by: Pete Giannino
Greetings brothers and friends:
I just wanted to take this opportunity to fill you all in a little about my time thus far here in St. Petersburg, Russia. In brief it has been a really eye-opening experience while Russian culture differs greatly from American culture.
I arrived here three weeks ago with three years of Russian language and numerous Russian culture classes under my belt. This truly did not prepare me for what was waiting for me here. I arrived from the airport, extremely tired and met my host mom, who speaks NO English, and found myself immediately dredging my skull for vocabulary for everyday situations. After meeting Tanya, my host mother, she asked me if I was “голодный” (hungry) and if I wanted to “Кушать” (slang for to eat). It took me a couple of minutes to figure out what this meant, but based on the context clues of having Бутерброды (sandwiches) and Блины (think crepes in this situation) stuffed down my throat, I learned quickly. Apparently it’s rude to turn up food here, so the gravy-train just keeps on rolling.
The following day, I got to experience first hand the bureaucratic nightmare that is registering oneself in Russia as actually legally being a student and legally being allowed to stay in the country. I had to go to three different buildings to get all of my paperwork done with little or no help from the staff. The cherry on top of this delightful adventure was getting to go to the local police station to register myself living here. What a treat that was. Getting through all of this bureaucratic red-tape took up the better part of the day. I was exhausted and I had not even sat down for my classes yet.
The following day I finally had class. It should be of little to no surprise that my professor spoke almost no English. As a matter of fact, none of them really do, except my professor from W&M, Sasha. When I say they don’t speak English, I’m not exaggerating in the slightest. An English word might be uttered every 15-20 minutes, and even then I would not realize it because it was uttered in a thick Russian accent, rendering it almost unrecognizable. Nevertheless, I have been picking up Russian vocabulary RAPIDLY and my listening comprehension and speaking have improved ASTRONOMICALLY. It’s funny how well immersion works.
My classes are extremely interesting (and long, we’re talking three hours of straight Russian in the morning). I’m learning through watching Russian movies and analyzing them, doing the usual grammar, vocabulary and reading comprehension, which is accomplished through reading about Russian superstitions and all sorts of other things of cultural significance here.
A note on superstitions: I thought I was superstitious, but I do not even come close to these people. Here are some examples:
Russians are terrified of black cats. They think they’re the devil. If one crosses your path while you are walking down the street, Russians will stop in their tracks and wait until someone crosses the path which the cat walked, for if you cross the path, that’s bad luck. I literally waited for two minutes with some Russians the other day when one crossed the street until some unlucky schmuck, who was too far down the street to have seen the cat, crossed its path. What a relief.
Another superstition: Russians don’t take their garbage out at night, only during the daytime, its bad luck. This explains partly why the city has such terrible waste management issues. That and Russians don’t understand the concept of recycling. “Recycling, What’s that? Why don’t I just throw my empty beer bottles or dirty mop into the river? (I’ve seen both float by while hanging out at said river)
One thing that’s amazing about this city is the richness of the history. All around me are beautiful churches, fascinating museums and historic buildings. I go to the same University where such historic figures as Dmitri Mendeleyev (who created the Periodic table of Elements while at the College), Alexander Blok (an important symbolist poet in Russia), Nikolai Chernychevsky (The author of What is to be Done? - a utopian revolutionary novel, later appropriated by the Communists), V.I. Lenin (who graduate with honors in Law) and former President Vladimir Putin. The beauty and opulence of the city literally blows my mind. I see why the Communists were so upset at the Tsar, literally all of the country’s money was spent on making massive, gilded churches and luxurious palaces.
Stay tuned, there’s plenty more stories to be told.
До-свидания -- Do-svidanya