Saturday, October 2, 2010
Some Musings on Russia and the Russians
As I lay in bed with a stomach infection (I get to have an ultrasound Tuesday to see if there is swelling in my stomach), pondering why it seems that I have caught every kind of bizarre disease known to mankind, I've decided to change things up and be a little bit more insightful and thoughtful than simply just tell you what I've done since my last blog post (Sit in my bed and watch South Park). I've been in Russia almost three months now, and as cliche as it sounds, I'm still learning new things about Russian culture and life everyday. Russian culture often seems to be completely obtuse and preposterous to those who see it from the outside. "Potatoes, vodka, bears, and suffering" was how one friend of mine summed up his thoughts on Russia. While I won't deny you that I've seen more potatoes and vodka here than I ever care to see again, that I've seen my fair share of bears on leashes walking down Nevsky Prospekt (I've seen two!), and that the suffering of many Russians is completely mind-numbing, there is much more to Russia than that. In my three months here I've met some of the most interesting and intelligent people. I really feel like I've grown to appreciate the life I have after my time here. Whether it be discussing world politics over a dinner of beer and raw fish (anyone wonder how I got a stomach infection?) or just learning to enjoy sitting on a bench in the park for a few hours, I've grown to see life from a different perspective.
While that's all well and good, there are still some things about Russia that even I still find to be preposterous. I find that no matter how intelligent many Russians are, they often believe, and say, the most absurd, ridiculous things. They believe in the most obtuse and irrational things, that time and time again completely throws me for a loop.
Take for example an encounter I had in class a week or so ago. We were sitting in class as usual, and as unfortunately seems to happen more often than not, I had absolutely no clue what was going on. As is par for the course, there was a complete jump from what I thought, quite possibly wrongly, we were talking about (something about perfective, imperfective verbs and aspect) and jumped to something completely different, and completely irrelevant to the subject of grammar. All of sudden, at a decibel level that was more than slightly uncomfortable, we started hearing about the city of Paris. We were told, quite correctly I assume, that Paris is one of, if not the single, most beautiful city in the world. We then told that there was a huge problem in Paris. The city was being defiled by cigarette butts. I completely agreed. Cigarette butts are gross, the ground in St. Pete is covered in them and it's really disgusting. I was pretty pumped, "She agrees!" I thought, "Ok, you say it lady!" Alas, it was at this point that the rationality train completely derailed. "Do you know why," she asked, "there are cigarette butts all over Paris?" I had no idea why Paris is plagued by cigarette butts, and quite eagerly waited to hear the source of this menace. Her answer? "Muslims. Muslims and all those Arab and African foreigners who come to France to work." I'm fairly confident the sound of the palm of my hand being slapped against my forehead could have been heard for miles around. For real? Arab and African immigrants are the reason for Paris's problems? My god, I wonder what she has to say about the purpose of the pyramids or the JFK assassination...
But that is Russia I guess. "Conspiracy syndrome" as I call it, seems to be another one of the quirks of the Russian character. And while at times it can be kind of shocking, or evenly offensive to some with more delicate tastes (luckily I have never been one of those). I just find it amusing. In my opinion, it's kind of endearing and something that definitely can keep a conversation going. Who doesn't want to argue about whether the Chernobyl reactor exploded because it was dirty (an actual argument I have had) and whether now it is still radioactive (apparently, according to this woman, it stopped being radioactive five years after the explosion).
That about does it from here. The highlight of my week has definitely been the new kitten my host sister brought home two days ago. He doesn't have a name yet (I bounce between calling him Thaddeus and Frankidor) and he's super tiny (he can sit in the pal of my hand) but he's super adorable. He sits with me and chases just about everything, string, the cursor on my computer screen, any moving part of my body. He's been my buddy for the past couple of days, sitting with me as I lay in bed. So I leave you with a rather adorable string of pictures my mom and dad took as I was skyping them today,