When I first arrived here, I had little idea what lay ahead for me in my new life as a stay at home dad and foreigner in Moscow. If I had known how it would be I may not have moved to Moscow. However, I took off my shoes and ran across the hot coals, balancing a full used nappy on my head and learned to see life from a woman's perceptive in an upside down universe. At times, I have felt like the only gay in the village, like a black man at a Nazi tea party and like a fart in a sauna, doing my role here. I think I have passed the Moscow degree certificate and have gained a view into what Russians are like and how they live.
I know how hard it can be to do a woman's job in a place like Russia. There are always exceptions to everything below but these are general Russian observations rather than my experience of being a full time father. Every country has its own idiosyncrasies but in Russia, they are particularly interesting to the social observer.
Below is a summary into some of the social observations, shown in this blog, within many stories of my experience here. As always, I see things as funny and some things here are very funny, very strange and have often annoyed the shit of me (see best posts). The content below are some of my censored social observations of Russians and of life in Moscow.
At the supermarket
You will see dried fish. These fish come in all shapes, sizes and colours and are dried. They are a beer snack. Personally, I would rather eat dried poo off the bar floor the chew on a dried salty bit of old fish. As sausage fan, I am not at all disappointed here. There are smoked and regular sausages and sausage spread and you will see a wide choice of sausages at any big well known supermarket.
The most popular vegetables are carrots, cabbages, turnips, potatoes, onions and peppers. Grated carrot and chopped cabbage (red and white) are also popular and are sold in clear plastic boxes, I recommend them. Pickled cucumbers are very popular. You can buy them in jars but many Russians make there own. At the supermarket, you will see at least one entire shelf down a long isle, totally dedicated to the art of Vodka, (don't confuse this with car windscreen wash) this is overtaken by beer and lastly by wine as popular Russian alcoholic choices. Strangely, brandy or cognac are also very popular here and are seen as rather exotic.
Taking coats off
Russians are obsessed with taking coats off at museums, medical centers, swimming pools, gyms etc. If you don't take your coat off, you will be barked at by a crazy women to take it off. You will find a coat area where you will be greeted by a grumpy old women or two, who look like they have just escaped from a Soviet mental institution and they will snatch your coat off you and throw a plastic token at you. Keep this safe and hand it back when you leave to get your coat back. Having a place to leave your coat, is useful and it can often be very hot inside public places, in the winter in Moscow. It is not really a choice but a law, take off your coat or feel Olga's sharp tongue.
Plastic shoe covers
The wearing off plastic shoe covers is more popular here than taking coats off, sex, the Olympics and politics. Go to any gym, dentists, medical centre, museum etc and you will see a large bucket of blue plastic shoe covers. They look like shower caps but go over your shoes. This habit saves Olga endless hours in mopping the floor. I believe that many Russian couples do the following before bedtime. They hand their clothes to grandmother (many families have grandmother or a mother-in-law living with them) who issues them with a plastic token. They use this token to collect their clothes the next morning. Before getting into bed, the put on blue plastic foot covers and go to sleep.
Plastic baggage covers
I thought the covering of shoes, was just shoes but no it is also extended to baggage (luggage) suitcases. Russians, love to wrap up their baggage in hundreds of kilometers of blue plastic wrap before they take any flight. The main joy of doing this is firstly to wrap it up and then to imagine it's a birthday present and unwrap it when you arrive at your destination. I heard they are thinking of extended this wrapping habit to covering their entire bodies before they go to bed but this may only be a rumor?
When visiting any sauna you are usually required to follow the Russian sauna fashion and wear a large, pointed felt hat, although this is optional. You may look like a crazed gnome but everyone looks like you, so don't be embarrassed. Hats are to protect your hair and brain from cooking in the heat. Hat up and be sauna fashionable, Russian style.
This is a job performed by the department of useless things to do and funded by an unknown corrupt, Moscow entity. Orange trucks will go by your flat or down any Moscow street spraying the road surface with Moscow river water, at all hours of the day and night seven days a week. They will spray the road regardless if it has just rained or is raining. They will often go down your street up to four times a night spraying the road and set off car alarms as they pass by. I hate them.
Olga knows best
Walk down a street or go to a park and you may be told off by a Russian lady in her late 40's or 50's on how your child is dressed. The actual temperature can be irrelevant, what's important to Olga, is the month and that she is an experienced grandmother and mother and she knows best. It can be + 10 outside but it is November and therefor very cold (in her mind anyway). Never expose yours kids hands and always put them in gloves, hats and of course tights. If possible, dress them in a ski costume. Smile politely at her and comply with her orders, do not reason or get offended, that's just the way it is.
This is one of the most disgusting habits I have ever seen. Strangely, Russian find it rude to burp or fart in public but many will spit or blow their noes in the street. This habit is not restricted to men only but can be performed by women, girls and children on any street at any time, anywhere in the city. Occasionally, people may send out long streams of green bogey from their nose onto the floor, this saves valuable time using a handkerchief or tissue and is a lot of fun to do. Play a game of pavement (sidewalk) scanning, as you walk, to avoid stepping in one of these bodily glue deposits or it will end up on your apartment floor. As a final comment on spitting, it is interesting to note the types of spit here. Some men spit small balls of clear mouth juice, often when smoking, while other men (and some women) send out large green balls of sticky mucus that are the bodily equivalent of land minds and stick to your shoe like a fly to shit.
Russians have high expectations, especially wealthy Russians. They believe that if something costs a lot it will be good. Generations of Russians, who grew up poor, in high rise flat at the end of Socialism and who now live in awful huge bling houses, that look like movie sets from high budget American sitcoms, truly believe that paying a crazy price means quality. VIP is a popular here and to have VIP status is greatly converted almost as much as owning a Mercedes S class, Bentley or designer handbag.
Muscovite's don't like wasting time. Using a car signal to show you are turning left or right, waiting in a calm queue, replying to an email or text message, to say you are not interested or don't know the answer are a waste of time and energy. Politeness, human manners can be for some, as ridiculous as an honest politician. Arranging a meeting, so that all agree on a date, time and venue, is also often a waste of time. Many Russians simply tell you when and where the meeting will be, it is up to you attend when they say so. Making sure that A and B knows what C is doing, is also stupid, simply half plan, light up a cigarette and watch the chaos slowly unfold.
Pride in Russia, by Russians is something that is hard for many foreigners to understand. Russians may not all agree about politics, religion or like each other but they have a huge pride in their country. This pride mostly comes from grandparents, from a sentimental bygone age, from education and from the media. I can compare it American patriotism but it is far stronger and far more dangerous than that. History has been re written and is now in the education books. They will deny it but as I always say, how do you know you are a nationalist if you are a nationalist?
Using a lift (elevator) here takes a bit of getting used to as the ground floor is the 1st floor. I can say no more than that. Enjoy, especially when you are told to go to the second floor and still have your European head on.
At most shops in Moscow, regardless if it is a dump or a palace, will have at least one security guard. They will stand at the entrance to shops and by the checkout payment area of hotels, gyms or supermarkets and look at you as if you had just robbed their home. They can make you feel like a criminal, even after you have paid. They are one the most annoying things here and a total waste of money.
There is no boundary between you the customer and the employee of a hotel, restaurant, gym, shop, supermarket, club or anything else. You are not equal, in fact you the "customer" are a low life and an annoyance. You must be shouted at, not smiled at and even ignored.
Stay at home dads
Russia is run by women. The women are behind the men and are their wives, girlfriends, mother-in-laws and mothers. They tell the men what to do while the women expect to do all the cooking, childcare (nanny management), home decor and shopping. Men go to work, bring the pay home, watch television, drink, screw around and don't always love their wives. If you are a man here, looking after a child or children (without a nanny) you will be a freak and an oddity. Men simply do not look after children. I know, for I am a freak.
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