Want to know what Russia and Russians are REALLY like. I can tell you.

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 for two years on Jan 08. I have been to Russia numerous times in the last four years. I have friends who travel by CHARTER FLIGHTS BETWEEN MOSCOW AND MIAMI frequently and told me a lot about the place. So, when I first went, I was already familiar with the culture and was fortunate enough to visit areas that are very different from the others. 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. Many of them proudly display nesting dolls in their homes though. Whenever I would ask about them they would be talked about like a secret within a secret. I’m sure there is a cultural reason for Russian women being so proud of them but I currently do not know what that is. 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.

– In some food stores and also in some liquor stores they have small lockers at the entrance where you must put your coat or anything you are carrying before entering.

– In some shops there are security people at the entrance and exit. When it is busy the guy at the entrance will motion you to wait and only allows you in when some people have exited.

– Many Russians go to the food shop daily or every other day. I think it has to do with poor refrigeration in years past, economic reasons and because so much is fresh.

– For Russians almost ANYTHNG can be gotten through bribery.

– Some things can ONLY be gotten through bribery.

– With money they can get a drivers license when not qualified, a college diploma, out of a legal jam, a job and much more.

– When they send a package to America, in some locations, if they don’t “tip” the postal clerk, their package may sit for days.

– It is common to give a small gift to someone at a business you may use again who has been helpful. Usually some chocolate.

– In some schools if parents don’t give some teachers “gifts” on occasion their child will receive poorer treatment than those who do.

– One of the only things they can not bribe to get is an American visa.

American visas are not controlled by Russians, they are controlled by US.

– Most malls and most shops are not air conditioned.

– In some public places, malls etc. IF there is toilet paper you might get it from a clerk at the entrance when you pay. It is dolled out like it is gold. It is NEVER as soft and nice as our toilet paper. I got some like sandpaper (exaggeration of course) and some like cheap brown hand paper towels. Even in good establishments or hotels it is not good quality. Some women carry toilet paper or keep some in their desk at work. Many toilets don’t have a lid or a seat You saw the picture of the one at Oxana’s office building. I read travel to Russia articles that said some Americans bring toilet paper with them when traveling to Russia.

– They have as many trees, birch, pine, hardwoods and more as we do in Maine but seem to have a paper shortage and think paper of all kinds is worth its weight in gold.

– Dinner napkins are literally the size of a cocktail napkin.

– They have almost any product somewhere in Russia but just can’t get it to the other parts of the country.

– I have never seen a single eighteen wheeler in Russia.

– Casinos are everywhere. Vices of gambling, drinking and smoking are the average Russians only social outlet.

– Very few Russians have a phone book or yellow pages in their home.

– In some cities, when you hail a cab you put your arm down at a 45 degree angle. Don’t be surprised when a guy in his own car stops to pick you up. You have to negotiate how much he wants to take you to your destination. In Penza (600 miles S. of Moscow) 50% of my “taxi” rides were from everyday people making a few extra rubles. I never saw a taxi with a meter. All are negotiated verbally.

– Russian drivers are crazy. Almost ALL like NYC cabbies. Had one cabbie I would only use when I was in Penza (600 miles S. of Moscow) and called him crazy cabbie. I used him because he got me everywhere amazingly fast and was inexpensive. He drove insane but it was fun.


– This city is very unique. I like it better than I do Moscow.

– It is further north than Moscow but the climate is a little more mild because it is near the gulf of Finland.

– It is a more youthful and eclectic city. Many young people looking like hippies and grunge. More Europeans because of tourists coming from the nearby Scandinavian countries. Great night life. Open 24 hours. Good variety of restaurants and good food.

– There is a cool city near St. Pete called Peterhof about a 40 minute bus ride or a 20 minute ride by high speed catamaran. The cat. goes through the gulf of Finland. I wont detail Peterhof here. You can easily learn about this city on the internet and it worth checking, immense history to this small city. It was the country home of famous royalty or military and it was completely destroyed in war. It was rebuilt identically. At least thirty buildings, fifty fountains, many statues and right on the Gulf Of Finland. Will have pictures in one of the diaries.

– There are numerous museums like the Hermitage (largest in the world) but I am not into this so I haven’t been to them. I have heard it said that if you went in the Hermitage and looked at each item for one minute and did it 24/7, it would take two weeks to get through it. That’s a long time to stay awake.

– Saint Petersburg is made up of numerous islands and rivers run everywhere. It is known as the Venice of the north.

– These is an amazing church (appearance) known as “blood church”. I will have photos in one of the diaries. The name comes from it being the location of a battle where a famous Russian died.

– I would assume many know Saint Petersburg was once Leningrad and the capitol.

– If anyone thought of going there I would tell them to make it there near the longest summer days (June) you will experience the “white nights”. For a few weeks it never gets fully dark at night. When I go again, this is the time I will go.

– Long but interesting and one of my favorite events.

One day walking in Saint Petersburg a group of three homeless boys caught my attention. I wont forget one of them who was a boy of about eight. There is a story that has some truth to it that many years ago Saint Petersburg was overrun by rats. A dignitary had cats brought in and they cleaned up the city. There is a cat statue in one of the squares that is about twenty feet above the ground on the side of a building. There is a plate in front of the cat. People try to throw coins up and make them stay on the plate. Although the boy spoke in Russian and I later got the translation I could see he was really selling the whole deal. He told the history and story with great animation, gestures and enthusiasm. The hook was that he was selling us on trying to throw coins at the plate and said if it stayed on the plate then you would have good luck. Of course the boys scrambled to pick up the coins when 95% of them fell to the ground. I gave these boys a dollar each and was chastised (by you know who) and she told me they had made fun of the foolish American wasting his money. Later that evening when passing the spot again I saw one of the boys climbing a drain pipe to get the few coins that stayed on the plate. They may be homeless, but not stupid. The next day we saw the storyteller boy again. At my insistence my wife begrudgingly told the boy what I asked her to. She said in Russian that it was not very nice of them to ridicule me for being kind to them and I didn’t appreciate it. The boy looked up at me and looked directly in my eyes and with sincere shame he said in perfect English, “I’m sorry” and put his hand out to shake mine. An experience I will never forget.

Five photos in Saint Petersburg–Amazing architecture, statue and churchs.

The first one is of the cat with the plate from the story you just read.






– Russian men seldom wear shorts regardless of the temperature. The few that do will only wear shorts in July and August.—?????

– I was planning on wearing shorts on a few occasions when it was anywhere from 75 to 85. My wife begged me not to wear shorts. Unfortunately for me it wasn’t July or August.

– Most times I agreed and I wore long pants but I wore no socks. I was then asked not to let anyone see I had no socks on. What would they have thought if they knew I had no underwear on (just joking).

– I had an indiscretion and got mad at the deskclerk at an apartment I was staying at and decided to apologize to them afterwards. When I did, I got a look to kill. Many think apologies are only words and beating the air.

– I know a little Russian (maybe twenty words) and am told it is pretty good. Maybe they were lying to me because whenever I said any word I knew I inevitably got a friendly giggle from all around. I was often asked to say this or that just so they could get a chuckle.

– Some Russian women will say swear words and obscenities and other things in English that they will never say in Russian. Even when asked to say the same in Russian they will blush and refuse. Somehow saying something “bad” in other than their native language doesn’t have the same meaning to them.

– Some Russians, to include the mother of one woman I dated, would talk and talk to me in Russian even though they were told a dozen times I could not understand anything in Russian. I think it was the only way they could think of to attempt to bond with me. Now that I think of it, one was the mother of a woman who was a little cuckoo, maybe she was talking to herself and insanity was hereditary.

– One woman I dated had a brother of 16 and my wife’s son is 18. They were more elated over a walkman and a cell phone I bought them than I have ever seen an American teenager react to a $500 gift.

– I got the full tour of Tomsk from my father in law in his car. Yes, he had a car. He was proud to show off his city. About a half mile away there was an odd looking “fort” with a very tattered flag flying high above. I pointed to the flag and asked what the “fort” was. After receiving a translation of my question, he responded in complete seriousness, what he said was translated to me and his response was—“it used to be a flag with the city seal but now it is just a big hole”. I meant what was the fort type building and I couldn’t help laughing. Oxana explained to him why I laughed.

– There are not many houses in Russia compared to America. A very small percentage of Russians own a home (maybe 10% besides shacks). The few I saw with lawns were not being mowed but rather cut with a sickle. I never saw a lawn mower.

– Snowmobiles or ATV’s are unheard of.

Two photos of blood church–Long story of history of this being the spot where a battle took place and a great Russian military leader was killed.



Grade school and high school graduation are a big deal in Russia with much presentation and parties.

First photo is Yana’s (my fiance’s daughter) middle school graduation. There was a play and singing and dancing. She is the tall thin girl in all pink. That is one of four perfectly matching outfits she owned. They were hand washed each time worn. Most of her other clothes were only for around the house.

Second photo is of some girls graduating high shcool and all the girls were dressed identical walking around town.




Link to essay number two and accidently hit save at 11:20 est, so posted early.


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    • pfiore8 on December 12, 2007 at 6:53 pm

    really enjoyed this.

    will be writing about living in Leiden, The Netherlands for my writing in the raw on Thursday at 10pm… drop by!

  1. Upstate New York.

    I’ll be talking with you soon.

  2. when you get a chance…and that’s the last thing I’ll ask you  to do…for…umm….well a few days anyway.

    • pico on December 12, 2007 at 8:35 pm

    a few clarifications, contrary experiences, etc.:

    Russians don’t drink much coffee at all.

    Well, most Russians keep a jar of Nescafe at home, but you’re right that they’re primarily hot tea drinkers.  Maybe it’s because Nescafe tastes so god-awful.

    In Russian, the order of words in a sentence does not matter. The words can be spoken in any order and understood.

    Well… not really.  There are two types of word order that are important in Russian.  The first is grammatical, which is generally loose but does have some rules: unstressed particles (called “enclitics”) usually take the second position in the sentence, which is the position with the least semantic stress (sorry for the technical talk!).  The second type of order is meaning: you generally put the stressed information at the end of the sentence.  If you don’t you’ll still be understood, but it’d be like saying “Down the hill rapidly ran the runners”, which makes perfect grammatical sense in English but sounds a little awkward.

    There are no contractions in the Russian language

    “Officially” (that is, in the grammar books) there aren’t common contractions in standard written/spoken Russian, but you find them both in usual spoken language (the natural process of cutting down certain short words) and especially in poetic language – so the extremes of colloquial and high art have contractions, but not the Standard language.

    Most Russians believe much about Russia and Russians is unique in the world and only a Russian can understand Russia or Russians.

    There’s a famous line of poetry that they sometimes recite along these lines: “You can’t understand Russian with your brain … In Russia, you can only believe.” (Tiutchev)

    Some Russian women will say swear words and obscenities and other things in English that they will never say in Russian. Even when asked to say the same in Russian they will blush and refuse. Somehow saying something “bad” in other than their native language doesn’t have the same meaning to them.

    Well, it’s not just the ‘other language’ thing: non-native Russian speakers tend to continue cursing in their own language rather than cross into Russian.  The reason is that Russian curse words (mat) have a different history and usage and have preserved a lot more of their power than ours in English.  But Russian curse words are also insanely flexible: you can create hilariously foul expressions with an ease that English doesn’t have.

    Awesome essay, and I can’t wait to read more about your experiences.  Some disclosure here: I’m a Russian speaker and have spent quite a bit of time there myself.  Nearly all of your experiences have been identical to mine. 🙂

  3. and I look forward to the continuing series (with more photos I hope!).

    I went to Leningrad in 1982 (it was November and Brezhnev died while we were there) with a group of museum professional sponsored by Fin Air. They were trying to get tour groups going so the trip (which included a couple of days in Helsinki, Finland) was only $400.

    While I was only there for only a week, I experienced many interesting exchanges with locals. We were assigned an Intourist guide, but a gal I buddied up with and I decided to strike out on our own for a few days. I was amazed at how many spoke English. Coffee was hard to come by. The black market on the street was rampant (I was approached several time to sell my jeans) – the cab ride where the cabbie sold us caviar (he kept it in the glove compartment), the scary officials at the airport… I haven’t thought about that trip in a very long time and you’ve brought back a whole flood of memories. Thanks!

  4. was killed by his thugs for telling the truth about it.

    A Russian Diary

    I hope everyone reads her book.

    Thank you for this essay, TominMaine.

  5. all of it.  I was particularly surprised about the coffee, styrofoam, and trucks though.  So Starbucks hasn’t infiltrated there?  I would have a really hard time going without a good cup of coffee. Instant bleh!  The styrofoam – is it just because materials and manufacturing are scarce or is it something ecological?   Do they have any type of recycling or environmental awareness there?  I can imagine that things are so bleak they don’t have the luxury of caring about natural resources.  

    Your (extensive) list reminds me of when I lived in Stockholm, Sweden for a year (1993) – my first time ever going to Europe and living abroad.  I expected it to be very Western and not much different than living in a US city.   Wow, not at all, I was in culture shock for a few weeks and I started keeping mental lists of everything that was different from my American experience. At this point, all I can remember is that the shower and laundry machines completely baffled me. Transportation was on the honor system – all you had to do was carry a ticket stub or monthly pass in the rare event a conductor or bus driver asked for it.   I also had the problem of not knowing that you had to bring your own bags for groceries (or pay for the bags).  It’s a beautiful city and country, but I never got over my homesickness.  It was just hard being alone there – no close friends.  

    How is your wife adjusting to America?   Does she surf the web?   Maybe she would like Docudharma.  🙂

    Looking forward to the next part.

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