Land of… opportunity?

When I was little and got sick, my nan would make me stay in bed until I’d managed to finish two litres of flat lemonade.  Ever since, whenever I’ve been sick as an adult, I’ve done the same thing—something an ex of mine sneeringly described as my ‘medicine’.  Of course, now that I’m in Russia (and since I don’t have any lemonade in the house), I’m turning to Russian ‘medicine’ to avert my oncoming cold—namely, vodka.  I’ve been told you should have vodka for a cold, for digestion problems, anything really.  One of my colleagues told me to rub it on my skin when I had some weird weather allergy, and an old Russian teacher said that we should apply it to our skin when we are suffering from any sort of illness.  Every time I bring up the fact that vodka’s used to cure all manner of illnesses with a Russian, they blush and then insist that it’s because it’s true.  So bottoms up!

Of course, trying Russian medicine is far from the only way in which I’ve Russified.  I’ve certainly been living like a Russian these past few months, more and more culturally speaking, and definitely financially.  After rent, my income has been 9,000 rubles a month (~AU$290), out of which I spend about 2,000 rubles on public transport and the remaining $200ish on everything else, from food to uni materials to clothes.  Actually, I haven’t been buying any clothes haha—food here costs the same as in Australia (and in fact I spent ~$8 on a small head of cauliflower the other day) and that’s used all of my money.  Of course, 27k a month is still more than the declared Russian average income of 18k-odd a month according to the last census (though with all of the black-market and cash-in-hand work, it’s presumably significantly higher).

What a difference a week has made for me however.  Now that I have the baby-sitting job doubling my monthly income, I’m able to look further than just trying to get enough food and sleep, and have already earned enough in two shifts to cover what would have been a short-fall in food money by April (my contract with EF ends at the end of May).  I’m even going to be able to afford my uni textbooks!  It’s meant that I’m able to explore other things, and I’ve actually been out twice—once for Lana’s birthday on Saturday night (though I didn’t spend anything except dancing-related energy haha) and I could afford to take a bottle of wine ($7) to an office party last night.  It felt like luxury!

I’m going to quickly take you through my day yesterday, as it was a fairly typical day for me in Russia—so non-typical of ‘normal’ places I suppose.  I usually go to sleep at around 2am, after I’ve had time to wind down from work, then get up for uni at 7am.  Classes start at 9am, then I’m home by about ten past 1 in the afternoon.  Then it’s lesson prep and marking, a 1520 minute nap, then off to work.  Yesterday I was baby-sitting, so spent two hours cooking, painting, and playing games with the kids.  I then went straight to the offices of a translation company, taking along my friend Justin from uni.

I spent a hilarious couple of hours networking at the office actually.  I met the manager, who a friend Anton (manager of a different translations company) had put me in touch with.  He’s half-Kiwi, so we were talking about Kiwiland before he introduced me to the operations manager, who’d actually lived there for a few years.  Soon enough we were talking about snowboarding, as that’s what took me to NZ.  From there, we ended up chatting about extreme sports in general—one of my favourite topics!—and he offered to put me in touch with a Russian girl who manages an extreme sports corporate retreat company, as they are always on the lookout for English speakers who have experience in a range of adventure sports.  Boom!  After that I ended up having a discussion about Russian film-makers with Anton, then about the Russian film industry as a whole with a Russian chap.  Tarantino (not a fan!) also popped in there somehow.

I was just about to leave without actually talking to the manager about anything other than NZ when he suddenly asked me “what are you doing right now?”  I replied “right now-now, or right now in life in general?”.  Haha the next thing you know he says “come and get into my car”, and we were off to a voice-over recording studio.  Apparently their female native speakers is moving to Money (oh sorry, did I write ‘money’?  I meant ‘Moscow’) and they’re desperately looking for further voices.  So there I was, in a sound-proof room, reading voice-mail messages and a fairy-tale into a microphone like you see singers using.  Crazy!  It was actually a lot trickier than it sounds—I haven’t thought so much about manipulating my voice before.  Fun though 🙂

After I went, the manager (BBC accent) swapped places with me, and I listened as he recorded some pieces.  The sound technician, a Russian, said afterward that even though he doesn’t speak any English, he could hear the difference between our accents.  I’m hardly surprised—in 2011, only 83 Australians immigrated to the whole of Russia, and that was a high number.  There are many more Brits and Americans, so if you hear any accent it’s those ones.  In this company’s ‘voices’ catalogue, voices were divided into British or American accents.  Now they’ve started a whole new section for Australians, just for me!  So, if any of my Russian readers start hearing Australian accents around St P any time soon, you’ll know who it is—I’m taking over!

So, over the past week I’ve gained a job which involves playing hide-and-seek and going to Italy for the summer; been put in touch with a lady who might be able to hook me up with some extreme sports project work; and  had my voice put on file in a recording studio, so may start being the voice of Australia in Russia (see what I did there…).  I feel like doors here are finally opening 🙂

At the Barn-Dance

A few years ago, when we lived in the Whitsundays, one of my besties Nikky and I went out in Airlie Beach for the night.  I’d just broken up with this guy who was incredibly immature, though I’d struggled with the decision for a while.  After I’d finally made up my mind, Nikky hurrah’d me then said that the boat was leaving for the mainland in half an hour, and we could totally go party in town for the evening.

It was a great night, but the reason I bring it up now is this: at one point, we walked into a club.  I then stopped, took half a step back, and asked Nikky, “Have our standards dropped living on the island, or are all the guys in here just incredibly good-looking?”.

Walking into a club in Russia has the absolute opposite effect.  For that reason, I’ve dubbed it the ‘land of the prawn‘: a lot of guys are absolutely ripped, but they look like they’ve been smacked around the head with a sack of potatoes.  I don’t really understand it, as obviously the women here are stunning.

Yesterday I was co-hosting a English-language speed-dating event for work.  Yes, really.  One of the first activities students had to do was to divide into men and women, then make a poster saying what their ideal partner would be like.  The women presented first, and they’d filled the poster with adjectives – kind, brave, honest (“He should tell me he’s going to leave before he does”) and strong (“He needs to be strong enough to look after his woman” – I managed not to tear my hair out).  The men on the other hand filled most of the poster with a picture they’d drawn of a woman, with a few adjectives around the edges.  They presented it, and these were the adjectives they chose, in order: skinny; beautiful; blonde; tall (one guy looks me up and down then says “around 175cm” – I scurried away); blue-eyed.  Personality, anyone?  Another guy stepped up and said “intelligent” was the most important, which won him instant favour with all the women in the room haha.

After the students started their dates, I didn’t have much to do, so drank champagne and talked with my colleagues.  I got talking to one of the school’s ‘course consultants’, and commented on what the students had written on their posters.  She said that it’s because there are so few men compared to women in Russia, so men can look however they like and demand whatever they want, and they’ll still be considered ‘a catch’ (I feel like there’s a prawn pun in there somewhere).  Women on the other hand have to out-compete each other, which is how come you have women walking around in full make-up, up-to-the-minute fashion and heels every day.  I saw a girl in what must have been 6″ stilettos slip on the ice the other day, and seeing her try to rescue herself when her shoes had so little surface area to deal with was amazing.

I then said that I didn’t think I could date a Russian man, and not for the superficial reasons I’ve just banged on about, but because of the sheer cultural differences.  Here, ‘feminist’ is said in the manner of a swear-word (I’ve got a blog-post on this coming up soon 🙂 ), and women are expected to want marriage, babies, and to stay at home while their husband’s the bread-winner.  Of course, in none of this post am I talking about every Russian, but the generalisations largely hold true.  The course consultant asked me what it was like in Australia then, and I said that expectations had shifted to be much more equal.  She said that at home, her boyfriend did half of everything, and that they took turns – but that he was the only Russian guy like that!  Haha I guess it’s lucky I’m so awesome when I’m single 🙂

Anyway, we went out for Lana’s birthday last night, and I’m pretty sure it’s time for me to go back to bed.  Awesome.

The ultimate meh

The Russian personality, in under a minute (first 27 seconds):

I’m slightly addicted to the ‘Twisted Nederland’ videos and have spent far too many nights not sleeping because of them.  There’s a range of videos just as amazing as the above, and I’ve put a link directly to the Russian section in the ‘Blogs I Follow’ menu to the left.

What I love about the above video is that it shows people behaving like loons, disaster, and then everyone being outrageously freaking relaxed.  The pedestrians just carry on walking once they’re out of the way, and the guy that was hit meanders up the street after the other car.  It’s exactly like my student said – they’ve got their armour on for the day, so whatever happens, they’re going to be able to take it and shrug.

My landlord just left after collecting rent for the month.  I told him that I went in the Neva, and he chuckled and said that during Soviet times, he studied at the uni as well.  Before exams, they’d all go jump in the Neva then drink vodka, so that they’d get sick and not have to take them.  He had a good ol’ chuckle!

Our landlords are adorable, but to be fair I love any Russian who grades their language for me – patience toward my occasionally-retarded Russian is incredibly precious to me.  According to the last census, less than 5% of the population of Russia speak any English, so I don’t have any options if I don’t know how to say something – I have to find a way to express myself, or act it out, or whatever.  Anyone who’s patient enough to take the time to understand just blows my mind.

am of course getting better at Russian (though some days I feel like I was better at it when I was back in Australia), and to that end decided to drop down a level at uni.  My grammar teacher hadn’t been quite sure what to do about me – my grammar is freaking awful (beyond awful) but then I understood everything she’d say.  Either way, I’ve changed to a different class which seems really cool, and I’ve already learned in two days there more grammar than I had in the previous ~10 weeks in the other class.  My friends Justin and Claire have also changed to the new group, so yay.

Not a lot else has been going on – I wasn’t able to sleep much last week, so have pretty much just been chilling at home (/work/uni) and trying to relax.  On Friday night Nastya S and I went to a “summer party” at Lana’s flat which was incredibly random – I was tired to the point of ridiculousness so started building things out of the various house decorations, and it was really only Lana, Nastya (who – long story – is now ‘Laura 2’ and American) and I drinking: Lana’s house-mate Valentina had put an invitation to the party up on Couchsurfing, and so the people that came were… random.  Real social-outcast types.  There was one guy who wasn’t eating, because it was the full moon.  Etc.  Either way it was a nice couple of hours 🙂

Anyway, I’m going to try and get some sleep now.  Here’s a bunch of Russian demotivational pictures I’ve been stashing but haven’t had the opportunity to use before now (I collect them faster than I can post them!):


This was an ad that came up on my facebook.
This was an ad that came up on my facebook.


My favourite, paws down.
My favourite, paws down.



Also, in asking Jess permission to order some uni books to her house earlier, it occurred to me how strange it is that I live in Russia and my postal address is in Australia.  It’s just more efficient that way.  Intuitive…

Same same, but different.

I’d like to take a moment to talk about racism, and depressingly, as it’s Australia Day, it’s entirely appropriate.

Firstly, I realise the text in the featured image might be difficult to read: it’s from Russia Today, and says “Judge who sent down racist gang found murdered at city apartment.”

Russians are renowned for being racist.  There were the fights during the Euro Cup, people are warned not to come here if they’re ethnic, and violence is often racially-motivated.  You’ve also got things like this (there are hundreds of videos like this on youtube):

I was waiting with one of my students one day, as her parents were running late to pick her up and I didn’t want her waiting outside the closed school at night-time.  This was when I’d only been here for about a month, and so she started telling me things I needed to know about Russia.  The big thing was to ‘stay away from people from the Caucasus’ and the Stan countries.  I objected to this and she said that no, ‘it’s actually a big problem’ (and yes, my students do say ‘actually’ a lot!!).  “They don’t like Russians and we don’t like them.”  She asked me to be careful.

I think I’m sheltered from this a fair bit, because I’m a white girl who most people assume is Russian.  I do walk through the city late-ish at night after I get home from work though, and I’ve never been hassled – other than being hit on – by ‘white’ Russians (I was trying to think of a way of saying that that wasn’t also the name of a delicious cocktail).  I am definitely not happy to walk in the midst of a group of ‘black’ Russians though.  (I feel like I’m stuck with the drink dichotomy now unfortunately: recipes at the end), as they’ll ask me for money, abuse me in Russian, or get way too hands-on.  I just don’t understand!

This racially-based discrimination is particularly evident at public events – as I said in my New Years’ post, at the crowd barrier I magically got through, while non-European-looking people were being effectively kept outside, or at least delayed in the extreme.  It’s interesting writing from St Petersburg, because it isn’t as conservative here as it is in ‘real’ Russia, the smaller cities and towns that dot the place.  On the other hand, to my eyes it’s less cosmopolitan than gigantor city Moscow.  The city football team here is Zenit, and their fan-clubs publish things like this:

“We’re not racists but we see the absence of black players at Zenit as an important tradition,” Zenit fan club Landscrona said in a letter…  “It would allow Zenit to maintain the national identity of the club, which is the symbol of St Petersburg…  We only want players from other brotherly Slav nations, such as Ukraine and Belarus as well as from the Baltic states and Scandinavia.  We have the same mentality and historical and cultural background as these nations”.  (More here: ‘No black or gay football players please, we’re Russian‘.).

‘Not racists’ indeed.

Now, as it’s ‘Racist Freebie Day’ today, let’s compare Australia (and also, does anyone else notice the huge contradictions in this poster??  People who ‘aren’t citizens’ are demanding ‘citizens day’.  Eye roll.):

Australian racism
Her: Each to their own.

Me: …isn’t that what you’re arguing against by posting this picture?

Her: Having an opinion is one thing, but trying to change a national holiday of a country you weren’t even born and raised in is another.

Me: Well that seems fair – if you’re born in a place then you’re automatically privileged, and everyone else is an underclass. Now I understand. *Their* opinions are irrelevant. My bad!

Random dude: Said no one ever

Dude #2: If you choose to live in a country you should learn the language and respect that countries traditions, no-one said you cant celebrate your own things but if you live in Australia live as an Australian. It’s Australia day not multicultural day and I hope it never will be!!!!!

Me: Being Australian is embracing different cultures coming together to create one country that everyone believes in- or have you forgotten where we came from? By saying you hope we never have multicultural day, you’re effectively saying you have no right to celebrate tomorrow, as only ‘Australians’ have the right to. So who are they exactly, since you don’t like people from different origins? Who exactly are the ‘real’ Australians who have a right to the day? You’re very good at logic. Ps, it’d be great if you could explain to me what ‘living as an Australian’ is.
Me: Also Dude #2, way to get off-topic so you have the opportunity to share your racism with the world.

Dude #2: No one said I dont like other races I have some wonderful ethnic friends and relatives who have embraced this counrty and live here with great pride, these people have learned to live in the community by learning our culture and language and they can actually communicate with us, Unlike those ILLEGAL immagrants who come here the wrong way then want us to treat them as valued members of the community, they bring extreme violence(mainly against women) and demand better living conditions than people who were born and raised here. Our soldiers are given less respect than the invaders in this country. Get off your moral high horse and open your eyes to reality. And if you dont like the way our attitude is, stay in Russia.

Me: Could you please provide me with evidence for any of the things you’ve just said? Because, you know, hate speech is a crime in Australia. Also, it’s cute that you think people with morals should stay outside Australia so that they can’t interfere.

Haha as I understand it, hate crime legislation covers victimisation of an individual, but I’m hoping he’ll go away so that this conversation can stop!  Must.  Not.  Engage.  Stupid.  Racists. (To me, all racist people are by definition stupid – I’m a racistist.)

The thing that really bothers me is that peoples’ news feeds today are full of parochial rubbish like this because of Australia Day – the day when racists don’t get reprimanded for airing their maleficent nonsense.  It just disgusts me.  I see it as symptom of small-mindedness.  In a way it’s sad – people like that will never experience a full life, because they can’t open their minds or eyes to anything out of their comfort zone.  But man do I wish such sadness wasn’t so prevalent.

I’m a little too depressed to continue talking about this issue, as to my mind it shouldn’t even be one – I treat people the same until if and when they do something that I find objectionable, and then I disengage and leave them alone – it’s that easy. As such, I’ll sum up by saying that sure, there are social problems in Russia – but it’s far from the only place.

Cocktail recipes:

I know quite a few ‘Russian-themed’ cocktail recipes, as I was basically drinking anything related before I came over here. Haha maybe I’ll make it a feature? In the meantime, here are recipes for Black and White Russians:

White RussianIngredients:

  • Kahlua (or other coffee liquer)
  • Vodka
  • Milk or cream

If you use milk, then in a short or old-fashioned glass (~200mL) use one shot vodka, one shot kahlua, and top with milk.  If you use cream, use two shots vodka, one shot kahlua, and around two shots of cream.


Black RussianIngredients:

  • Kahlua (or other coffee liquer)
  • Vodka
  • Coke (coca-cola, you fiends!)

Use one shot of kahlua, one shot vodka, and top with coke.



There are LOTS of variations of each of these recipes, so just experiment and find out which you like best.  Haha you can also make a ‘blind’ Russian by substituting the cream in a White Russian with bailey’s.  Perhaps that’d be better for everyone involved…

В душе моей

“I don’t like Russians,” said my old house-mate Matt, what now feels like a long time ago.  “They’re too.. tragic, or melancholy, or” “in love with their own sadness?” I suggested.  “Yes.”

I was thinking about this again as I caught the metro home from work tonight.  Twice today there’s been a man playing the piano accordion on the train – and my gosh do I love the piano accordion.  It’s such a perfectly melancholy instrument: even in the happiest of songs, there’s that foreshadowing twang in a minor key.  To me (and somewhat appropriately), it’s the most Russian instrument.

In Svetlana Boym’s Ninochka, she uses the line “Russian soul and Russian food, bitter-sweet and rich in calories.”  This idea of the ‘bitter-sweet’ or ‘melancholy’ or just distinct Russian soul is one that appears in a lot of literature.  I am absolutely not re-opening War and Peace for any reason, but Tolstoy rants on about it a fair bit.  I’m coming to understand what this idea of the ‘Russian soul’ means, but I’m not sure I can put it in words.  To me, it’s just the sound of the piano accordion: beautiful, distinct, richly catastrophic, and sad.

Teaching earlier today, a student explained to a fellow student what I’d just said, but in Russian.  I waited and added “yes, what she said.”  The student then started translating into English, before I stopped her and said “no really, I understood all of that.”  A third student butted in and said that “it’s Laura, she’s Russian now.”  What a terrifying thought, but not entirely lacking in veracity.  Skyping my bestie yesterday, she said that she was terrified of what I was turning into – how at first I let little things slide, but now I’m acting half-Russian. I know that I’ve changed – how could I not?  I changed when I moved to the UK for a couple of years, to the point where I was barely recognisable to some of my former friends.  Russia is, however,  just a touch more extreme than England.

I’ve certainly become much more emotionally aware and confrontational – definitely not a good thing.  My director called me aside earlier today, after I threw a bit of a tanty on Monday.  She opened by asking, point-blank, “do you hate English First?”.  I replied “yes, yes I do.”  I’ve never been very good at lying when asked direct questions, especially when I’m so angry.  The conversation got more and more direct from there.

I try to avoid writing now-days when I’m in a bad mood, because it’s almost always because of work and that’s not what I want to focus on nor remember.  But working for the company is an absolute uphill battle, every day.  Today my director and I put it down a little to cultural differences, and I’m not really sure we can progress from there.  To me, this job is working to live, not living to work, and though I’ll do my absolute best, it’s not my career, it’s not my life, and it’s not the most important thing in the world to me.

A couple of hours later, there was another confrontation in my presence, but this one not involving me.  This particular class used to be an absolute joy to teach, and I looked forward to arriving and working with them.  Over the past two months however, since two students left, it has absolutely deteriorated.  One of the students is treated… shall we say ‘acerbically’?… by the others, who are all much older than he is.  I actually have a lot of respect for this kid.  He knows the others don’t like him, but that doesn’t stop or even cow him at all.  He knows who he is, what he wants, and is absolutely forthright about it.

Anyway, today it just spiralled out of control, to the point students were saying some pretty nasty things to one another, in English and in Russian.  I set them an individual task after handling the situation, to see if they’d simmer down, but a few minutes later there was a spark and BOOM, there it went again.  I cancelled the exercise and wrote up “when you ______________, it makes me feel ______________” on the board, and then we all talked about our feelings.  I’m not even joking.  I have a slightly better understanding of the situation now, but more importantly, the kids had a chance to blow off a little steam in a safe situation.  Hello, mediation.  Again, the kid who’s constantly picked on was the most honest and genuine in his approach, it was actually pretty amazing.  I won’t tolerate bullying or any form of douchebaggery in my classroom, and my students know that – and I mean, who’d be brave enough to talk all lesson in their second or third language if it wasn’t a safe space?  I just won’t have this bullshit in class, and apparently I’m taking the Dr Phil approach to it.  So it seems I’m not completely Russian yet.  I like to think I’m still rich in calories however 🙂