Talk about a difference in culture.
Nothing could have prepared me for Russia. Not the movies, not my Russian friends and acquaintances and no website. The moment I landed I felt it would be different than any other place I had been to. Two things I knew – knowledge of the English language is very very limited and the people don’t smile without a good reason. Especially to strangers. In the airport, when I found a nice lady who worked there and spoke English, I latched on and did not let go, so to speak. She helped me navigate the required paperwork I needed and proved to me once again, that once you break that initial barrier of a cold appearance, Russians are very warm and generous people. Also, never get in a fight with a Russian woman. Let’s put it this way, I was very happy to have her on my side. It reminded me of my ex. Very delicate looking but get her mad and you would have to deal with a force of nature that would get the Hulk to back down.
When dealing in Rubles, it takes a while to get used to the prices. 1000 Rubles is about 14 Euros. Going shopping for anything is scary when you look at the numbers on the price tickets and are used to Euros.
In the winter, outside is cold. I did not know this about myself, but apparently my body handles the cold pretty well. The tips of my ears though… that’s my delicate point. That and my weird issue with the lower jaw which last happened when I was in Latvia (again, in the winter). My jaw freezes in the cold and so when speaking, pronunciation issues come up. Also, I may drool. As an adult, drooling is frowned upon. So if you see me in a very cold place, even if I’m wearing a t-shirt, do not be surprised to see a scarf around my neck and jawline. Please do not start a verbal discussion with me at that point.
The buildings are very well heated so life inside is comfortable. Every building I’ve been to has double doors. This keeps the cold out in the winter. The outer door is usually heavy. I was surprised at how heavy. I asked one of my hosts why this was and he explained that during times that were less good, it was to keep people out.
The first tip I was given was to have my passport on me at all times. As a foreigner in a country I do not know well, this to me is a given. But apparently, this is something everyone is recommended to do. Being a foreigner from a European country though gives additional protection. The one thing I was not expecting though was having a potential problem with my beard. I usually enjoy the privilege of my country of origin when I travel without giving a second thought to many things. However, it appears that in Russia having a beard is not great. I knew tattoos could be a problem which is why I was happy that due to the cold I would be covered up anyway, but I had not given a second thought to the beard. The one time, I got recognized for my religious origin though was exactly where I wanted it to happen. Not sure if it was the beard or what, but going to Synagogue, there were two security guards at the door who did pat me down since they didn’t know me but when my host explained that I would like to go in because I am Jewish, the guard looked at me, half smiled and said “Obviously”.
Incredibly, the Jewish kids that I met spoke Hebrew perfectly and even had an Israeli accent!
Lastly (for today). My spoken Russian is very limited but I make an effort to put together some words and make sentences. As someone who is used to speaking fluently a few languages, it is disheartening to see that I apparently have such a horrible French accent (as I’ve been told) that it is very hard to understand my words. I will aspire to improve. Till next time!