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French and Russian undergraduate student, trying my hand at the real world.

Friday, 28 December 2012

Full Circle

Hello chaps,

Again, thanks for reading my blog and especially for your comments, I do enjoy reading them. I’m feeling very reflective today as it marks the start of the final week of my time out here. I’ve had a whale of a time, but it’s certainly been the most challenging four months of my life so far.

Peter, I want to thank you for your hospitality, you have been most forthcoming. I shall miss you most terribly, but I think it is time for me to move on and start the next chapter of my life.

So as anyone in Russia reading this will agree, (I can’t speak for anyone in England), it is COLD. I know I’m being a wimpy Southerner when I say this, but I have never been so cold in the entirety of my life. I’ve had a great time falling over in front of people and damaging pieces of masonry as I try to catch myself. There are 3 inches of ice on pretty much all the pavements at the moment, it is incredibly dangerous – especially for me as I am possibly the clumsiest person to walk (or indeed, fall over) on this earth. No word of a lie.

This blog is entitled ‘full circle’ due to what I got up to last Wednesday. Allow me to elaborate. Those of you who know me will know that I am the most prudish, most British person ever when it comes to public modesty. I’m the kind of girl who will go into a shop changing room just to try on a new jacket. Indeed, this blog is probably the most I will reveal about me in any public space.

Well, until last Wednesday perhaps. Ladies and gentlemen, I went to a traditional Russian “banya” or bath house. I know. Those crazy places that we read about in England where we are led to believe that some crazy babushka forces vodka down you while chasing you out wearing nothing but your birthday suit into the snow, beating you with a birch twig, shouting “It’s for your health, you weak-willed devushka, it’s for your health!”

It wasn’t quite that crazy, I assure you. In fact, it was incredible. I spent the rest of the day in a relaxed haze, having spent 2 hours repeatedly heating myself to the point of melting and then immediately cooling myself to the point of freezing. I became Russian for a good 2 hours, forgetting my British prudishness. There was no snow involved, nor were there babushki or vodka – it was a clean, elegant spa. People go there to be social, to relax and to blow away the cobwebs.

I guess I should now describe it, as naturally I have no pictures – the steam would have broken my camera. (Yeah, that’s my excuse).

Step 1: Shower in open but divided cubicles. I’ll point out here that bani are gender segregated.
Step 2: Spend 10 minutes in Turkish bath and try not to explode.
Step 3: When heat of Turkish bath gets too much, plunge into ice cold pool and try not to squeal.
Repeat steps 2 and 3 until you notice the traditional Russian banya and realise you only have 30 minutes left.
Step 4: Shower again in tepid water.
Step 5: Enter banya, (it’s an entirely birch panelled room with a raised section on which there are wooden benches). They are very hot, but it’s a dry heat unlike in the Turkish bath. The smell of birch is so strong you can taste it when it gets too hot to so much as breathe through your mouth (Such frivolity!)
Step 6: Lay out towel and recruit slave/roommate to smack you repeatedly over the back with a birch twig (leaves and all).
Step 7: Douse self in freezing cold water.
Step 8: (optional) Shower with soap so that you smell of flowers instead of birch.
After my two hour session, I emerged looking like a tomato and almost passed out in the shower at the end – but it was one of the best experiences out here.

My banya experience answered a few of my questions about Russians and led me to question my own culture and I came to the conclusion that the English are a people of overthinkers. Russian people frankly don’t give a toss if other people can see their wobbly bits. I’ll point out, they have none – they look after their figures very well over here and I think we English could take a leaf out of their book on this one. English people remain tainted by the Victorian prudishness that was our national code 200 years ago. While the Russians were revolting against the tsar and wearing furs, we were revolting at the sight of other women’s ankles and learning how to spell the word ‘fur’.  And so it continues. We stare aghast at the old woman in the swimming pool changing rooms who stopped caring about how she looked at least 20 years ago, unable to conceive that she might so dare to expose even her knees in such a public space.

Can we possibly get over this as a culture, as Britons? I think it is desirable, but frankly impossible. English people are among the most prudish in the world, after those of Islamic faith and Americans – but even Americans on the whole are far more outspoken than English people. Some may go so far as to say obnoxious but I will reserve judgement on this one, this is not the time or the place.

I can safely say I have gone full circle and completely got over myself, quite frankly. I will no longer be the girl who tries on a coat in a changing room – I’m going to do it on the shop floor, like a sane person.  Come to think of it, I did precisely that yesterday and indulged in a brand new Russian fur coat. I am in love. I figured my English coat and hat just were not cutting it, as my legs froze to the point they were painful as I crossed the Anichkov bridge. It’s Christmas next week, right?!

You can call me ‘Snow Queen’.

Tuesday, 11 December 2012


Hello chaps,

Those of you with whom I keep in touch via facebook will probably already have seen my recent pictures. I've taken upwards of 200 this week! I'm posting this as a bit of a teaser before I share with you some of my highlights. I'm short on time today, but you can expect them on Thursday.

I've been all over the place, including to the Lomonosovskaya Imperial Pottery factory, which we arrived too late to see anything of, but the outside world looked like something from The Day After Tomorrow, so we cashed in.

10 Things I will miss about St Petersburg

Hello chaps,
Apologies for the brief technicheskiy pererive, I’ve had nothing to report of late. My life has consisted of visiting the culinary landmarks of St Petersburg and spending quality time with my friends. I have a made a point however of visiting a new place every time though, so my stomach has certainly had the time of its life in recent weeks. I’ve walked places and I’ve read things. I feel like I’m on holiday, but it’s so much better than that. The only downside I’ve found to my various recent cultural excursions (Peter Paul Fortress and Alexander Nevsky Monastery) is that the current time is out of tourist season, so *everything* is under refurbishment. Nevertheless, I’m living the highlife.
I also experimented with a period of vegetarianism which lasted for 3 weeks – until my turning point this week when I started fantasising about fried chicken and resolving to devour my first ever Karls Junior burger. I swear to god, the UK is missing a trick by not having Karls Junior. I think I’m going to have to go back just so I can take a photo and share with you the deliciousness of their Chilli burger and fries. Absolument incroyable. My vegetarian phase came as the result of having many friends who are vegetarian out here and frankly, being bored of eating meat every day. Russian cuisine is very meat based. I decided to challenge myself – but I knew it was never going to be a permanent lifestyle choice. This is not the time or place to discuss the pros and cons of it, but boy, did I enjoy my chilli burger.
It hit me though that I will have to leave this place in four weeks, which got me thinking. I love Peter dearly, despite our relationship actually being more of a love/hate kind of thing. I love its canals, its bridges and its gardens. It has so many statues and places to visit, I barely feel as though I have scratched the surface of this place. My mother has always told me off for listing things in conversation as it is immensely boring, so just to spite her, I am going to do just that.
Ten Things I will miss about St Petersburg – in no particular order
1)      Lavash (flatbread), shashlik, potato and mushroom fry, mors, hachapuri and Georgian cuisine. Oh my goodness, the food. I’ve eaten like a king for the last few months for not very much money. I will replicate this all at home and when I am in France. I don’t care what you say about French food – save it. You will not come between me and my hachapuri.

2)      Russian Kitsch. They can really do it well over here. Deliberately mismatched crockery in cafes, armchairs, cosy interiors and natty little table decorations in cafes. I’m sorry London, but your attempts are hopelessly feeble. C –

3)      Architecture. Oh Peter, your twisting, gleaming spires and crumbling fasciae just make my heart weep! I could never get tired of the sight of this place. Whenever the terrible weather has started to erode my sanity a little too much, I just have to look up. I’m not talking about religion; I’m talking about the roofs, the windows and the doors. I should write poetry.

4)      Russian language. I will miss speaking Russian on a daily basis. To people who understand anyway. I will continue to speak it. To myself. In public. I will do it to the extent that people look over their shoulders at me and cross the street ‘to avoid that mad woman who is talking to herself even though there is no one else there’. That will be me.

5)      The music shops in Sennaya Ploshad that play their music into the square and fill the whole place with just an amazing ambience.

6)      Nevsky Prospekt. The place is a beehive of activity and you can feel the history beneath your very feet. Newton’s lesser known 23rd Law of motion says that ‘it is impossible to hate St Petersburg when you are stood on Nevsky Prospekt’. Just sayin’.

7)      Anichkov most. My favourite bridge in the whole of the city. I stand there sometimes and consider my life with a Dostoyevskian grin on my face, a Gogolian absurdity in my head and a Tolstoian feeling of pure humanity in my heart. It is seeing the cast iron horses being reined in by men struggling to contain their strength, suspended in time above the Fontanka River that you realise that you are but a tiny part of a much larger machine and actually, the world will not end if you do not get that internship. A bridge of hope and optimism? I think so.

8)     The Neva. The carotid artery of the entire city. I love to walk along the embankment and freeze my face off. No really, I do.

    The people. Oh my goodness, the people. It is in this city that you will make friends with Irina the Cleaner, who has a soulful, philosophical voice and who, on hearing that your name means ‘happiness’, will say “Then you must always bring happiness – to yourself and to others”. It is in this city that you will talk to a shop assistant in the honey shop and explain that you haven’t the foggiest about what you are looking for and they will go out of their way to help you and will wish “good health and much happiness to your family in England”.

1   The arts and culture scene. The Hermitage and the Russian Museum are so much better than any of their English counterparts. I can see the British Museum hiding behind its hands with shame. I spent a lot of time there this summer, but now I wonder if I can go back.

Reverse Culture Shock

Hello chaps,
As some of you will know, I recently returned to England for a short stint in order to blow away a few cobwebs. I’m not sure exactly how to word this one, so forgive my muddled syntax for a moment – it’s like that most of the time anyway, let’s face it! This is going to turn out to be another cultural observation, but I hope that both groups of readers (Russian and English) enjoy learning about the other.

I must say, I had a hearty dose of what is termed “reverse culture shock”, which was a huge surprise. On arriving at the airport in St Petersburg, there were stacks of Brits returning to England, who clearly hadn’t spent as much time as I had in Russia. I do not mean this as an affectation; they were probably just on business for a week or a short holiday – rather than living out here for 3 months. Why do I know this? They smiled at me. Readers, despite being English, I have forgotten how to smile as falsely as a British person! The realisation struck me square between the eyes when they looked all shocked and offended when I didn’t smile back. I’ve talked previously about the cultural differences between Russians and Brits when it comes to smiling, but I’ve definitely gone native on that one.

Frankly, I’ve become rather disillusioned about English people. We have a lot more fakery than the Russians in terms of sentiments. The English smile when meeting someone new for the first time is more often than not completely stage-managed and fake – yet as a culture we come to expect it, so it will hang around for a long time yet. I feel a little saddened by this, but I must accept that English people will not develop the stony expressions of Russians – we’re too British for that. I know also how much it takes for a Russian to adopt the fake smiles of the West, as I discussed with the Russian aunt of my half-Russian flatmate a few months ago.

It also occurs to me that English people are much more easily offended than Russians. I think that a lot of the time, we look for things to get offended about. This is especially the case about things that don’t affect us directly. Furthermore, we have a national fear of offending people, based on this outlook. For example, on the flight returning to St Petersburg, a lady had placed her cabin bag about six inches away from her in the aisle. A fellow Russian woman stepped between the lady and her bag – and neither of them blinked an eyelid, and each carried on with their own business. English people would have found this incredibly rude. Let’s now replay that scenario - but with English people. Had they been English, the lady would still have placed her bag there – but the other woman would not have stepped in the tiny 6 inch gap. The British woman would instead have stood there, passive-aggressively huffing and puffing, attempting to send telepathic messages to the owner of the bag and eyeballing her to ask her (without actually asking her) to move it out of the way. Let us also consider the fact that this would probably have worked – we are very attuned as a culture to other people’s passive-aggressive hints, given that we do them so much ourselves. This can also be interpreted as the fact that Russian people cannot take a passive-aggressive hint – it is just not something they do as a culture.

English people hate making requests or being assertive, as English people see this as very rude and most un-British. A second example: At the baggage carousel at St Petersburg airport. I have already identified my suitcase coming down the carousel, but a man gets there first and tries to get hold of it, thinking it’s his. I pipe up: “Izvinitye, pazhalusta, eta moy chimadan!” (Sorry, please, that is my suitcase). He replies: “Oy – pahozhye” (oh, mine’s the same). If that was England, it would have played out differently. The man grabs the wrong suitcase, the woman sees and either a) eyeballs him and says nothing, hoping he’ll feel her hate vibes and return the suitcase to the carousel, or b) pipes up with “Excuse me sir, I think that’s MY suitcase” and everyone else thinks “What a rude woman, making a fuss like that, I’d better steer clear”. There is the third alternative of course, of no one thinking anything, but is decidedly more awkward, as it will be said with an undeniable element of embarrassment. We must also acknowledge the internal soul-searching of the British woman when deciding whether or not to say anything. She will have considered all of these factors and weighed them all up. It takes a lot for (the majority) of British people to make a fuss about anything. We just don’t do it.

I would like to reiterate my previous point about that fact that Russian women know how to get things done. I present you the example of the woman who was adamant she was going to buy duty free whiskey, whether the plane was coming into land at that very second or not. We were starting the descent, the captain had switched on the seatbelt signs – yet the woman asked the cabin crew staff no fewer than five times to make her transaction – which they only consented to on the fifth occasion, presumably just so she’d stop nagging.
To sum up - you never really appreciate nipping down to Tesco’s until you haven’t been able to for 3 months. 

Saturday, 10 November 2012

To pass the gauntlet over for a second

In the course of my research for my project, I came across this excellent article, which I just had to share with you guys.

Dostoevsky's Dreamlike City - Telegraph

Also, for the benefit of my UK friends and family: I've booked myself a cheeky trip back to the UK for a couple of days at the end of the month! I'm far too excited about this. I think it will benefit my personal relationship with Peter considerably. (Feeling pretty despondent this week and my Erasmus money came through. Plus you can't put a price on sanity).

Resting on my laurels

Hello chaps,

So it's been a while since I wrote an actual blog post, for which I apologise. My recent surge in Russian readership has lead me to rest on my laurels somewhat, so I need to pick myself up.

I've frankly been rushed off my feet in recent days, due to the need for me to do my best tour guide/translator impression for the second time. This involved me negotiating a taxi in Russian from the airport and directing the driver along the streets of St Petersburg - this is not because of her lack of local knowledge, but because of a rather interesting problem - the sign for the hotel to which I was directing her was written only in English!  Being able to read Russian and English, I had not considered this, so it really made me think about the penetration of the Latin alphabet to cater to foreigners - at the expense of the locals. There is potential here for a long cynical essay about the perils of globalisation, but that's for another day.

One of the benefits of actually living in a place, which I think is underestimated in the UK, is the ability to take visitors to the city to locations off the beaten track of touristy and chain restaurants and places to visit. Sure, I went to the Hermitage, The Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood and the Bronze Horseman, as it is true that any visit to St Petersburg is incomplete without visiting these places. However, having lived here for over two months, I was able to show off my favourite cafe, Kafema, where you can get spectacular hot chocolate that you have to eat with a spoon rather than drink. It also provided me with a cast iron excuse to visit my favourite Georgian restaurant, where they speak no English at all, to give my 'guest' a taste of something a little bit different.

I also had an experience which reconfirmed my love for babushkas - on walking past the Nikolsky Sobor, a babushka approached me talking rapidly in Russian. She was unable to zip her bag shut, so I gave her a hand. She was so overwhelmed she started issuing streams of Russian blessings and wringing her hands. Goodness knows, with the proximity to the cathedral, Chekhov would have had something to say about it... This short story is called The Student and is somewhat similar in content. (I'm going to award myself 50 Pretentiousness Points. And a gold star)

Otherwise, my life at the moment consists of research and coffee, which is another reason why I have not blogged much of late. Trying to work out what exactly to do with my life is proving time consuming ...

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

To clarify the cryptic nature of that last post...

I received some comments on some old postings by some Russian people, so I was intrigued as to what encouraged them. As it turns out, someone (user tomila02) found my blog post on Russian Manners and translated it and posted it on a Russian translators' forum. My traffic increased exponentially overnight - and literally overnight. To have received such a positive response from all the readers in Russian translation is incredibly humbling - but they picked me up on one or two oversights, so I just wanted to cover my back a bit in case anyone had got the wrong end of the stick!!

To just establish for a second: Please feel free to take this blog completely to pieces and correct me on EVERYTHING. Frankly, I love it!

Особенно, мне очень нравится когда вы переписываетесь по-русски...  ;)

To my Russian fans ;)

Добрый вечер, читатели из России! Сегодня, я получила много ваших комментов, и прочитала с интересом ваши мнениов на Форум на котором кого-нибудь написал  о моем Бложике.

Пожалуйста, понимаете что этот блог только состояет моего личного мнению и я просто хочу что люди думают, что это интересный а не оскорбительный . Я просто девушка а не знаток!

Понимаете, что каждый день, я откру для себя больше о России - все новый для меня.

И да, тоже, думаю сейчас что это ясно почему я не пишу по-русски...

Good evening, readers in Russia! Today I received a lot of comments and read with interest your opinions posted on the forum where someone linked to and translated my blog.

I just want to say that this blog is based solely on my views of Russia, as a self-confessed slavophile, from the perspective of a young English girl living in the country for a long period for the first time.  I have no life experience.  I do not claim to be an expert, or to be completely informed about everything I make a comment about. Everything I experience in Russia is new to me, I have only studied Russian and Russia for two years, so I frankly know nothing.

I welcome your comments and views, but please don't take anything I get wrong as offensive. I'm just completely ignorant!!

I hope you will find it interesting to read about my views on your country, as a foreigner living in it - and I want to thank you for even taking the time to click on this thing.

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Russian Music

So a twitter conversation with a couple of old school chaps made me want to pop a little thing your way. It occurs to me that there is a LOT of English language music that has penetrated the continent - but not, it would seem, Russia. Our local stolovaya plays music channels (standard practise) which function in the same way as a lot of the English ones do (or did). Except one key difference, they only play Russian pop music.

I actually really like Russian rap music. Or rather, this guy right here. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sI2mPPjviBE . The song is called "Look into my Eyes" and is all about how he is a working class hero adn a self made man. basically. His name is St1m - pronounced like "steam" - but I would consider him to be the Russian Eminem. I've also found his music great for learning Russian pronunciation - particularly which vowel to put emphasis on. Russians only pronounce one vowel and there are no rules behind it, which makes it a nightmare for English speakers, who pronounce every vowel as it is written. It's a blog post in itself, but basically I think there is a reason it is known as the "stress" of a word!

Russian pop music is a genre of its own. A lot of it sounds exactly the same, but I am going to present to you a few gems of the industry which have actually stood out. I say all this, I mention the gems of Russian music, when actually the intention behind this post was to bemoan the fact that all the stuff out at the moment sounds exactly the same! This is arguably why I cannot find a current video to show you - the songs I've included in this blog are all from 2002/2009/2011 and as I say, stood out for me.

As is probably to be expected with Russia, they have their women who are a bit like Shakira to us English lot: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q4XrvbaiHpg (Vera Brezhneva, who is actually Ukrainian). This song is called "Love Saves the World" and I confess to actually rather liking it -it's a great summer song. I think every woman has a secret inner Vera Brezhneva that she is dying to unleash. As anti-feminist as that sounds - but let's not go into that right now. Vera Brezhneva is an immensely successful singer over here and it's not hard to see why.

The thing is though that the women are often completely oversexualised and more so than in the West, and yet we complain about Rihanna in the UK as being a bad role model - we frankly ain't seen nothin' yet! Maybe this next video is just a particularly bad example of inappropriate female roles and the Russian alpha-male. I warn you, you will be shocked, those girls are sure to catch their deaths of cold - but I just think the tractor full of dollar bills and the accordion solo are rather amusing in an "OH, RUSSIA" kind of way. I suspect this video is meant in a satirical context, as per that of the song, but it's still pretty shocking. I apologise in advance: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0r5NIF5d7A0&feature=related . This song is by a rapper who reminds me somewhat of Pitbull/Fat Joe, Potap, and features a famous Ukrainian singer called Nastya Kamenskikh. The song is called "Not a Couple" and is about how the media keeps portraying them as a couple, which they're not, they're friends. The lyrics mention Chuck Norris too in a banterous way, which I must say I appreciate. Just maybe just listen to the song, the video is... yeah. The Georgians (referring to the time period here, not the inhabitants of the country of Georgia - we must be clear on this one!) would have had to have got the smelling salts out...  Potap and Nastya Kamenskikh are actually very popular, which I presume is in part for the satirical nature of their music. This video here is another example: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wzz-7BzZlRI&feature=related . "Don't love me for my Brains" - pretty sure this is meant in jest too!

 As it happens, I actually like Nastya Kamenskikh when she performs solo material too. I can actually understand this song: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bx280IwxbBw&feature=related and it's pretty clever. It's about Red Riding Hood and her life as a fairytale character and how people expect her to act a certain way. "You think my life is so easy and excellent" "How many roles am I supposed to play? " "I want a Prince at the end of this, not a grandmother and pies!"

And then there is this one, which was released by the group Steklovata has been parodied by groups in at least 2 Eastern European countries: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xWa9sJzgM4A . It is possibly the most hysterical thing I've ever seen associated with Russia on the internet (and as any viewer of RudeTube on E4 will agree, there is a LOT). They're singing about the New Year (Novi God) and just well...


St Petersburg: A seasonal timelapse

I am by nature exceptionally curious, especially when it comes to observing how the passage of time affects a place. I particularly love watching how things change with the seasons. Russia is a country where you can experience all four in one day, so allows me to indulge in this rather pretentious passion of mine.

 This is the view from my window, each taken around a month apart. 

Taken 07/09/12

Taken 6/10/12

Taken 31/10/12

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

I can tell you one thing, chaps

So today it really hit me. Square between the eyes as I stood in the middle of the Haymarket.

I LIVE in St Petersburg. It's taken a while. I've replaced my shower gel twice (my friend's definition of 'living'  somewhere is when you have to replace your shower gel/shampoo - a good analogy). I've had a routine for several weeks now, so it wasn't at the very second that this routine was established that I realised it.

I will tell you the second thing - it is going to be a painful wrench to leave this place. There are so many things I am going to miss, that is for sure. I'm past the halfway point now and I have my reading week next week, but after then I shall have only 6 weeks left in this city. Reverse culture shock will be much worse than the actual culture shock, that is for sure.

Friday, 26 October 2012

In answer to an oft-posed question...

"You don't know what it's like! You – neither of you – you've never had to face him, have you? You think it's just memorizing a bunch of spells and throwing them at him, like you're in class or something?"
Harry Potter on fighting Lord Voldemort in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. (Rowling, JK, Bloomsbury publishing, 2003)

This what I would equate to speaking Russian. It is like no other language that I have ever experienced. People ask me what it is like to speak Russian as I do not think we get nearly enough exposure to it in England, presumably as a result of their political situation over the years. (Let's not go into that just now).

For those to whom Russian is unfamiliar, I am going to give you a brief insight to why I have such a love/hate relationship with it. 

We will ignore the issue of there being a different alphabet for now. Let us not run before we can walk. We must remember that Russian is NOT English but in Cyrillic. If you're surrounded by English but in Cyrillic, you're probably looking at an advert.

Firstly, in Russian, you have to know exactly what you are talking about and how each word fits into the sentence. You cannot just memorise a load of words and bandy them around as we do rather shamelessly in English.

Who does what to whom? Where do they do it? How do they do it? When did they do it? For those of you familiar with Latin and German, you will understand what I mean by the 'case' system. For those of you unfamiliar, it is the answer to each of those questions. In English, we would use prepositions (on/under/to/across/up etc) and word order to convey the meaning of the sentence. You'd add a verb to state when and what was done. You'd maybe add an adjective but those are just mere frivolities. (I jest)

For example. (I should credit the Russian textbook from which I learned this in my first year of University - Brian Kemple's Essential Russian Grammar. Fantastically simple text, I owe that man a lot):
Peter throws the ball to Paul. Fine. The order of the words states that Paul is the recipient of the ball, which is thrown to him by Peter. The preposition states that Paul is the indirect object, whereas the ball is the object - in this case, the object being thrown. Peter is the subject, as he is the one doing the action.

In Russian, there would be no preposition.
Transliterated into Russian, the sentence would be "Pyotr brosaet myach Pavlu".

Got that? Good. 

In Russian, there are six cases.

The Nominative - the name of something, refers to the subject of a sentence (in the above context, Peter)

The Accusative - the direct object (in the above context, the ball)

The Genitive - refers to possession, quantity and seemingly miscellaneous other things. My Russian friend lives by the motto of "When in doubt, use the Genitive case". Wise words.

The Dative - refers to the indirect object, the person to whom something is done. In the above context, this is Paul.

The Instrumental - refers to the way in which things are carried out, usually accompanies the word with. ie. "How do you eat soup? With a spoon"

The Prepositional - refers to the place in which things happen. For example, we can expand the above sentence to say "In the park..." In Russian this would be in the prepositional case. As the name would suggest, this verb can only be used with a preposition.

A point of interest for you all: There were seven cases originally, the seventh being the Vocative case, which was used solely for addressing God. These days, it exists only in the phrase "Bozhe moy!" which is rather ironic, as it means "Oh my God!".

Rather like German, Russian has 3 genders - Masculine, Feminine, Neuter and then plural. Each of these genders declines differently when used in each of these cases and there are different rules which apply to each - so it means quite a bit of learning by rote to get them firmly lodged into your head.

Russian has quite a simple tense system - especially compared with English and French. There are 3 tenses, past, present and future. The trickiness comes in when you learn that each verb is one of a pair and the verbs within it are not interchangeable. In the pair, one verb will be the imperfective variant and the other will be the perfective variant. Imperfective refers to an incomplete action and is therefore used in the present tense, or the incomplete past of an action. Perfective refers to a complete action and is used in the future tense or refers to a completed past action. The concept is not complicated - but it means you have twice as much to remember when speaking!

Russian is therefore a very precise language with very subtle nuances. Where we would have a different verb to express each the following, Russians would use a prefix on one verb.
To note down, to take note from, to subscribe to, to sign, to correspond with, to write up to a certain point, to rewrite. The logic is arguably simple - all of these verbs involve writing, so a prefix is enough to change the meaning (in Russian logic anyway). To an English person though, all of this seems rather pedantic and frustrating - especially when faced with a long list of words that all look EXACTLY THE SAME.

This pedantry has its worst manifestation in the system of verbs of motion. Russian students the world over are all now cringing as I mention the 3 dreaded words. There are 14 pairs of verbs of motion. The rules of perfective/imperfective only apply when the verb is prefixed, otherwise each part of the pair refers to a multidirectional or unidirectional motion. There is actually a Soviet joke about this which is essentially a one liner. "Ivan shol v magazin". John went to the shop (and in the nuanced meaning: and didn't come back - ie he was arrested). It's more funny if you get the full context of it, but an analysis of the Russian national humour is for another day and another post! Each of these verbs has any number of prefixes which again change the nuance of the verb as well as the tense. It's taken me the best part of 2 years to actually get my head around verbs of motion, they are a complete mind-frier! Put simply, Russian people never 'go' anywhere!

Oh, and a final note about the alphabet as I know that for most people it is the biggest obstacle when starting off. There are two Russian alphabets, just to put you off even further, printed and cursive. It took me a week to properly get to grips with printed and a little longer to get used to cursive. I will confess my own Russian cursive still mixes some elements of printed with the letter "zh" in particular, but no one's told me off for it yet!

In spite of all this, I feel immensely cool when I can speak correct Russian to a Russian person and they can a) understand me, and b) come up with an appropriate response that c) I can understand. Still working on that impeccable St Petersburg accent though ;) I picked Russian up when I started University 2 years ago so have a long way to go yet, but it's a work in progress. 

I'm in the Winter of my Life

The first snow arrived today, which can only mean one thing - NO MORE MOSQUITOES. Though I say that, I bet I'll now get bitten by some super mosquito with huge jaws that will come to me at night as I sleep, like a Spiderman villain. Well, that's my insomnia for the week established...

I warn you this is going to be a self indulgent post from here on, but hopefully it'll be an insight. I feel somehow compelled to write about it in a 21st Century "iGeneration" narcissistic kind of way, so I hope you will allow me this. A lot of you reading this may not have had the experience of a year abroad, yet an equal proportion may be considering taking one. I want to talk about my experiences in this post. I apologise if this is self centred, but I think a year abroad is actually a rather selfish thing to do - and a very good one at that. Who says it's bad to be selfish?! I am sure I speak for a lot of people in this post - the contributors to thirdyearabroad.com would substantiate this claim.

By all means go and make a cup of tea and put the telly on until I've finished, I won't be a minute.

I've been doing lots of thinking lately about how much this year abroad has helped me develop. I think I have grown exponentially as a person. I've found a confidence and inner peace I didn't know I could achieve and I am sure it is due to my being in St Petersburg, rather than the fact I am 21 in 3 months.
(Actually, what is WITH that?! I'll be OLD)

If the truth be told, I'm feeling my age a bit these days.

There is a fantastic word in Russian which means "young lady" - devushka - which I think sums up where I am in my life right now. I am not a child, I am not a zhenshina (mature woman), I am a devushka. I feel like the world is my oyster now that I have come this far and still have a long way to go - I still know nothing about the world, really, but I have more of a clue than I did before. But I can look back now and safely say that gone are the days of the shy girl who hadn't quite waved goodbye to her teenage years and was unsure how to conduct herself as a 20 year old woman. I was 20, for sure, but I didn't know how to act it. Mother Russia has taught me this much. She has taught me that I actually look and feel better with a bit of war paint on in the morning and that effort is always worth it. I have learned bravery and courage from her in the face of emotional turmoil.

I have discovered that a scarf is enough to change any outfit from drab to interesting and am hoping to pass "Scarf wearing for Anglichanki - Beginners" with flying colours before I leave (I have 2 very stylish Russian teachers, they put my scruffy student garb to shame).

I have made a life for myself in a foreign country, with a culture that is incredibly alien to that in which I was brought up. I have routine, a social circle, a local supermarket and personal favourite spots in the city. I make weekend plans. I have embraced my circumstances and grabbed the bull by the horns. I've become a regular at the local Stolovaya, where the staff and I are pretty much on first name terms and they know my daily preferred lunch order (mushroom soup and a samosa, pozhalusta). I've learned a sense of propriety - when to keep my mouth shut and when to open it. I've learned that outward appearances are no reflection of a person's inward self - remember the post about smiling? Yeah, that. I have developed a sense of responsibility - to myself and to others. I have learned values of respect - for myself and for others, culturally and personally. Most importantly, I have learned the value of all relationships - familial, social, personal and cultural.

I strongly believe that I will return from this first part of my year abroad a changed person - and a person changed for the better at that. If these first 9 weeks of my year are anything to go by, this will be one of the best years of my life, as well as one of the most challenging. I am looking forward to the rest of what it has to throw at me - I've been practising my catching skills ;)
(To my old school friends: Yes I know, SERIOUS practise needed right there!)

Again apologies for my self indulgence right there, but hey, it's a Friday!

In other news, I have become completely obsessed with Georgian food and flatbread. SOMEONE in England, please start making it as freshly and deliciously as the Russians! OH MY GOODNESS. Actually, all of English bread is of inferior quality to Russian/Azerbaijani/Georgian. I shall have to start making my own.

Thursday, 25 October 2012

Где холодильник?

This week, my homework for grammar consisted of:

Вопрос: Где холодильник?

Ответ: Я повез его на ремонт

(Where is the fridge? I have taken it to be fixed).

I think this is wrong.

It should be:

Вопрос: Где холодильник?

Ответ: Холодильник здесь.. Hа самом деле я сижу в холодильнике. Он называется Санкт-Петербург.
(Where is the fridge? The fridge is is here. In fact, I am sitting in the fridge. It is called St Petersburg).

We are expecting snow soon. The first snows have already hit Petrozavodsk and Yaroslavl, neither of which is far from here. I am wearing a hat and scarf indoors and slept last night in said hat and my largest wool cardigan. I was still cold. I have resorted to holding onto the bottom of my porridge bowl in the morning after I have finished it in order to make use of the residual heat.

It is downhill from here.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012


Hello chaps,
Today will be a short, more lowbrow post as my philosophical phase has ended for now. I hear a collective sigh of relief.

So I went to what was advertised as a Flamenco show last night - a nice little something different.

I've noticed though in my 2 months of living here that a lot of Russian people have weird taste. It seems they start off doing something that would otherwise be really classy - then finish it off with something that leaves you shaking your head in mild despair at the tackiness of it all.  I present you this as case and proof. http://www.sadanduseless.com/2011/02/awfully-photoshopped-russian-wedding-pictures/

This evening was no exception.

I will spare you the boring bits, but basically I was left sniggering into my scarf at one choice moment when an overweight middle-aged Russian woman dressed as a Flamenco dancer (granted, she was very good), was whirling away in front of a low budget powerpoint presentation that comprised solely of pictures of oranges. Said powerpoint failed on a number of occasions during the evening.

One of the younger dancers kept crashing into the grand piano as they failed to keep formation in the final dance.

Oh Russia, you and your stagecraft!

(On a nerdy note though, it took place near the Finlandsky Vokzal, which is where Lenin made his speech in advance of the October Revolution. This excited me immensely)

Saturday, 20 October 2012

Petersburg is Russia for Wimps

It's true. The centre of St Petersburg is the least Russian place in Russia - it is a truth universally accepted. Hearing stories from a classmate who is studying in Yaroslavl has made me especially aware of this. I'm going to tell you today about my interpretations of what is 'Russian' and my experiences of the strange phenomenon that is Slavophilia.

I warn you this is the most pretentious post so far, but hey, why not.

We took a brief jaunt today to the market at Udelnaya - which is a way north of Petersburg and is considerably more 'Russian' than the Italian-designed centre. There is a reason I am attaching no photos to this post, it would have been too risky to take them at the market. The market is divided into two sections and you have to know about the 'illegitimate' part in order to find it. It is situated in the middle of a swamp and specialises in Soviet kitsch, stolen goods and babushki selling their deceased husbands' possessions. In the more legitimate looking part of the market, there are some good furs and leather goods which would be perfect for seeing out the worst of the Petersburg winter. In the illegitimate section, products were laid out on tarps on the muddy ground of the swamp, attended by decrepit babsuhki and men that smelled of beer. It was a perfectly Russian sight, a strangely beautiful scene of a culture that never fails to surprise me, but by which I am no longer shocked. Oh and there were a couple of traders who were selling AK47s, hunting knives and grenades and a hell of a lot of ammunition. Typichniy.

I want to now go on to what I mean by 'Russian', having said that St Petersburg is the least 'Russian' place in Russia. 'Russian' to me means places that reek of diesel, tar and tobacco fumes, delapidation, heavy metal, men with gold teeth and faces wrinkled by years of smoking and alcohol abuse. 'Russian' is babushki in headscarves selling bunches of flowers and vegetables from their Dachi on pavements that are uneven and full of holes. 'Russian' is huge downpipes that you could fit a cat up without much trouble and that are so big that the force of water cleans the pavement when it rains, contrasted with blazing sunshine at 4pm when in England it would otherwise be beginning to cool down. Russia is Kazan, where the heavy metal trams make all the surrounding buildings shake. It is the booming resonance of thunder off the metal-walled balconies of the blocks of flats. Russia is Red Square. Russia is the Transfiguration Church at Kizhi. (google it, it's incredible). Russia is Azerbaijani families setting up their own family businesses in the local Stoloviye, selling spectacular plov for £1.60 for a plateful, who smile at you and shake your hand when you visit them every day for lunch.

I have succumbed to Slavophilia.

I can understand why Russian emigrants in the Soviet era, on returning to Russia would kiss the ground and mutter "Rodina! Rodina!" (motherland). There is no tangible explanation for this, but it is a feeling that rises up from the ground and is echoed by all the buildings. I don't think any other country can evoke such feelings of love, even from non-Russians. Every time I walk down Nevsky Prospekt, the voice of my Russian translation teacher from second year echoes in Russian in my head. Russia draws you in, it is a fascinating country of incredible personal struggle. Chekhov describes these spectacularly in many of his short prose works circa 1880-1890 when he underwent a Tolstoyan phase of romanticising the lives of the peasants in the villages. For these people, Russia was a country of despair and anguish, personally, professionally and religiously. The scars of the Soviet period are still visible in the buildings, which are in a state of disrepair. Soviet Russia remains the elephant parading down Nevsky Prospekt as one tries to imagine how the street must have looked during this time. Grey is the only answer I can volunteer to respond to this.

My teachers at Uni here though have shared some of their stories of Soviet middle school - they are the generation that has lived in two different cities without having to leave their homes. We've been watching films in Russian (without the subtitles) which has been really great for our language and very eye-opening for us as a cultural narrative as all of them so far have been set during the Soviet period.. "Vostok Zapad" or "East West" was a particularly moving one - Russian film is nothing short of spectacular.

For many, strange though it may seem to Westerners amid the context of Soviet repression, Russia is a country of hope. The hope of a better life draws many people from Central Asian countries including Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. Many of the market traders in Sennaya Ploshad originate from these countries, presumably because they are former Soviet republics, so Russian is spoken as either the first or second language and the Russian economy is better established than that of their home nations. Russia therefore provides the chance of personal economic growth as well as having no language barrier. The level of poverty amongst such people is heartbreaking, but I feel that this only scratches the surface - these are the people that have got out.

Friday, 19 October 2012

Petersburg for Dummies ;)

Hello chaps,

It occurred to me the other day that some of you who read this will be future year abroaders in St Petersburg. I know at this stage in my second year I was starting to think about it, so I thought I would provide some information about what it's like around here. I had no idea what to expect when I came out so I thought I'd pop a little something up here.

I chose not to stay in a homestay as I didn't like it too much in Kazan - I had to sleep on a sofa bed in the same room as her 23 year old son, who slept on an armchair. I felt like I was invading in their personal space for the whole month I was there, and while it was good for my Russian, I had no idea how to conduct myself. Does one act like a guest? Is one a member of the family? To this day I still don't know, so I chose to live elsewhere. But those who do live in homestay accommodation here assure me that their hosts are very nice and certainly very different from the Kazan ones!

I'm staying in hostel accommodation provided by RLUS and the Benedict School at which I am studying. It's really not bad, we arrived with really low expectations so were quite pleasantly surprised. It's cleaned every day, pretty religiously. There is a kitchen with pots and pans, but you may wish to provide your own bowl and mug (I bought one here for 60 roubles) and each room has its own fridge and a sink. There are also two water coolers on each floor which also provide hot water on tap so gratuitous amounts of tea can be drunk without even having to wait for a kettle!

DO NOT DRINK FROM THE TAP, or you will get pregnant AND DIE. No, not really, I'm just having a Mean Girls moment. But it will make you pretty sick. And you will hate everything.

The place costs £10 a night and is definitely the cheapest hostel we've found that is nice and convenient. There is one toilet and shower per floor for each gender, which is actually really clean and I've never had to wait for long for it, if at all. There is no wifi though, which is annoying - I mean, I can live without looking at cat pictures online, but you will want to email your parents to let them know about any shakedowns that may or may not have taken place. (Hi mum).

The hostel is situated above a pizza restaurant which does spectacular tagliatelle bolognese.

You know you've hit a low point in life when pasta becomes a treat.

Moving on.

The classes are actually very useful and are streamed according to ability. All the teachers speak English but won't - perfect for your Russian. I personally get a lot from the classes and I've nearly filled one whole pukka pad already! Don't forget to pack them when you come out - and folders too, as you'll be given stacks of worksheets.

There is a stolovaya not far from the school which does awesome samosas and the staff there are ever so friendly - it's a family run place, which therefore makes it cute.

My advice for you packing-wise, if like me you've never lived abroad for this length of time before, would be to pack two weeks' worth of clothes, put them in compression bags as I mentioned in an earlier post and then find a launderette (the word in Russian is "Prachechnaya"). The best we've found is on Sadovaya ulitsa, between Sennaya ploshad and Nevsky prospekt on the right hand side of the road in the direction of Nevsky. It's in a typical unassuming courtyard and is surrounded by tacky wedding shops - it's ever so cheap and the babushki who work there are ever so nice and will even fold your pants for you. Lovely stuff.

And bring one pair of good black boots - I've not needed to wear my other shoes! Being a girl I packed 3 pairs (travelling light, you understand). Winter clothing is best purchased here as they take up space in your baggage and you won't need them straight away, but I brought a good coat with me which has so far been fine. Unless you will be out and about lots, which depends on what you're like as a person, don't bother with thermals - you won't need them on school days as all the buildings turn into saunas when it gets cold. The heating is centrally controlled and I think they must leave it on maximum. Good outerwear will do the trick, you'll be taking it off before you've even crossed the threshold.

There are two shopping malls which have European shops (including TopShop) down the bottom end of Nevsky, which are perfect for all your split pyjama bottoms requirements. On that note, bring a mini sewing kit, mine has literally saved my life. Well, as far as babushki and pyjama bottoms are concerned anyway.

I'm writing this at 1am, so I'll add more when I'm a little less addled in the brain...

Thursday, 18 October 2012


Peter, you are beautiful in Autumn! This post does not need any words, the colours put things more eloquently than I could ever hope to.

Mikhailovsky Gardens

Summer Gardens

Summer Gardens

Oh look, our old friend Krilov!

The pergola at the Summer Gardens

A cheeky leaf crown!
My friend and I found this on a bench in the Summer Garden. Someone had made it, had fun with it and left it behind for someone else to enjoy. Each of the stems was entwined most intricately, it was a true work of art. We left it on the bench after striking a few poses with it for someone to enjoy as we had. The next thing we knew, a tiny little girl and her mother had found it and were taking pictures. It was so beautiful to watch, a key part of the Russian childhood that the little lady involved will remember in years to come. 

Hey, I enjoyed wearing the crown myself - I'm just a big kid really!

(apologies for the formatting of that last paragraph, I can't seem to fix it)

Bare shutki (jokes)

I have a Russian joke for you.

A man walks into the theatre and says to the cashier, "I would like two tickets for the ballet please"

The cashier says, "For Romeo and Juliet?"

The customer says, "No for me and my wife".

Sunday, 14 October 2012

This is the part where I get all Oscar-winner like

I'd like to thank the academy *sob*...

Seriously though, I just want to thank each of you for taking the time to even click on this thing. When I started it, I thought maybe one or two people would read it once or twice out of politeness, but I've just hit 2000 views - so thank you all so much!

So thank you  - please do send me feedback! If something is really terribly written, do say, I'm no Chekhov!

Friday, 12 October 2012

My new hobby

Forward, comrades!

Yeah, this place is getting to me... ;)

So my new hobby these days, as I'm sure is shared by many other speakers of other languages, is responding politely and correctly to people in their language after they have said something offensive.

Example from this week:
"Excuse me, do you guys have a lighter?"


"(to 3rd person) Oh, they're foreign, they didn't understand. Honestly, this place is full of foreigners, it's so annoying"

"Oh hi, sorry, I may be foreign but I do speak your language. And I just understood everything you said".

*awkward pause followed by stony expression*

My oh my, comrades. I do believe after twenty years I have finally discovered the moral high ground. 
It's pretty perky up here, actually.

Now that the mushroom season is over, I have to write about something else

Evening all,

As per the title, I can no longer write about mushrooms, so here is a filler post to console you all. I sincerely hope you all read this with the same dry tone as I use in my head, or I am going to look hella stupid. I guess those of you who actually know me will - that's what I intend anyway. 


I pride myself in being the most determinedly pretentious person ever and I believe I outdid even myself this week by sitting in an indie cafe for four hours sipping a double cappuccino writing in my much beloved moleskine notebook. As such, I planned out a few upcoming titles for you all to peruse (or not) at your leisure which will certainly provide more than adequate procrastination material this week. I say procrastination, I have nothing to procrastinate at the moment, except maybe growing up and acting like a responsible adult. 

Hey, I'm not 21 quite yet...

As I sat and made pictures out of the sugar on my table in an artsy, humanities student fashion, I posed myself the question: What is the true symbol of St Petersburg, if it had to be summarised in one object?

People may think of the Bronze Horseman, built in 1782 with the sole intention of winding up the Swedes as much as possible. I disagree, poetic muse though it may be. Pretty sure Pushkin hates me for saying this, I fear he shall now set his birds on me.

In all honesty, I think the true symbol of St Petersburg, in September and October anyway, is the humble umbrella. Hear me out on this one. The weather here is as changeable as the rules in this place - by the day, with the occasional "Sanitary Day" and "Technicheskiy Pererive".
Umbrellas here are completely different from London. They are a complete array of patterns, from autumnal print, cat emblazoned (complete with rhinestones), New York print, kaleidoscope patterned, Japanese style and most commonly (and my own, personal favourite) broken.  The average Londoner has a black foldable number which fits in their briefcase, or better still, uses said briefcase as an umbrella. My favourite variation on this theme was on Tottenham Court road on a rainy day last year where I saw some rather bedraggled gentleman attempting to use his iPad as some kind of ersatz umbrella. I'm yet to work out whether he looked bedraggled before using the iPad or afterwards and whether or not the iPad survived this abusive escapade.

Umbrellas in St Petersburg can arguably be interpreted as a means of outward self-expression, in some cases. There is a culture of chivalry in Russian society and often an otherwise macho looking man will be seen carrying a bright pink/flowery/lace trimmed umbrella, that one can assume belongs to the rather delicate looking girlfriend attached to his arm. Women, otherwise plainly dressed in an ankle length winter jacket, heeled ankle boots and a below-the-knee skirt, are made much more colourful by their choice of umbrella, which often is covered in an array of kaleidoscopic colours. One also sees artsy students with DLSR cameras around their necks sporting a Japanese style frame in all black with a lace trim, gothic lolita style. I was even privy to a blond malchik (little boy) with his umbrella on a strap across his back, Legolas style. Bless the little chap.

Of course, one sees the functional black number sported by the average Londoner, but I wonder if the weather in Petersburg is such that it is felt by more of the general population that one's umbrella should be a point of marvel, rather than simply a means of preserving one's freshly GHD'd hair. 

Personally, I want a multicoloured one - as per Singing in The Rain.

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Warmth in Russia

I have been asked frequently of late just how to keep warm in the Motherland so I thought I would share with y'all some tips.

Firstly, it is not that cold (yet).

Secondly, eat lots of porridge and soup. Not hard to do here. Consume both in bed, wearing an oversized jumper.

Thirdly, find a nice man (mine is English) who will buy you leather gloves that are lined with cashmere from Peter Jones.

Oh and did I tell you about my hat?


A few more things

Hello chaps,
So today I went to a mushroom festival. I’m not even kidding. There were giant inflatable mushrooms and everything.

 You could buy all sorts of things, like babushka-made woollies (where the babushka matched the things she was selling. She was a great advert for it!)

 You could also buy such tasteful items as a chopping board with Putin on it. Or with cats on it if you preferred. Russians love cats, almost as much as they love mushrooms.

As well as a camel, which actually seemed very happy to there.
I have discovered that mushroom soup tastes best when simmered in a giant cooking pot over hot coals. Perfect. I can’t even articulate how delicious it was, if a little under seasoned. Also, appearance is no reflection of taste when it comes to Russian food. Russian soup is largely water, oil and big pieces of vegetables and the occasional oat, which I’m told looks unappetising but I’ve never really been the biggest judge of such matters.

I’ve also discovered where to get the best hot chocolate in St Petersburg. I wish I could tell you it’s in some indie alternative coffee house – you wouldn’t have heard about it, it’s pretty underground. Alas, I am not pretentious enough to carry this one off – it’s in a chain of coffee shops called “Shokoladnitsa”. It’s basically hot melted chocolate syrup that is incredibly rich, with which they give you a glass of water to wash it down. I like mine with whipped cream. Annoyingly enough, for you lot at least, I’ve not yet got around to getting a snap of it as every time I’ve had one, the desire to just get stuck in has been too much. This just means I’ll have to go back and have another.

Quelle dommage.

It occurs to me that I haven’t mentioned the latest episode involving babushki (plural of babushka). This was a particularly good one. On having lunch of cheese soup and blini, my attention was drawn to a group of about 7 20-30 year old guys wearing biker jackets involved in a scuffle outside of the window. There are a lot of market traders from Central Asia around Sennaya Ploshad – so from Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan and I think Georgia and the Caucasus. (On a side note, if anyone fancied taking me there, I would absolutely LOVE to go - especially to the Caucasus. Maybe when fewer Westerners are getting kidnapped…) I almost began to feel a little uncomfortable, the sight of grown men being in any way violent brings out the shrinking violet in me and I tend to want to make myself as scarce as possible. That was until I saw the babushka, whom it emerged was being pulled off one of the guys by one of his companions. It was as if it were a pub fight scene in Eastenders and someone somewhere was saying “leeeave it aaaat” (say it in your best cockney accent). I was therefore mildly amused by the sight of one babushka, who was about half the height of all the men, taking on all seven or so of them single-handedly. She slapped one of the men square across the face, which really surprised me and proceeded to chase them all away. A few of them returned, looking rather sheepish, tails between their legs. The babushka then returned to her workplace, incidentally being the café in which I was eating my lunch, as if nothing had happened.

Babushka 1 – Young men 0.

I’ve also found a rather nice jazz bar. I know, cultured these days, me. This provided welcome Western relief to the end of a rather tough week. It is called Dom 7 (house 7) and looks onto the Church of the Saviour on Spilled Blood. It has live acoustic jazz on a Friday night and sells blini, even at 11 pm.

I would like to thank Jason Mraz for having got me through this week. The instrumental at the end of “Who’s thinking about you now?” has saved my sanity. I would strongly recommend his album “Love is a Four Letter Word” to anyone feeling homesick in Russia, or anyone whose ears are in need of the sonic equivalent of caramel. 

A short update

Hello chaps,
I have not updated you all in a while about what I’ve been up to, which is very bad form, I know. The truth is that I’ve been ever so busy. My folks have been in town so I’ve been doing my best interpreter impression, as well as acting as tour guide and holiday rep.

I have to say, interpreting is immense fun, I really do enjoy it, but I think I’ve got a long way to go before the UN Translation service come knocking on my door! It’s been great for my Russian though, having negotiated a pharmacy, the hotel’s theatre box office and river boat tour booking office – plus taxi drivers and countless restaurants. My biggest test came when I had to interpret a Russian language boat tour for an hour and a half as all the English language ones are now out of season. Interpreting is tough because you have to understand the Russian, translate it in your head and speak idiomatically in English – while still being provided with new information all of the time. No wonder the UN team work in 20 minute shifts. I have always had immense respect for them and it has definitely been rehashed following on from this.

I previously posted about how rude some people are about my Russian. I can happily say that this has now reduced as I have become very stubborn and will refuse to speak English to anyone Russian. Indeed, people have been remarkably receptive to my attempts at pidgin Russian this week, especially the concierge assistant in my folks’ hotel – whom it later transpired spoke perfect English. I appreciate this immensely and it has certainly improved my view on Russian people, whose manners as a culture are often a bit of a shock to the system sometimes.

Manners cost nothing, let’s just leave it at that for now. If this was twitter, my hashtag here would be #moralhighground .

I am somewhat loathe to list everything I’ve been up to on this blog, as it is usually very mundane, but this week has been particularly cultural, so I suppose I’ll list a few highlights.

On Friday I went to watch the bridges being raised at 1am – which is a magical sight. I ended up absolutely sodden back at my hostel at 3am as the heavens decided to open when we were walking back, but it was certainly worth it. Anyone who comes to Peter must see the bridges – it’s a condition of your visa being granted. (Not really).

 I went to see The Cherry Orchard performed in Russian on Saturday, which was fantastic. I understood the language, which came as a nice surprise. I am a huge fan of Chekhov, having studied a large number of his works in my second year of university. I find his works exceptionally cleansing to read, even if they are often rather bleak in subject nature.

I went to see Sleeping Beauty on Sunday at the Rimsky-Korsakov conservatoire, which was performed by the students there. I really was pleasantly surprised by the standard of the overall performance, having previously been rather unimpressed by the ballets I’ve seen in Russia. Granted they were in Kazan, but to have a ballet without an orchestra is like a cat with three legs! There was an orchestra this time around and the conductor looked only about my age, which was another surprise. It was an exceptionally mature performance, especially by the musicians. Tchaikovsky is my favourite Russian composer and his music for Sleeping Beauty is certainly one of his best scores, however I do think it requires a degree of musical maturity in order to properly expose its subtle charm.

 The whole performance was made about sixteen times more hilarious by the poor American woman on my row, who was completely convinced we were in the Marinsky watching Swan Lake. She asked my mother where all the swans were. I reserve comment on this.

I also visited the Hermitage and the Russian State Museum, both of which are places that one should be legally compelled to visit on entering St Petersburg. I won’t bother describing them, as frankly they’re much better seen in person and I would have to write “spoiler alert” all over this post. (Another picture stolen from room mate - this one is the Hermitage)

I’ve also discovered the best borsch in Russia and realised that if you mispronounce “bottle” in “bottle of water”, you end up with a pint of beer. If I liked beer, this would definitely count as a win. Actually, saying that, Baltika Seven beer is actually drinkable and this is coming from someone who normally doesn’t touch the stuff.

My year and a half long craving for shashlik has also been successfully quelled – I’ve not had one since leaving Kazan last year and I’ve been dying for one. Delicious.

No one does shashlik quite like the Russians.

My week was marred somewhat by the fact I got bitten on the eyelid by a mosquito for the second time this month. The whole thing swelled up to the extent that I couldn’t see out of it for two days, which is made more ridiculous by the fact I doused myself if DEET on the night I was bitten. Come on guys, give me a chance here! I can’t exactly put it on my eyelid! Taking piriton proved to cause more harm than good, I’ve not felt so terrible in a long time.

Not impressed.

I must say though, I think everyone’s been feeling it this week. I’ve been struck down by homesickness and a lot of others have too. I’m running on adrenaline this week if I’m honest. I’ve heard that it’s known in Cambridge University as the five-week fatigue.

I want to make a short comment here about the fact this week marks the three year anniversary of the passing of an old friend, a certain Mr Christopher Robin Waldron (17-01-1992 – 01-10-2009). I know a lot of my readers from back home will have been thinking about him this week, so it seems fitting to make a short comment. His sense of humour and general love for humanity are still fondly remembered. His homemade wine less so.


Hello chaps,
Today’s blog is going to consist of some brief anekdoti about cabbage as I seem to have accumulated them of late. More specifically, the pickled, salted kind known as kapusta. I guess it’s the same thing as sauerkraut, which I’ve only had once, so I couldn’t tell you exactly.

Russians like pirozhki (see food blog). They like them filled with kapusta and egg, which, to an anglichanen (English person) sounds completely vile. It is.

Yesterday I tried kapusta for the first time. Anyone who knows me will know that I will eat literally anything, except offal and the fat on meat. And even offal I will eat if it means not offending a babushka – I had to do it in Kazan. I drank a LOT of water.

I do not spit food out, my mother taught me better than that.

I’m ashamed, but relieved to say that I spat out the fragment of kapusta. It is the second most vile thing I have ever put in my mouth. We don’t talk about the first.

 Luckily it was pinched off a friend who has somehow ended up with a kilo of the stuff. I don’t know what I would have done had I been in polite society. It probably would have been a napkin job.

Russia is cold and its language is full of idiomatic phrases. The thing I love about idioms is how much they reflect the culture of the language to which they are connected. My favourite at the moment is “Yolki Polki”, which means “fir trees and sticks!” and is said the same way that people in England may say “Holy Smoke!”. I love it because it’s so rural and Siberian sounding, a juicy cultural gem. It's also a restaurant that has a stuffed boar's head on the walls and fur for wallpaper. As you do.

Anyway, on a note related to cabbages and idioms: our teacher came out with a beauty today about people wearing lots of layers in the winter – “wrapped up like a kapusta!” (Russians eat a lot of cabbage, in case you missed the cultural reference here, I probably should have put more context into that one)
I enjoyed it. It seems a bit weak now out of context. Never mind!