I can’t quite believe I’ve almost been here a whole month. The days go so quickly. It feels like I wake up, go to uni, come back and then it’s bed time again in no time at all!! It could have something to do with how much time you spend travelling to get to places. I use the bus or metro most days, and it’s usually a good 20-40 min walk to get anywhere. I don’t mind this though. Previously I’d only ever lived in small cities, so this is a nice change, and I am growing to like the bustle of the streets here.
I’m doing much better emotionally this week, even though I ended up missing my aunt’s wedding last Saturday gone. My whole family was there, and I was meant to be a bridesmaid. It sucks knowing I’ll never be in any of the photos and won’t have those memories, but I made some memories of my own instead when I went to the student night and to the church picnic. The African night was honestly so much fun, and I’ve made some new friends from it. My VK account is getting more and more active – VK, for those that don’t know, is the Russian equivalent of Facebook. It wasn’t as good as Facebook before but recently it’s been updated and now they are pretty similar. You can join groups and meet people with similar interests through the site, and there’s lots of free movies, audio books and songs posted (probably illegally) on there. But hey, this is Russia. As everyone always says.
At the picnic, I was talking to a lady helping organise the church weekend away in October (I’m planning on going to this!) as I and my English friends were worried we wouldn’t be able to go with just a photocopy of our passports. Our passports have been handed in so that our visas can be converted to multi entry and we won’t get them back until the end of October at the earliest. Apparently there’s a rule that if you want to stay in a hotel you have to show your passport, and re-register after you get back. The lady explained that ‘this is Russia’ (of course) and that here, rules are kind of made to be broken. If you know someone who can get you a deal or who is in a management team somewhere or something, they will do you a favour, and you do one in return. It’s a little like this in Spain too, but here it’s on a whole new level. Officials make rules that suit them, and then revoke them when it no longer suits them. So take the rule where you have to re-register every time you stay somewhere new, even if it’s only for one night. Apparently this was only brought in for over the summer with all the tourists etc and the football events going on in Russia, but now you don’t have to re-register unless you stay somewhere else longer than a week. Someone revoked the law, because it’s no longer necessary. The lady explained that just because one rule or law blocks you from going one way, in the Russian mentality, that doesn’t stop you from going around, under, or over it and getting to the same result/destination a different way. It just means you can’t go that particular way, if that makes sense. So people bend the rules all the time here.
What else? Oh yes, I’m possibly going to look for a job teaching English but I’ll let you know later when that happens. A teacher of mine said that the Benedict School here sometimes looks for native English speakers. Russians will pay double the normal price if you are a native English speaker. My friend found a job teaching a family English and asked for a reduced price because she felt bad asking for more, when she felt it wasn’t necessary. Your money goes quite far here, so there isn’t a lot of need to charge tons for lessons. And obviously not to undercharge, as you do plan and put effort in.
I’ve seen some strange things this week on my travels around St P. The weirdest thing I saw was this man with his pet raccoon on his shoulders on Nevsky Prospect getting people to pay him money to pet it or get it to do tricks.
Another thing that I’ve noticed whilst being here is that there are men in uniforms everywhere. Apparently all young men get conscripted between the ages of 18 and 27 for mandatory service in the army, although many of these manage to get around it by claiming to be short sighted, mad, or by enrolling in university courses until they phase out of the age group that it applies to. I’ve seen all different kinds of uniforms, some green/khaki, some blue and white and navy-looking. Some camouflage. It’s just kind of strange seeing them everywhere like that. You don’t see that kind of thing in England. In England I see a fair amount of policemen but even then its only a couple maybe every fortnight. Here it’s something I see daily. Maybe it’s because this is a bigger city… I don’t know.
Another thing about the culture here that I find weird every time I go into a shop or supermarket is the person at the till doesn’t wait for you to finish packing your bags after paying… they immediately serve the next customer. At first I thought they were just being rude but then I realised it must be a culture thing because it happens in pretty much every shop I go to. So now I just try and pack up my things as quickly as I can while they scan it through and then pay and get out of there. They clearly trust you not to run off with a bag full of stuff you haven’t paid for here in Russia. In England, the cashier waits politely for you to finish and go before serving the next customer in the queue. Is this just an English thing?
There are a few little things like that… maybe I’ll include some of those in my next ‘weird things about Russia’ post. The days are getting colder – the mornings start at around 5 degrees C and then by the afternoon it only gets to about 15 max. This morning I opened my curtains and it was still quite dim outside, so the days are getting shorter already. It’s only the end of September!! I’m going to need to buy some vitamin D supplement soon… a friend from church who’s lived here for a few years recommended these drops she got from an apteka (аптека) – these are little chemist shops dotted all over St Petersburg (and Russian cities generally)**. I asked if I would need ID before buying anything and she just chuckled and said that no they wouldn’t bother checking that here. My goodness. I bet their health and safety standards are much more relaxed here too. In England it feels as though you can’t even breathe and not be violating some kind of health and safety law. Maybe that’s a slight exaggeration, but my English readers will know what I’m talking about 😉
Last night, I went to watch Swan Lake at the Hermitage Theatre. I had no idea there was a theatre in the Hermitage, but it was amazing and I felt so grateful for the opportunity! A guy at my new church works for a tourist agency, and a different friend of mine talked to him about getting me and my friend from Exeter some tickets for free. Apparently tourists cancel all the time, so we were told to just turn up and get free tickets. We didn’t know which ballet it would be or anything, but I’m so glad it was Swan Lake. I haven’t seen it since I was about 7, or any other ballet to be honest. The dancing was amazing and the music was pretty good too – there was a live orchestra. I love Tchaikovsky (Чайковский) Me and my friend were the youngest in the room!
Tonight I’m going to listen to an orchestra concert. I was invited by a friend that I was put in touch with through an old family friend. (Sorry, I tend to not mention names because of privacy and stuff). They will be playing Rachmaninoff (of course), and fortunately I like Rachmaninoff (Рахманинов) so I’m expecting to enjoy it. This means I can’t go to the English movie night tonight, but in some ways it’s a good thing as this friend doesn’t speak much English, so it’s better for my language learning. Besides, I can go to the EMN next week!
Other than this, I don’t have much planned for this weekend beyond doing work, shopping (for food), going to church and possibly meeting up with a friend from my group at uni to go to Pushkin if the weather is good. If not, we agreed to go to Ukrop (Укроп) Cafe for a meal together.
So that’s my fourth week in a nutshell. Here’s to the next, what, 11 weeks? Something like that!
**For those interested: I’m going to be doing a post about being vegan in the winter/extreme cold here in Russia, my tips and what I’ve found useful etc. so stay tuned if that’s something of interest. It might actually be good for anyone interested in making it through the winter when fruit and other commodities are scarce and you just want to stay sane/healthy.