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

Wednesday, 19 September 2012


Hello chaps,
We’ve been woken up by another brass band and some Russian women chanting religious stuff in the corridor.
Russian people are immensely interesting characters. In the West I think we are somewhat aware of the ‘Babushka’ stereotype – an old woman who may or may not have children and grandchildren (as babushka is the Russian for Grandmother). She wears a headscarf, is widowed, has a strong love of cats and going to church and spends her weekends tending to her cucumbers at her dacha. While this is a complete stereotype, a lot of the elderly Russian ladies I’ve come across fit these criteria.

I will only fleetingly mention a love of Stalin amongst babushkas, as this is less common, but there is the tale of the babushka in Murmansk who tends to the statue of Stalin every day, sweeping away the leaves and muttering “Moy Stalin, moy Stalin”. We must not consider babushkas to be in favour of state repression but the belief exists that under Stalin and communism, everyone had a job and a car and a place to live of some description. To their generation this was a better quality of life than what they perceive was brought by the end of Communism when the labour and manufacturing market underwent significant upheaval and there was less state involvement in private domestic affairs. People were no longer guaranteed a job, so for some, the standard of living was pushed even further below the generally accepted poverty line.

I want to talk now about my experiences with babushkas, because they are such a fundamental part of Russian society and the Western perception of Russia. We have all seen a matryoshka in our lifetimes, which is the most typical visual image of the Russian babushka accessible to the West. Visually it is rather an accurate portrait. For those less familiar, perhaps the image of an old fashioned washer-women in eastern and Germanic fairy tales is a good alternative to this – Disney actually does a rather good interpretation.
Before coming to Kazan, we were told that our host families (whom my Russian class colloquially refer to as babushkas as many of them were), would give us unusual things for breakfast and try to feed us up by forcing second and third and fourth portions of food onto our plates. We were warned that they would fuss over us, be concerned about the state of our clothing, ensure we got back at a sensible hour and worry if we didn’t. From accounts by friends, all of this was the case.

My roommate’s babushka would swirl corn oil into her breakfast, lick the spoon and stir it in saying “Zdoroviya!” (healthy!). At one point she was given pasta mixed with oil for breakfast. Another friend sent a text message to his babushka asking if it would be OK for him to stay out later. She responded with two simple words. “Nyet. Zhdayu”. (No. I am waiting (for you)). Another friend’s babushka had more pictures of vegetables in her kitchen than of her actual family and many of the pictures were of her posing with large basketsful of marrows. Mine was not technically a babushka as she must have been fifty at the oldest, but even she had a collection of cat figurines in her living room. When I left, I bought her two more to add to it.

Perhaps they may have some slightly odd ideas about health and safety, which is to be expected when one goes to a foreign country and experiences the culture. Their tastes are definitely different. One thing is for sure: you can never fool a babushka. These are women who have lived through repression and survived. I read somewhere that if they see you inadequately dressed for the cold weather, they will publically reprimand you. This happens even if you don’t know them. They are on the whole immensely strong characters, outspoken and highly suspicious, but caring and hardworking. The babushka who does our laundry gave us a lecture about not waiting for her before paying for our laundry – yet she did a fantastic job of it, she folded everything up and it was immaculately clean with no shrinkage. This is all despite her eyeing us suspiciously throughout the whole time we were in her shop. 

When I grow up, I want to be a babushka.

Edit: In response to the comment about Murmansk: It was a story I heard a long time ago, I'm pretty sure the statue no longer exists


  1. Hi
    I live in Murmansk - we have not Stalin statue here.

  2. There are no the statue in Murmansk indeed, and never been afaik, but there are the bust of Stalin in Olenitsa, the settlement in Murmansk oblast :)


    I am sure there are babushka is somewhere near :)

    To become a babushka is a commendable desire. But You couldn't anyway. There are no Stalin and no more repressions!
    (joke ^_^)

    Actually, from where are you (not You personally) are take this bullshit (SORRY FOR MY ENGLISH) about total repressions in USSR? Compare this 2 facts - in WW2 was killed about 20 millions Russians (btw, it is not military loses, nazis made a genocide of Slavic people on occupied territory, so it is mostly civilian victims), and in the end of 1980s each family in Russia, Belarus an Ukraine have at least 1 well known kinsman, who was killed in WW2. Often much more. But about millions of victims of Stalin's repressions most of us knows only from books. Why, how do You think?

  3. My God!
    I have a feeling that the English recall Stalin's much more common than him recall Russian.
    Ladies and Gentlemen! Take it easy! No one is building a classless society of equality and brotherhood! No one builds a society dominated by internationalism and where there is no fat bankers and poor workers!
    Stalin is no more.

  4. I have no idea what you're speaking about but I'm pretty sure these Russian ladies don't talk like you. And they read records? Affirmative, right. Are we living in Intelligent land already? This is not what the party-political map says. Since when the fashion is an indicator of the presence of an abstract mind? I find the empty bag to be a fine symbol. And I love this phenomenon, when girls tend to assemble in large cooperative structures regardless of their social status, for the sake of justice. Simply amazing. But do not imagine men to part with their precious war. - See more at: Russian Love/russian-young-ladies-according-to-scott.html#sthash.Vr1zumxP.dpuf