As with all new cultural experiences, comparisons with one’s own culture are inevitable; neither better nor worse, just different. What follows are some very random, miscellaneous examples that I have observed and/or learned about, sometimes the hard way!
Flowers themselves are not a cultural oddity, but there are a couple of idiosyncrasies related to them. First, flower shops are open 24 hours. No excuse for not bringing flowers for any occasion at any hour! Second, flowers need to be purchased in odd numbers. An even number of flowers is only for funerals. No dozen roses!
Security and (mis)trust concerns can be seen everywhere, but not always in the way you would normally expect. For example, at the airport you’ll find special machines that shrink wrap your luggage, apparently to prevent baggage handlers from rifling through it. It’s rather strange to see a piece of luggage wrapped in lime green saran wrap being wheeled through the airport! Another example: before entering a grocery store you hand over your purse, computer briefcase, or shopping bags to a woman who wraps it in a heat sealed bag in order to prevent shoplifting. And at the institute where I teach, I have to check out and sign for the key to my classroom, then return it after my class (up and down 5 flights of stairs…no elevator!). Finally, in a typical apartment like ours, there are as many as three keys that set deadbolt locks into a steel door frame.
The two locks above and the one below the door handle control a series of multiple deadbolts. This photo is taken from inside.
Each of the 9(!) holes receives a deadbolt corresponding to the three locking mechanisms in the previous photo above. On a tangential, door-related note, you aren’t supposed to shake hands or extend a gift across a threshold. I made that mistake last week when a professor introduced himself to me while standing outside my classroom door. I automatically extended my hand, but he refused it until he had entered the room. Ooops!
Clothes dryers are rare in Russia. Most people hang their clothes on a drying rack like the one below.
The heat in Russia is hot water and it is centrally controlled. There is no individual thermostatic control, so if it gets too hot, people just open their windows. The heat comes on in the fall when temperatures start to drop. We knew when it came on because it sounded like the pipes were going to explode! We don’t know when it’s turned off–I guess when the weather warms up, hopefully sometime soon!
The silver tubes have hot water running through them, and are found in every bathroom. It’s nice to have a warm towel after a shower, especially in the winter. Also pictured is our washing machine, a small, but very efficient unit.
Typical of European-style bathrooms, the toilet is in a separate room adjacent to the bathroom sink and tub/shower. It’s more like a closet; hence, the acronym “WC” for “water closet.”
Napkins are displayed in every restaurant the same way–folded and fanned out in a holder. They are cocktail size and not put in one’s lap. Even when linen napkins are provided in nicer restaurants, the ubiquitous triangle folded napkins are still on the table.
A lot of the construction we have seen in Kazan involves manual labor. That may explain why the unemployment rate is relatively low in Russia (currently 5.8%).
There are miles and miles of sidewalks in Kazan like this one, made from thousands of individual pavers.
Each of the pavers is individually placed by hand and tamped into position with a rubber mallet.
Road construction included an army of manual laborers. You can see their shovels in the picture below.
Besides the shovels, this photo also shows 3-inch thick yellow styrofoam that was installed the entire length of this major road in Kazan. I suppose it was used to insulate the central hot water heat system that appeared to be piped under the road.
There is no OSHA in Russia. Looking out both our bedroom and living room apartment windows we have observed construction projects where the workers appear to be risking life and limb.
We look out on this beautiful building from our bedroom window, where a new roof has been installed over the time we’ve been here. Note the workers atop this 3-story roof and the close-up in the second picture below. We sometimes cringe at the thought of a worker slipping on the snowy, metal roof.
This photo is out our living room window where workers in both the foreground and background appear to work without fear of falling.
There are fewer restrictions on alcohol consumption in Russia; to wit, beer on tap available at Subway.
These are two popular Russian beer brands–“Barrel” and Kozel.
Like the country itself, Russian pool tables are immense. American pool tables are 4’x9′ while the Russian table is 6’x12′. Also, the pockets are only millimeters larger than the billiard ball (see second photo below).
Viktor, a young Russian acquaintance of mine, schooled me in Russian billiards.
Since the pockets are barely larger than the ball, Russian pool requires a different strategy (i.e., not trying to pocket balls at a severe angle), something I was rather slow to pick up on!
Real fur coats are a common sight, despite their expense (upper hundreds to thousands of dollars).
I snapped this picture while strolling around Red Square in Moscow. From what I could tell, it appeared to be three generations of fur: the granddaughter in black holding her grandfather’s hand, the grandmother in black fur to her left, and the mother a step ahead in the white fur.
Boots and shoes are an important style statement in Russia. Despite some recent sloppy weather, Russian footwear is always kept clean and sharp. We’ve noticed that one of the first things people do upon entering a building is clean off their shoes (not just wipe off the soles on a rug). Further evidence of the importance of footwear is the presence of little shoe shops like the one pictured below.
This shoe shop is no more than a 4×8 building. It sells everything for shoes and boots as well as provides repair services.
High heeled boots are the footwear of choice for all women with the possible exception of the older “babushkas” (grandmothers). Women claim that the high heels actually help them navigate the snow and ice better than flat soled shoes because they can dig in the heel for stability.
Kazan’s Kremlin is the most popular place for weddings or at least wedding photographs. We witnessed several wedding photo shoots there last weekend, despite bitterly cold temperatures. The photos below, however, are from last fall.
Wedding cars are decorated in a classy way, like in this photo and the one below.
Although there are many cultural differences and idiosyncrasies between America and Russia, as evidenced by the photo below, love transcends culture.
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