1. Underground Passages – where you cross the street without stoplights or the dangers of traffic. Most of them are lined with kiosks selling flowers, food, shoes, tickets to cultural shows, books, and other necessities. These “переходи” are especially useful during the brutal winters. Some are simple passageways, others are grand labyrinthine shopping malls. The first time I saw one I was amazed.
2. Historic plaques and Monuments ! In Kazan and almost every city across Russia they honor the most famous artists, politicians, actors, thinkers and war heroes who lived there with big beautiful iron plaques, larger then life statues and war memorials like the one below. They would contain full titles and sculpted profiles It’s just a great way to connect the present to the past. What you can’t see is in the beam that runs around the top are the names of all those who fought and lost their lives during World War II.
3. Dressing with Style. It is very rare that women in Russia will leave home without dressing like she is ready to head to the Opera or to some high class restaurant. And they aren’t afraid to dress up in neon bright fancy dresses either.
4. Truth in portions (most Russians eat at home) But when they do eat out menus always list exact weight and volume of every item. When you order a glass of wine it will state exact quantity, and this applies with the meat (mostly chicken) with potatoes and beets (300/150/50 – those would be the grams of each item) And the portions are much smaller than in the US., thus skinnier waist lines.
5. Free chewing gum provided with the check after dinner. No self-respecting restaurant would ever think about skipping the requisite sticks of Wrigley’s. It’s a quaint legacy of the high esteem American products were once held (and a great way to clean your palate after all those herrings and onions)
6. Dachas. It’s a gathering place in the summer, where you can get away from the summer heat invite friend for bar-b-que (shashlyk), sing songs around the fire (no briquets) , probably the biggest reason is to grow a garden (much healthier) or head out to the nearby forest for mushroom picking? It doesn’t seem to matter rich or poor the dacha is just a part of culture here.
7. Multi-Generational dance clubs. It’s not unusual to find grandparents and grandchildren dancing together — many bars in Russia and Ukraine have the feel of a happy, extended wedding party (possibly because many of them are actually hosting happy, extended wedding parties!).
8. Na zdrovie! Russians take toasting much more seriously than Americans, and try to say something interesting and important (and often poetic) when raising a glass. They also tend to toast before every drink, not just at the beginning of a meal. This has some negative consequences, of course, but it also keeps the group connected and provides a place at the table for eloquence and thoughtfulness.
9. Self-reliance. Most Russians can fix anything in their house or garage that breaks. As you can see above they will find a way to make it work. It may not be pretty but does it really matter. If they can’t fix it, they can easily live without. Emerson might be proud – me it’s why I love Russia.
10. Slow and present living. Russians and Ukrainians are masters of sitting on park benches, surrounded by family and friends, for hours, entertained by the smell of flowers, the taste of “Salad Olivier”, and the sound of their children playing. A simple dinner at a friend’s apartment can last even longer, and no one is in a rush, trying to impress, or doing anything other enjoying the chance to pass time with people they cherish. Americans too infrequently indulge in this greatest of all pleasures. I won’t lie I miss the kids but I’ve finally found home.
NOTE: All facts and figures checked (spelling and grammar too.) by my Russian wife, thanks Sweetheart.
- Ten Things Never to Say or Do in Russia (hague6185.wordpress.com)