This is the first essay in a five part series. These will be posted each day at noon EST from today, Wed 12/12-Sun 12/17.
The first four essays are just for amusement, fun facts, breaking stereotypes, education and insight into how propaganda has falsely shaped our thinking about this country and these people.
One through four are not political or relevant to any major U.S. matter. The fifth essay on Sunday is a political essay about an important issue to the USA. It is titled “What is Putin up to? Dictator? Czar?”. It covers many Russian political events and serious changes in Russia’s Government that affect America.
This first installment in my series of five essays will be the only one that requires this amount of dialogue to set up the series. I also have about 70 photos I will spread between the first four diaries.
My wife, Oxana, is Russian. We will be married two years in Jan 08. I have been to Russia numerous times in the last four years. I was fortunate enough to visit areas that are each very different from the other. All of us are aware of the size of Russia. Well, it is also as diverse as the USA.
Different areas have different customs, cultures, foods and habit’s, the same as the USA. Think about San Francisco, Miami, NYC, Bangor Maine, Chicago, Omaha, Denver. All quite varied. It is the same in Russia. I have been from Moscow to Saint Petersburg to Siberia to small “old Russia” cities that have not changed or become “westernized” yet.
Before marrying my wife, Oxana, I was engaged to another Russian woman who came here and after 60 days I realized it was not going to work out and she had to return to Russia. Oxana was engaged to a man from Malta and she broke it off six months before we met.
I communicated with at least a hundred women from all over the world on the internet. Most were from Russia and countries that were previously part of Russia prior to perestroika. Perestroika means reconstruction or reorganization in Russian. The seeds of perestroika began in the mid 80’s but it was not official until 1991 when the USSR was broken into 15 separate countries. In my communications with those hundred or so women, I got to know about 20 Russian women very well through the internet, instant message formats and on the phone. I only met my first Russian fiancé and Oxana in person.
After three years of work, six months ago, I finally finished a book about international dating (90 pages). It contains details about government red tape, forms, pitfalls, scams and many more items that you wouldn’t be interested in. I also warn readers to avoid the “pay for dating services” that only want to make money off you by selling addresses to you and getting you to go on their “tours” to Eastern Europe. It also includes a lot of trivia and anecdotal stories. In fact, enough of the latter to make four essays.
My dealings have been primarily with single women, the family of my first Russian fiancé, her friends, my in-laws and Oxana’s friends. I have only communicated and dealt with average middle class Russians. Most of the women I communicated with have a child and an ex husband that neither have seen since they got divorced. My friends are from smaller cities other than Moscow (11 million) or St. Petersburg (5 million) which combined are about 11% of the population of Russia.
Most of the women I have known live with their parents for financial reasons. Many were abused by ex-husbands and/or had ex-husbands with drinking problems and/or husbands that did not make family their top priority. This is a fairly high percentage of the population. There are more single mothers (percentage wise) in Russia than in the US. Additionally, virtually none get any assistance from their ex-husband and have no recourse.
My experiences are those of one man. There are many other opinions and experiences of Americans who have been to Russia. I encourage those who read this to comment about their experiences. I hope not confrontationally but rather to state their experiences with Russians and Russia to contribute to the education of those who read this.
Finally!!! I am done with this “setup”. Now to the fun stuff. The remainder of this first one is what 95% of number two through four will be. I sincerely hope you learn some things from this and most of all enjoy this and have a few laughs (some at my expense).
The first photo below is of an average office building in a smaller city in Russia (500,000). The second photo is of the UNBELIEVABLE bathroom in this office building.
Unfortunately, if you don’t work there, you have to pay a little money to a woman out in front of the “facilities” and she will also give you some AMAZING toilet paper (NOT). It is worth what you pay (NOT).
Oxana was a ticket agent for the largest airlines in Russia. This is her office building and “facilities”.
These three photos are of the walkway up to an average Russian apartment building, the entrance doorway and the stairwell. I rented an apartment in this building for two weeks from a friend of my mother in-law and lived like an average Russian. Every other trip I have made there, I went first class, so this experience was very ineresting.
– No pictures of President Vladimir Putin’s children are allowed to be published by anyone and nobody knows where they go to school.
– Putin flies in a helicopter for the very short trip from his home to the Kremlin for security reasons.
– The largest fresh water lake in the world is in Siberia. Yes, larger than any of the great lakes. Not in circumference but because of it’s depth, it holds more water than any other fresh water lake in the world. It has numerous species of fish that are nowhere else in the world.
– The coldest “inhabited” place on earth is in Siberia. It is the town of Oymakon in NE Siberia. There are colder places that people go to in Antarctica, but they are study/research locations and not places people live. About 2000 inhabit this town that has an average temperature of 30-40 below zero. It gets down to as low as 90 below.
– In all my time in Russia I never saw anyone with a to go cup. No Styrofoam cups anywhere.
– Domestic violence in Russia is common. Both verbal and physical. A call to the police is virtually useless. They will come there but do nothing. Domestic violence in Russia is probably 20X the USA.
– Russians don’t drink much coffee at all. I saw only one coffee house type restaurant in my travels in Russia. They drink tea. Coffee in every restaurant I have ever been to in Russia served instant coffee. Even the best restaurants.
– One of the difficulties for a Russian to learn English and us to learn Russian is sentence structure. In Russian, the order of words in a sentence does not matter. The words can be spoken in any order and understood. Like, Bush is a fucking moron and a complete idiot. In Russian could be, Idiot and complete moron is fucking Bush. They don’t have articles in Russian, so that is why I didn’t use a.
– There are no contractions in the Russian language and therefore most Russians don’t use them when speaking English. They will generally speak out both words for things like; don’t, wont, cant, isn’t and will have difficulty understanding contractions when you use them.
– There are no articles in the Russian language like; the, a, an and most Russians will omit these when speaking English. Thus, in the Russian version of the Bush sentence two trivia’s above, I did not use the a.
– Many of their words end in a specific vowel designating feminine or masculine or neutral. Most inanimate objects are either masculine or feminine with a smaller percentage as neutral. For this reason they will often confuse, he, she, it, them etc.
– In some Russian cities when riding a bus you pay when exiting. This is odd because there are doors at the back and payment is made in the front. You can be ten people deep standing in the middle aisle. The back door will not be opened until the collector in the front has your money. When it is impossible to get by the people in the aisle, your money is passed up through the chain. What is odd is most do not trust people. No Russian I knew ever saw anyone try to steal the money passed forward or anyone try to get off the bus without paying.
– It is not uncommon for a waitress, female barkeep or the like to have vulgar, obscene and/or propositioning comments made to her by a drunken Russian man. If she responds angrily she will probably be fired. Sometimes the owner or manager will even pass a message to one of them that a patron will pay X amount to sleep with her. Some will not only pass the message but pressure the woman to accept the “invitation”.
– My wife, Oxana, had a good job (for Russia) as a ticket agent for an agency that sold tickets for all airlines but primarily the two largest (Aeroflot & Siberia Air). Even though her hours for the month (50/wk-6 days/wk) would be the same her pay could vary by 25% depending on how good a month the agency had. She made about $3500 annually. No benefits. What do you think a ticket agent at a US airlines makes and with what benefits?
– When accepting a job sometimes they are not told how much they will be paid. Rather they are told that it is a month trial and they will be compensated commensurate with their performance and the sales of the establishment. It is less common now days but it is possible that after the month they will be told they are no longer needed and paid nothing!
– Because of this type behavior and other reasons many otherwise honest and moral Russians have systems for stealing from employers. Some “schemes” are elaborate and some are simple.
– Ekaterina II of Saint Petersburg who was a dignitary (maybe a queen) is well known as having been promiscuous. On boat tours in Saint Petersburg they point out the numerous palaces near the rivers that she gave to each of her lovers who were unending and always younger than she. Russians always speak of her with a slight grin and amusement in their tone. They seem to like the fact that she was like she was. Women have held prominent positions in Russia for 100’s of years.
– Even if not a history buff the stories of much of Russian history are very interesting.
– I never saw a car dealership as we know them. I saw some small store fronts with automobile manufacturer’s names but no inventory.
– All Russian cemeteries are far away from the cities and residences. When Oxana first got here, she didn’t like that my families restaurant is across the street from a cemetery. Now she doesn’t care, she works there.
– Russians have a great sense of humor. They must to keep their sanity in their insane environment. It is called Russian humor as it can be very different than ours.
– Russians have many “odd” (to Americans) superstitions. It is bad luck to whistle in public. Never say hello/goodbye across an entrance way.
– In the mid 1990’s Russia changed their money. When the new money came out, the old money was then useless. They announced this on a Friday and it was effective on the following Monday. “Only in Russia”!!
– Most Russians believe much about Russia and Russians is unique in the world and only a Russian can understand Russia or Russians. It may be true. The expression, “only in Russia” is said often by Russians.
– If someone figures out how they decide to address buildings on one side of a street versus the other, I hope they will advise me. Several times I was looking for a specific address and missed the mark by as much as a couple blocks. If I was walking down the odd numbered side of the street and I was at 1101 and looking for 1102 and crossed the street the number directly across from 1101 might be 1146 or 1062. I was a couple blocks away from what I wanted although on my side of the street I was only one number off from my destination. Only in Russia! At least they are even on one side and odd on the other and run in numeric order on each side.
– Plastic bags (packets they call them) are not usually given with a purchase. If you want one you must pay for it!!! The first time I went in a food shop the lockers were strange enough and when she tried to stuff everything in as few bags as possible I didn’t understand why. I didn’t realize until the third or fourth time that they charged for bags.
-You pay for a public restrooms in office buildings and malls and also outside port o potties. Many smell like an outhouse.
– Exposed plumbing pipes in all bathrooms are the norm. Even the best apartments you can rent from a travel agent and I had several that were awesome.
– America (including Alaska and Hawaii) is only 50% of the geographic size of Russia. Russia’s population is about one half of America. Russia has less than 10% of the miles of roadway we have in America.
– On my first trip I went out alone to buy my girlfriends daughter some school supplies. Pens and paper and these type items are treated like gold. Knowing I would be spoken to in Russian and being the brilliant mind I am, I decided to pretend I was deaf. When the clerk spoke to me I pointed to my ear and grunted. She reached under the counter and produced a pad of paper and a pen. Oh shit! It seemed like a good idea before carrying it out. I shook my head no and pointed to what I wanted.
– There are about three million people of Russian decent in America. That is more than the population of 20 of our 50 states. There are about 750,000 Russians in the Brighton Beach area of near New York/New Jersey thus it is called “little Russia”.
– In Tomsk (Oxana’s hometown), as I stated, I rented the apartment of a friend of my mother in law’s. I wanted to live in a “regular” Russians apartment and neighborhood instead of the numerous upscale apartments I had rented from agents. It was the best time I had of any trip I made. The photos here of the entrance, stairwell, door & bathroom are from that apartment.
– My first day in that apartment, I was on the balcony having coffee early one morning. I noticed a stray dog in the alley below our third floor apartment. I threw him some table scraps. He was sitting in the same spot every morning at 7am for my entire two week stay awaiting my handout which I gladly dropped down to him. The other two photos are me on that balcony and the dog below.
– I know a man of about 60 who is a retired Soviet army officer. He can not speak English well but wanted to talk and bond every minute we were together. He loved the cigarettes I brought from America. He was a very interesting man and someone I will never forget. In a gesture of friendship he went in his bedroom closet and brought out some items. He gave me numerous Soviet army items like a hat, a shirt and lapel pins as gifts. He explained the Russian life and the sour look by saying that Russian life is one small problem after another and another and another. While saying this he progressively slumped his shoulders and head further and further down like a man having twenty pound weights added with each problem. He, like most average Russians, lived a better life under communism. I once said that perestroika will result in a better situation and a better life for future generations but I suspected he didn’t really have much hope.
– Hope has been beaten out of many Russians or they have just given up so not to lose their sanity.
Photos below, are of the door (check locks-WOW) on the that average Russian apartment I rented for two weeks for $175. Also, the bathroom in the apartment, looking up at me on the balcony feeding my dog friend in the last photo.
How about a photo of the amazing architecture of Saint Petersburg. Photos don’t do these remarkable statues and buildings justice, but it is all I have.
The second photo is a “special” for the women. It is a photo of a tall man with a sculpted body and muscles all over and the photo is taken from behind him and he is naked.
– IF an apartment building has an elevator (lift) it may be shut off daily between midnight and six am. Some sound as loud as a small plane and you feel lucky when it gets you to your destination. They almost always have graffiti and sometimes urine. The buttons are sequenced different than ours and are usually illegible. Because of this, on one trip up alone I stopped at three wrong floors before finally getting to mine (9th floor). This was quit humorous to my girlfriend who had taken the stairs as she preferred. She arrived at the ninth floor before me awaiting in hysterics.
– Russians have a humorous habit when talking about someone being drunk or asking if you want to go get drunk. They all do it. They take their right hand middle finger and thump it against their neck on the right side. They all do it and all understand it, even children. There is a story to this. A famous navy admiral from World War II had a first mate that was his right hand man. The first mate was a drunk. On numerous occasions when the admiral most needed him he was in jail. The admiral went to each local bar and implored them not to serve him as well as to the police not to arrest him. When this failed he had a tattoo put on the first mates neck on the right side. The tattoo said “this is my first mate and he is of utmost importance to the war effort. Please do not serve him alcohol or detain him, Admiral Perry”.
– I never saw a grocery store like we know. They are not any where near as large. They are more like food shops and nearer the size of a convenience store.