Posts Tagged ‘Russian Language’

a week of generally unfortunate events

April 7, 2011 3 comments

I’ve really managed to superbly bugger a few things up over the past couple of weeks. First it was the unfortunate loss of my glasses on-board the train to Kiev, then this week while boogieing on the dance floor I somehow managed to lose the big cheese, my wallet. I was unfortunately under the influence of alcohol at the time so naturally most of my Russian skills – which are fairly limited at the best of times – went out the window. I also basically forgot how to appropriately communicate in English.

I realised I’d somehow lost my wallet within about five minutes. I searched around the place before asking a number of the workers if they’d seen it floating around. Just when I really needed my Russian skills to shine in order to hopefully solve the problem I forgot the word for wallet. I was therefore forced to ask several very stylish looking people if they’d seen my “tiny purse”.

Asking people if they’d seen my tiny purse unfortunately didn’t yield too many results and mostly just caused lots of people to laugh at me for being a silly foreigner. Thankfully my wallet didn’t have a lot of useful stuff in it anyway, only my drivers license which was due to expire soon, my old Australian student card and a couple hundred roubles (about $5). The only thing I was potentially worried about were my credit cards which were linked directly to my Russian bank account here.

As I plan to head to the UK after this place I was worried that someone would access my account and ruin my chances of having the £1600 I needed in order to get a working visa there. Paranoid as normal, I hailed down a car (colloquially known as a gypsy cab) and hurried home using borrowed money. How could things possibly deteriorate further?

Like is normally the case back in Melbourne, the taxi driver insisted on speaking about a whole range of topics on the way home. I soon found out he wasn’t a resident of Russia but rather a citizen of the unfortunate country of Belarus, the place that created significant issues for me only the week earlier. Being under the influence at the time I decided I’d tell him about my problem with Belarus and that I thought the transit visa process was a complete waste of time. Thankfully I got home before the conversation got very awkward. I spent several hours on the phone to my Russian bank communicating that I needed to cancel my cards. Thankfully at that point my Russian was sufficient enough to get across what I wanted.

Another consular visit

the residence

A few weeks back I went along to an informal gathering at the US Consul-General’s residence here in Saint Petersburg. Together with another British guy, an American girl and the Australian Consul we chatted for several hours about the state of world diplomacy and other equally elitist topics. I thought I’d make the most of the opportunity to ask about Wikileaks which I don’t think was particularly appreciated. I asked how the Wikileaks leaks had impacted her work with regards to the way she now communicates to her colleagues and with her department back in Washington DC. To that question I was simply given a “no comment”, something that was almost as interesting to me as a real answer.


After drinking some wine that the Aus Consul provided we had a tour of her residence where several US Presidents, the last being George W Bush, and foreign heads of state had entertained guests. I’ll put some of the pictures from the night on the extras page. It was pretty surreal and also amusing being invited there given I’d have no chance to go to such a place back at home in Australia.

Lining up

Every now and again brilliant people send me things from home in the post. This week I received a care package from my parents. Like at home, the post office usually drops a small post-it sized note in your letter box to notify you that a parcel had arrived. With my little note in my hand I headed down to the post office, ready for the several-hour wait I’d inevitably have to endure in the line.

Lining up for service seems to be an accepted part of Russian life. At the bank, the supermarket, the post office and at the train station it can sometimes take hours to progress from the back of the line to the front. And when you eventually make it to the front you’re often greeted by an uninspired public servant being payed to do a repetitive job that often takes longer than it should given the mountains of bureaucratic red tape that seems to get in the way of efficiency.

My trip to the post office was as I anticipated. I headed off down the street to find that my nearest post office was closed from 2pm to 3pm for a late lunch break. This meant that customers waiting to simply buy a stamp, post a letter or pick up a parcel were forced to wait in the cold until the post office opened. Russians of course have very much adapted to this way of doing things. Shortly after I arrived at the door and started lining up an old babushka (a Russian grandma) pushed in front of me and then insisted she was first in line. Not really caring either way, I let her push in while I took up the second position in the line outside the door on the street. After half an hour the doors opened and we all rushed inside. Unfortunately the line we’d made outside the door didn’t seem to apply as soon as we stepped into the post office. As a result I was thrust to the back of the line again. Then I had another issue.

At post offices here there is a window for each type of service you need. If you need to buy a stamp you first need to visit the lady in the stamp shop, if you then need to buy an envelope or box for your goods you’ll need to go to another window and line up for boxes and envelopes. Then, if you happen to have to pick up a parcel at the same time as posting something, you’ll have to line up in another line for a different window. Thankfully I eventually found the window I needed and lined for an hour to hand in my slip. The lady at the window then told me I had to fill in all of my details on the back of the form including my address, my passport details, my visa number and my date of birth. After almost two hours standing in line after line and talking to disinterested and dismissive post office workers, I collected my parcel. Having lived here for the past seven months, I’ve got used to the way things are done here and instead of rebelling I’ve just accepted it as the way it is. While often they’re frustrating and annoying, they’re also strangely endearing as well.

Commonwealth and Valued Allies (CAVA)

CAVA at Max's

Every Sunday three other friends and I get together for what has become an institution and exclusive club amongst the Saint Petersburg expat community. CAVA, or Commonwealth and Valued Allies, takes place most Sundays at one of our houses. Usually it’s a gathering including food from our homelands; soft, fresh bread and often titbits from all corners of the globe. Essentially the dinners are an excuse to get together and chat about stuff. The permanent members include Fran, Max and Hattie, all Brits studying here, and Elliott, a young American bloke who featured in my last blog who also studies here. Occasionally we also welcome other nations into the circle including Russia, France and Germany.

Felix with his magnum

Last Sunday Felix, a French bloke studying here came over with a large magnum of French Champaign his aunty had given him. I’ll put some of the remaining picture


burg life

February 28, 2011 3 comments

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