigs giving speeches. Stalin didn't have a very impressive voice for a dictator.

Things I could have done without:

The 2 hour wait in the freezing cold at the Hermitage both times we went. Although, it was cool that we saw this awesome babushka practicing vigilante justice by shaming people who were trying to cut into going to the back of the line. However, despite this awesomeness, the experience was still a pain. Why was the wait so long? Because there were so many people who wanted to see the wonderful collection? No. They were rennovating the coat room and we needed to wait for people to leave so there would be room for our coats. When we tried to do a service for humanity and simply carry our coats with us (we still had to wait, this was seriously just us trying to be nice to the people behind us) they said it was forbidden. Similarly, we weren't allowed to put all our coats on the same rack. And, when I wanted to put my jacket in my bag and leave it in one of the many empty cubbies for bags, that was also forbidden. Why? The cubbies match coat racks--if I didn't have the number for a space on the coat rack I couldn't have a number for the cubby.

Annoying Canadians at our hostel that "taught" me such gems as "there's a lot of inequality in Russia" and "Russians drink a lot--it's a big health problem here."

Random fight on the streets at night where come chicks were throwing bricks at this guy and one was trying to jab him in the crotch with a stick. He looked drunk and he kept approaching them. I'm guessing he was involved romantically with one of the girls and I was just like "dude, she really can't be *that* amazing."

Things I'm torn on:

Snegorochka (The Snow Maiden) at the Marinsky Theater. The opera is good, the singing was good, the acting was good... but the artistic direction was awful. There was some sort of rooster/egg theme--the king's attendants were randomly roosters (this wasn't one of those things where everyone was a different animal--they were all humans except for the roosters). Then there were these other people that had tyhese funky futuristic egg helmet things. Then there was the giant egg hanging from the ceiling. This one woman randomly rose out of the floor for no reason, but when this other character died she just ran through the audience with glow sticks. That's right, glow sticks. The theater was packed at first and by the end of the show only about a third of the seats were filled.

If I had to live in Russia for an indefinite period of time, I think I'd like to do so in Peter... on the other hand, there is that whole giardia thing.

P.S. You know how I said I would be posting more pictures soon? In case you haven't already figured this out, I lied. My computer mysteriously decided it doesn't want to access the internet and I have thus far been unsuccessful in persuading it to do so.

P.P.S. Success! It turns out my computer isn't so unreasonable after all. Go look at pictures, they're much more interesting!

I'M NEW, READ ME! Unless you're squeemish/prudish... or my parents...
Speaking of not-so-subtle innuendos about famous Russian genitalia (if you don't understand, read the comments) we also went to the museum of erotica and saw what was supposedly Rasputin's 10 inch... er... you know.... However, Paul assured us that it couldn't really be his--in reality, Rasputin was of unremarkable size. Anyway, the whole thing was quite possibly the most awkward moment in my life--the museum was housed in an active venereal disease clinic. So while we were looking at salt and pepper shakers of anal sex, there were people waiting around to hear if they might have a life-threatening disease with a hefty helping of social stigma on the side.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Шутка--но серезна (Joke--but serious)

What do you get when you put a bunch of scary punk rocker skinheads and SWIL in a blender?

The concert I went to last night.

(Note for non-Swatties: SWIL is a club where the members wear capes and play roleplaying games and so on... stands for Swarthmore Wizards something I think)

Monday, October 09, 2006


So the land of my ancestors is pretty awesome.

Kiev is a beautiful city. I was surprised that it was much more prosperous (and Western) than the Russian cities I've seen. And people are nice, and even on rare occasions (drum roll, please) smile! I'm not going to give you a whole list of the trip because I'm sure that would be pretty dull, but I want to describe my favorite part.

In Kiev, we stayed in a kind of ramshackle hostel. The first night some of us were returning from a concert (which was totally класс, by the way, and free) at around midnight and we heard singing. Being the adventuresome sorts that we are, we decided to investigate. We found an open door and asked if the inhabitants were they ones we had heard (we asked in Russian--in Kiev it's acceptable to speak either Ukrainian or Russian and I still don't know how they decide which they're going to use. It makes it kind of difficult when someone speaks at you and you're not sure whether you're supposed) to understand or not). Anyway, suddenly, we were surrounded by friendly Ukrainians bearing questions and alcohol. They invited us in and sang to us--everything from American rock (which they clearly did not understand) to Ukrainian folk songs. They decided to call me Лилия since Lesley is simply too difficult to say (another group of Ukrainians we met a couple of days later came to precisely the same conclusion). I learned how to take a shot of vodka in proper Ukrainian style--breath out slowly, take the shot, and eat a slab of meat. It was still pretty awful. Taking shots is absolutely reserved for toasts (unless you're an alcoholic, of course) and they taught us that the second round is за любовь (to love), the third is за женщин (to women, which I didn't hear at first and was all ready to be offended when they said women couldn't stand up for that one, even though I was still recovering from the first one and didn't really want to participate). The fourth is за родителей (to parents). They didn't have something for the fifth round and we joked that it was за алкоголизм. We also learned that it is absolutely necessary to put your pinkie under the cup when it is being poured, lest tragedy strike and it fall to the floor due to the lack of support.

They were so incredibly warm and welcoming and funny and friendly (by the way, it turns out they're a group of actors/comedians--how cool is that?). It was an amazing experience.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Seinfeld Post

I don't really have anything in particular to talk about but I haven't posted anything in a while and I'm leaving for Kiev tomorrow morning (6:30 tomorrow morning... ouch...).

First, a bit from my grammar class that I hope will interest those of you not already acqainted with the insanity that is Russian Verbs of Motion. In Russian, you've got your imperfect and your perfect verbs. You start out with imperfects in two groups--any one type of motion has a variant in both group 1 and group 2. Group one is motion in one direction to a specific destination/only happening once/going in one direction and you were somehow interrupted. Group two is motion without a specific destination/motion there and back/multiple trips. There is a pair of verbs for each of the following: to walk on foot, to go in a vehicle, to carry (on foot), to carry (in a vehicle), to lead, to swim, to fly, to run, to roll, to drag/pull, to crawl/slither, to push/drive/urge, and to climb. And we're not done... by a long shot. You can add prefixes to these to give them different meanings. For example, пере- adds the meaning "to cross" so if you slap it on плыть (to swim) you get "to swim across." With type two verbs, they remain imperfect. If you add a prefix to a group one verb, it becomes perfect.

Ouch. Really, really interesting, but ouch.

A few of us went to a big brothers and big sisters meeting where we played kids' games and learned that with the time we have we won't actually be able to meet any of the kids (we need a few months of training first, apparently). When they were explaining one of the games it sounded like what we were supposed to do was run around in circles buzzing like bees. I was like... I'm not understanding something. However, it turns out I did understand and that was really the game. Running around in circles. Buzzing.

Since a number of people have asked: the things hanging in the stall next to the babushka selling bags are not mysterious pipes, flasks of moonshine, or ribbons--they're sunglasses. Cheap, cheap sunglasses.

Crossing the street: as you probably could all guess, I will soon be the world champion of frogger. Actually, I've devised a brilliant method of crossing the street without dying.
Recipe for intact organs: 1) wait for a few people to gather 2)Move slightly, as if you're starting to step forward 3)DO NOT ACTUALLY MOVE 4) When the other people waiting invariably start to move after having thought that you were going, join their group 5) Be careful not to get ahead of or lag behind the group--stray members are at risk (kind of like a herd of antelope being hunted by lions).
A Russian driver may be willing to mow over one pedestrain, but not a whole herd of them.

Yesterday, we were told that the word we hear most often from our babushkas (kushai!=eat!) is only used with little children.

Transportation is really cheap here. A taxi will basically never cost you more $4 if you know what you're doing (I don't necessarily, but that's not the point) and a two way train ticket to Rostov (about 2 hours away) costs less than a pomegranate. Significantly less than a pomegranate.

Suggested reading: Герри Поттер and "The Fight to Lose Congress" in the Oct. Atlantic (Paul's... he also has the New Yorker... bless him).

Well, that's all I can think to write about. I hope at least some of it was of interest.