Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Hand Turkeys

Celebrating Thanksgiving in a foreign country is the oddest of all the holidays since it's only recognized by the US.  I mean sure, other people have heard of it (fewer the farther away you get), but for the most part we expats are on our own.  So walking down the street on Thanksgiving day felt like having a secret no one knew about.  I was celebrating and radiating joy and gratitude* while everyone else was going through an average day.  It felt like being magical or something, its hard to describe.  Anyway, I had little kids to teach on Thanksgiving day and dutifully drew hand turkeys.  I actually got in trouble for this when my twin 5yr olds' father walked in and asked me why, after only a month, his children weren't speaking English at home with him and suggested that "all [you] do is draw pictures with them," but no regrets.  Also he is wrong and clearly doesn't understand the concept of cultural education.  After work, I waited in the teachers' room (and drew a beautiful hand turkey) with Nick and Nina before heading to the Starlight Diner, where we had a delightful (and traditional) Thanksgiving dinner with some friends.  We also got the manager to give us free ice cream with our pie as an apology for not showing American football on TV as promised on their website. 

After work on Friday, I procured a potato masher from Martin (he totally saved the day with that) and headed home to buy 2.5kilos of potatoes and then turn them into mashed potatoes for the Thanksgiving potluck John was hosting at his place after work on Saturday.  Thanksgiving was a success, John managed to get turkey (which is a little tricky in Russia), and everyone ate so much they felt they might die.  A bunch of us opted to catch the last metro home (just barely) instead of taking a cab, and then we fell into food comas.  Chien also took some leftover turkey home, so despite planning on never eating again for the rest of my life, he, Ulianna, and I had leftover turkey sandwiches and mashed potatoes, just like real Thanksgiving.  This was joined by staying in pjs and not leaving the house.  Perfect.

Now I'm ready for Christmas, and so is Russia...or New Year, since they celebrate that the way we do Christmas. More on that when the date gets closer.  Anyway, Christmas lights are up! And Christmas decorations are in the shops.  Snow has returned, I've pulled out my warmer coat, and I'll soon have to buy a super big coat and warmer boots.  Christmas songs abound at school, and the semester is almost over.  Oh also, today I was told that my Russian is really good! I walked to the post office to mail things, but I couldn't get the door open.  I walked to the other door thinking it must just be a thing. When that door didn't open, I double checked their business hours on the sign and walked around to the other side of the building looking for another door.  There was another door all right, but it was to a different business.  After a comical exchange with the elderly security guard (who didn't realize I was a foreigner until I got flustered and exclaimed in a whiny voice that I just wanted stamps), he informed me that the post office was closed for lunch. At 2pm.  Of course they were...Russia. 

*I'm thankful for everything that has happened for me over the past year.  I'm also thankful for you guys! Thank you for caring enough to check this from time to time, and a big special thanks for those of you who have actually made the effort to keep in touch and communicate.  Big bear hugs!

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

In Soviet Russia, joke tells you!

In lieu of writing a real blog post, I decided to leave you with a little entertainment.  I found this list online and thought it was funny/somewhat accurate in parts, and the video was shown to me a couple years ago while I lived in St. Petersburg. Enjoy!

Facts About Russians

1: Russians distrust anything cheap.
2: The English word "bargain" can not be adequately translated into Russian.
3: Although Russians distrust anything with a cheap price, they are fine with freebies.
4: A Russian who reaches high levels of power feels it his his/her duty to put down those who don't.
5: In Russia you need to call the lazy waitresses over by aggressively yelling "Girl!"
6: One needs skills in hitting people with your elbows on the Moscow Metro.
7: In Russia you can drink beer on a park bench without getting arrested.
8: Russians gather in the kitchen and stay up very late, talking about "life".
9: Russians usually avoid talking about work.
10: During any reception in Russia people are immediately separated by gender.
11: There are a lot of police in Russia, most of whom do nothing.
12: Russians never throw anything away. Ever.
13: However, if Russians throw out half of their things, nobody notices.
14: A Russian stranger is likely to call you with familiarity, like "man" or "woman".
15: Russians don't usually say "please" or "thank you".
16: The Russian proverb "Arrogance - the second happiness" cannot be adequately translated into English.
17: Russians drink a lot of vodka. It's not a myth.
18: You don't have to fear for your life when walking the streets in Moscow alone at night.
19: Russian men are convinced that feminism has led to the collapse of the West, and Russia's historical mission: resist.
20: A myth within a myth: Russians believe that Americans believe that bears walk the streets in Moscow, but this myth of a myth is a purely Russian invention. Americans actually believe all the bears in Russia are dead.
21: Russians simply do not understand it when a foreigner from the west applies for permanent residence in Russia.
22: Dentists are very surprised when people show up for a "routine" check-up. So are doctors.
23: Russians drink tea with a centimetre of sugar on the bottom of the cup.
24: All Russians, from young to old, abuse emoticons.
25: The number of brackets in an email or sms infers the importance of a message. For instance - Birthday party tonight ) means a birthday party, but Birthday party tonight )))))) means a fantastic blow-out extravaganza.
26: Moscow has the best subway system in the world.
27: Despite having the best subway system in the world, there are millions of Muscovites who refuse to ever take it, and spend half their lives stuck in traffic.
28: A Russian will use the slightest reason to bring everyone gifts of chocolate. "It's your birthday in four and a half months? Wow! Chocolate for the entire office!"
29: Anyone who speaks a language other than Russian is automatically suspect.
30: On New Year's, don't surprised if you are invited out at 11:30 pm, drink champagne and cognac until 6 am, eat herring under a fur coat and olivia salad in a kitchen, and then party in a flat for three more days.
31: The only alcohol-free zones in Russia are McDonalds.
32: Smiling for no reason makes Russians angry.
33: Borscht, cabbage rolls and pirogies are actually Ukrainian.
34: Russians don't send their elderly to nursing homes or make their children leave after 18; instead they all live together in the same 1-bedroom flat.
35: Despite the small roads and the frustrating traffic jams, Russians still buy giant SUVs.
36: Sushi is more popular in Russia than in Japan.
37: In fact, Japan is more popular in Russia than in Japan.
38: Russians are extremely friendly if they've known you for more than ten minutes. If you've known a Russian for at least a week, you will be invited to meet their family.
39: Russians are also extremely emotional and passionate, and although they don't show emotion in public, they cry and laugh and shout and play more than Italians.
40: Russians care more about the philosophical side of living than the material, and have a folk song for every situation.
41: Most Russians are very superstitious, and new-age superstitions are en vogue.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Peanut Butter

She must've lost her mind in Russia, why is she titling her post peanut butter? Well that's because I HAVE peanut butter! Real peanut butter from America (Chunky Skippy, in case you were wondering).  Why is this something to write home about (literally! Ha. Ha. Get it?)? Because Russians just do not have peanut butter.  They don't get it.  They don't like it.  They have it in a few VERY select places, but its either not really peanut butter, or $12 a jar.  Which is ludicrous. Ok, so then how'd I get this peanutty gold all the way from America? Not because my friends/family sent it to me (yeah, that's right.  I'm calling you guys out on your complete lack of care packages. Don't think I haven't noticed!). It's because Graham, our final new native speaker at EF, FINALLY arrived this week! He was supposed to get here quite some time ago, but there were some passport/visa difficulties (remember when I was trying to move over here? Nightmare) that delayed him.  Being a nice guy, he asked Martin (remember him from a few posts ago? They're roommates) via email whether he needed anything from America (despite the fact that he's from Ireland).  He read this aloud to John and I at work, and we simultaneously produced a forceful "SAY YES" followed by a brief pause, and then "PEANUT BUTTER." So I started my Thursday at work by finding my own personal jar of peanut butter sitting on the table in the teachers' lounge, and let me tell you, that is a wonderful way to begin your day.  In return, we introduced him to gin & tonic in a can at the grocery store, where there happened to be a stand with free vodka cocktail samples.  Only in Russia.

My kids haven't exactly been a joy lately, so I finally had to speak to/get consultants to call parents this week.  Yes, I've become That Guy.  Although one little girl, who understands zero of what I say but is adorable nonetheless, apparently went on vacation to Mexico with her family and brought me a Cancun magnet.  I don't think she can fathom how excited I was, but it now holds an esteemed position on my refrigerator.

Oh, and I guess we had a presidential election or something? Something about an Obama bin Laden or whatever? Just kidding, I know what's going on.  The Russians do as well, and they are quite pleased that Obama beat good old Mittens for president.  I took the opportunity to show some of my classes the victory/concession speeches, and there are now a few Russian teens who understand the electoral college a bit better.  Also, I'd like to take this opportunity to give a shout out to my friend and sometimes boss Auden Grogins for being reelected to the CT State Legislature with an incredible 87% of the vote! She works like none other and deserves her win, and I'm proud to have been a part of her campaign this summer.   

For those of you who for some reason never tire of hearing about this, the weather has been around 30F, it snows sometimes but doesn't stick, and there's a decent amount of ice on the ground.  New boots and a bigger coat will soon be necessary. In related news, I hear New England has been pummeled with snow, to which I reply: HAAA. HA. Ha. "Why are you moving to Russia it's so cold there" IN YOUR FACES. I think the water for my tea is boiling, so I'll leave you to shovel out your cars and such.  From Russia, with love.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Kheppi Khelloween

...and now you know the Russian pronunciation for "Happy Halloween"! Some days, I completely forget I'm in Russia.  I speak English all day, and I go to/from work and meeting my friends without anything to remind me I live in Moscow.  On other days, however, I'm sharply reminded of where I am.  Halloween was one of these days, as were the several after leading up to today.

As I exited the metro at Mayakovskaya to walk to work on Halloween, I immediately noticed that I would need to take a different route.  The babushki (I taught you this word twice already. If you don't remember, you have no one to blame but yourself) selling gloves/socks/magazines/you-name-it had been replaced by metal barricades and more police than I have ever seen in one place.  Despite REALLY wanting to ask one of them what was going on, I reminded myself that they are not my friends. I had to keep reminding myself of this as I fought the urge to pet the police dogs, but it became easier when I noticed some of them wearing muzzles.  Yikes.  After figuring out how to get around the barricades, I saw that all of the Mercedeses, BMWs, Audis, Lexuses, and Range Rovers that normally line the street leading up to the EF building had disappeared as well and been replaced with big trucks and buses....probably explaining how every cop in Moscow got to Mayakovskaya.  There was a big traffic jam in front of our building, and as I wove through it, someone started blaring an instrumental version of a Cheburashka song (for those of you unfamiliar with this, Cheburashka is an old Soviet cartoon that is still popular.  I'll post a youtube video below to help you out here...don't say I never did anything for you!)  As I stood in front of EF with a face-splitting grin on, the usually grumpy security guard walked out, laughed saying "Great music, eh?", and then held the door open as I entered.  The only average thing about my morning was that it snowed, like every other day.  At work, we all dressed up (I was Sherlock Holmes. Chien drew a mustache on my face, Vanessa lent me a magnifying glass and bow tie, and Nicole lent me a checkered jacket. I'll try to post pictures soon) and had fun classes...again, a day out of the ordinary.

At this point, many of you are probably wondering what the whole police-and-barricades situation was all about. On the 31st day of each month, protesters gather in the square to support the right of peaceful assembly in Russia.  The Russian government is none too happy about this, and the result is a swarm of cops.

We also have a holiday this week: Day of Russia.  This means that I get Saturday and Monday off, in addition to my usual Sunday.  In short, a gift from Russia to workers (Edit: it has been pointed out by a friend that the holiday is actually Unity Day , click on that link to learn more. Still a gift thanks to the glorious days off).  This coincided with a teachers' party at work on Friday, where we ate too many cookies, drank cocktails, played Mafia, completed a team-building exercise, and were finally told (officially) where our new school location will be (answer:Starbucks where we play Mafia on Thursdays.  Hello daily coffee fix, goodbye salary).  I spent my Saturday off reading in bed, playing board games with Ulianna and Chien, and then going to English Social Club to meet friends at Hudson Bar (where they had special election day shots and cocktails...I didn't try any, but it was a cute idea) before going to a bar called Casa Agave, where we celebrated Day of the Dead by eating Mexican food and dancing salsa. Lyuba, Gleb and I literally ran to the metro to avoid being stranded, and I thought about how I never expected to sit in a Moscow bar listening to salsa and reggaeton, but there it was. Today (which is Sunday) I left the house only for groceries and plan on spending the rest of the day inside, but tomorrow should be another fun, relaxing day before getting back to work.  What did you guys do for Halloween?!

The little fuzzy thing is Cheburashka.  He is not a boy but also not an animal.  Hope that helps clear things up a little.