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The Saint Petersburbs

The weather over the last few weeks has been pretty hectic. Footpaths represent something similar to an ice skating rink yet girls still manage to walk around in high heels 10 cms off the ground…

Amongst other internationally renowned stereotypes of the Russian psyche, of dancing bears and vodka, little is known about the large number of ‘old wives tales’ many Russians subscribe to in order to explain anomalies in the weather and its affect on people.

A favourite wives tale of many Saint Petersburgers is that the city’s close proximity to the sea causes the air – particularly on very cold days – to be more humid. This results in your body feeling significantly cooler than the actual temperature.

I’ve only ever been lead to believe that any significant humidity only really occurs in hot, tropical climates, not in temperatures below -20 degrees Celsius. Challenging this idea always creates a fiery debate if brought up.

Often as well the barometric pressure fluctuates apparently. According to several people, this fluctuation causes dramatic changes in person’s mood.

There’s also a well-respected belief that smearing hot mustard on your nipples will prevent you from getting a cold. Another popular way to prevent cold and flu is to rub hot animal fat on your back when you feel the symptoms coming. I wonder if that means there are lots of Russians walking around with mustard smudged on their nipples and hot fat streaming down their back.

The last few weeks have been a bit quiet to be honest. The weather’s been so unbelievably cold that I’ve tried to limit the time I’ve spent outside. When it’s below -30, walking around too quickly becomes hazardous due to the potential of icicles forming in your lungs or huge icicles falling from rooves above hitting you on the head. Each year about 20 people die across Russia from huge icicles breaking away from houses.

The hairs in your nose freeze and your fingertips go numb no matter how good your gloves are.

My house (on the right)

I teach English a few nights a week at one of the language schools here to students of all ages. Most Russians begin learning English at school but often only end up knowing a few words by the time they graduate. As a consequence, those that can afford to learn English attend special schools all over the city.

Many Russians recognise the benefits of knowing some English but find it difficult to practice given the lack of native English speakers in Saint Petersburg.

Whenever I go anywhere, people rather speak English to me than Russian despite sometimes my understanding of Russian being greater than their understanding of English.

Most Russians are dumbfounded as to why I moved from sunny Australia to Saint Petersburg to study their language. I usually explain that Russia is a pretty exotic place, where little is known by the average Australian. For me, that’s partly what makes Russian an exciting and useful language, but also because few Russians speak English compared to most other European countries.

I’m currently in the process of putting together a short video of my time here so hopefully in the next week or so that’ll be ready.

Next weekend I’m off to Tallinn, Estonia with a few friends. We’re going to attempt to get there using the cheapest possible methods of transport ever, so no doubt I’ll have a plethora of stories to tell after all that.

Apologies for not writing a blog for a few weeks, there hasn’t been a huge amount going on apart from studying, working and socialising.


Watch out for Elton John

  1. Wayne G Walker
    February 28, 2011 at 11:25 am

    Tomorrow is first day of spring, on your side of the planet. All warms up from here. Hope your next comments aren’t so cool.

  2. James Belsar
    February 28, 2011 at 9:09 pm

    Most Australians are dumbfounded too!

    Even though your heart instantly freezes when you leave the house, I’m sure it’s slightly better than cyclones, floods, earthquakes and fires over this side of the globe.

    Chat soon.

  3. Kimpa
    March 3, 2011 at 3:15 pm

    Hmm interesting.. Might try the russian way to get rid of my cold!?

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