Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Russians Who Have Shouted At Me

It's been a bad 24 hours for Russian relations. Putin is expelling US Aid from the country, aliens have struck again and I seem to have inadvertently made a few people angry. However, with some helpful adjustments, hopefully I won't make these mistakes in future:

Lesson One: When using any kind of automatic machine, have a quick look at the area surrounding it. There just might be a large sign saying THIS MACHINE DOES NOT GIVE CHANGE and you will feel quite silly when the resident babushka who has to open the safe to give you change is tapping it and ranting.

Lesson Two: If in doubt, do nothing and find the nearest friendly babushka. Babushkas are only friendly if you don't piss them off first, and helplessness is much cuter than stupidity.

Lesson Three: Babushkas can hold a serious grudge - as learned by Laundry Babushka's gruffness on our return 2 hours later. Next time I do laundry will be in disguise.

Lesson Four: Pay everything in exact change. Russian cashiers are forever short of change, and very reluctant to part with large sums of it. The best places to cash your 1000r (£20) notes are in supermarkets/large chains - you will get laughed out of the Produkty for having even a 500r (£10) note. Don't even think about it.

Lesson Five: If you can't adhere to Lesson Four, either get good at understanding cashiers (they mumble, a lot) or hold out a selection of shrapnel when they ask you for extra change. It is not fun being told 'No girl, eleven - ten plus one is eleven'. 

Lesson Six: Cyrillic slogan t-shirts can be provocative. However funny 'Say No to Vodka' is (very funny, obviously), even wearing one briefly on laundry day draws a lot of stares and apparently makes you look puritanical rather than ironic and hilarious. It may also cause a drunk to slur at you, '[something I didn't catch] to/for your husband, remember that'. 

Lesson Seven: When using a communal shower, timing is of the essence. If you choose to shower at 10am on your day off, assuming everyone with urgent plans has left already, apparently 10 minutes is your maximum. Remember to lock the door because inevitably a Russian will try to come in, THEN bang on the door to say you're taking too long.

Lesson Eight: If you see a man with a singular large dreadlock, a cowboy hat and boots and a badge saying 'I am against Putin' - avoid, avoid, avoid. This has not been learnt the hard way.

Lesson Nine: Russians like to throw small change at various statues and fountains. This can prove relatively lucrative if you wait around for people to leave (ploy of a lot of babushkas).

Lesson Ten: You are a foreigner, you must acclimatise, even when things seem set up to annoy you. For example, 
  • Nearly every Russian consonant/vowel pronounced completely differently to what seems logical
  • Needing a stamped official document to do the simplest of things, ie buy a dongle, or get a library card.
  • The local hypermarket alternately playing the first 15 seconds of this
with lion roars. Inexplicable? Yes. Annoying? You have no idea...
  • Dill on EVERYTHING from soup to sushi to pizza. The word we thought meant dill, 'zelen'' actually means herbs. It's just used synonymously, which says a lot.
  • The same Russian who nagged you about the shower will turn up in the corridor soon after in a group of people chanting, waving yellow scarves and shouting 'Ooooohhh!' for a lot longer than 10 minutes.
  • Russian drains can't break down loo roll, so you follow the 'urgent request' signs and put it in a bin next to the toilet. A certain 'crew' I know would seriously appreciate this.
  • At any time there could be a brass band outside your window. Expect the unexpected. Otherwise, expect it when you have a hangover.
Nevertheless, I caught myself drinking black tea, eating cold sprats and gnawing on a hunk of bread the other day. Then I realised my idea of going native is an animalistic lack of table manners. Mnye zhal', Russia...


  1. I'm loving this blog - it's making me bizarrely nostalgic for all the gloriously daft things about Russia that don't change. Keep writing!

    1. Thank you! I passed yours on to my Dostoevsky-loving roommate, she was so pleased.