Over the long weekend, I had the pleasure of attending another post-semester Russian party. Although there were only a few people I recognized from my SF City College class, when it was time to leave, I found it incredible hard to pry myself away from the lively party. I had an amazing time chatting it up with fellow students and Russian significant others. My evening flew by as we recounted ridiculous stories of our time abroad and experiences while studying this convoluted language. While at the party, I came across some interesting bits of Russian culture I thought I would share with you.
1. As many of you who know me well might have already heard, during my study abroad period in St. Petersburg, I was sourly met with disapproving stares by the women both young and old of Russia. Maybe I, like many other Americas, believed Russia really can't get that hot - after all, when we think of Russia, don't we all equate it to Pluto? A body of mass that is far away, relatively unknown, and bitterly cold? In July of 2006, St. Petersburg experienced a blistering heat wave that broke many records. That same summer, I learned a valuable lesson about Russia's weather when I failed to pack more than one pair of jeans and an unattractive pair of long shorts. Oh, and that myth that Russia is a conservative country was quickly debunked when I found myself standing next to tall, beautiful blonde women in full makeup, heels and sexy jeans with holes down the side. On the subway, when I looked down at my feet to avoid the uncomfortable stares, my worn out tennis shoes reminded me of my clearly non-Russian fashion choice. Ah yes, hind-sight is as crystal clear as my post-LASIK vision.
The concept of why European women are so adamant about wearing evening makeup during the day and stiletto heels in cities that treacherously use cobble stones and metal grates along the ground is explored in Slavenka Drakulic's How We Survived Communism and Even Laughed. During the Soviet Russia, makeup, nylons, hair dye, heels, and anything else (even tampons!) we take for granted today at Nordstrom's and Walgreen's were as rare as free speech. Drakulic dismisses the claim that Westerner's have fabricated this need for material products and accessories in order to make a profit, because in her experience living under communism she found women have an inherent need to feel beautiful and sexy. Her book stipulates that the Soviet Regime was doomed for failure the day it began to deprive women of basic needs and luxuries because this meant it was unable to satisfy 50% of its population. Looking back, most of feminine culture and fashion was developed in the 20th century, so naturally now Russian women are making up for lost time by dressing up more when they dine at McDonald's than I would for an evening at a 4 star restaurant.
Conclusion: On your next trip to Russia, pack lots of makeup, a push up bra and a nice set of heels. Remember ladies: Tennis shoes are for gym use only!
2. Russians rarely order vodka when they drink at a bar. This is yet another interesting bit of Russian culture that I am trying to wrap my mind around. Flash back: St. Petersburg '06- young Erika Erikovna at a popular local bar, Fidel's. "Another half pint of Baltika 8?? Common', guys! We are in Russia, for goodness sake! Where's the vodka??" Two hours later... I realize that the threat of terrorist attacks has led the Russian government to remove all trash cans from the metro stations. Ok, this is what I get for thinking I could understand the mystery of Russian drinking culture. During my private tutoring lesson with Olya, she let me in on a secret her mother shared with her. Russians...tend to only drink vodka with food! This food is known as "Закуски" and include: vinigret, little sandwiches, caviar, pickled spring onions, etc. If done correctly, this foreign sounding food can be extremely delicious, but as I mentioned only if done correctly. Proceed with caution.
Conclusion: The rest of the alcohol-drinking world should remember that Russians drink vodka over dinner or with appetizers. Taking shots at a bar on an empty stomach is a bad idea, no matter how Russian you are feeling!