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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Culture-shocked despite relative familiarity

    I have come to the conclusion over the last week that I am mostly acclimated to Russian life. Occasionally, I will look around and be struck by sudden culture shock, but for the most part, I have seen much and become accustomed to how different Russia is from the U.S.

    Allow me to explain in the form of vignettes.

    Drinking: It really is the national pastime. I am tempted to leave it at that. Most Russians drink more than Americans, and the sale and consumption of alcohol is totally accepted. I would almost be willing to venture that it is more of a cultural taboo if you don’t drink than if you do. There are whole aisles dedicated to the sale of vodka in grocery stores. The very word for vodka stems from the Russian word for water. And there are half-liters that you can buy for under $1.50. And amidst all of the vodka consumption, Russia is primarily a beer-drinking country. Beer is cheap and almost always sold in pints. It is essentially a college student’s dream, and I am no exception. Drinking is so deeply engrained in the culture that there is a word which roughly means “”someone who starts drinking and is unable to do anything but drink for an extended period”” – the closest synonym I could find is a non-functioning alcoholic.

    Food: Let me just say that Russia is not known for its cuisine, and rightfully so. There are a few unique Russian dishes, but the bulk of Russian food consists of starch, meat and mushrooms. It’s unbelievable. In fact, it’s depressing. There is no spice, only bland, thick flavors and everything that is not Russian cuisine – save sushi – is turned into an abomination by mushrooms. McDonalds here is unlike anything in the U.S. The chains are gigantic, almost luxurious, and the food is more like something you would find at a restaurant than a drive-thru. There is not much to say regarding Russian food – simply put, it is far down on the list of best national cuisines.

    Holidays: I have now experienced three official Russian holidays and have come to the conclusion that in Russia, holidays are truly celebrated. Last Sunday was National Women’s Day, a holiday which saw many flowers, many extravagantly dressed women, and, not surprisingly, many, many drunk men. When I say “”truly celebrated”” I only mean in comparison to America. Somehow in America most holidays have turned into a commercial exploitation. In Russia, the only commercial exchanges happening are those that involve alcohol. On National Women’s Day, equitable to Valentine’s Day, everyone goes out, usually to lunch or dinner and that night, they crowd the bars. This year the holiday fell on a Sunday, but since Russians really tend to celebrate intensely, Monday became a day off. In America, holidays tend to be a bigger deal – there are decorations to be made, certain foods to consume, and, generally speaking, much money to be spent. In Russia, the commercial sentiment is not there, but the celebratory one is. Many people crowd the streets, and for once, there are smiles.

    People: This is sort of self-explanatory, but begs for comparisons. Obviously, no matter where you are, people will be slightly different from where you came, and that is a matter of culture. The farther you go, the greater the difference in culture, and the more novel the people become. For me, Russia is about as far away as one can go. In terms of culture, Russia is much closer to Europe than it is to America, which doesn’t require much thought to explain. Fashion is one aspect of life that is very indebted to Europe and completely unlike most things you would find in America. For some reason, the mullet is very popular here. I don’t understand why, but a majority of young men in St. Petersburg are rocking the 10/90s. In terms of day-to-day life, though, Russians are generally much less sympathetic toward other people. By that, I mean people here are pretty consistently rude, which makes me sound like a sheltered, innocent American, but until you have had to face people in subway stations there is just no way to understand.

    I suppose that those four aspects of Russian life are the furthest in relation to American ones. If one could learn to become accustomed to those differences, then anyone could survive in Russia – that is of course without mentioning the language, which is absurdly difficult.

    So, I hope I haven’t discouraged anyone from visiting – everyone should, if only to see how different this world is from our own.

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