First Impressions

9/13/2012 04:05:00 PM

I arrived in April of 2011. Coming from Las Vegas to Novosibirsk, with an 11 hour stop in Moscow. I have to say my first impression was, "Holy shit! There's still snow outside?!"

Winter Wonderland
Russia is notorious for being cold, and it is, but not ALL the time like people think. We do have summers that reach about 32°C (89.6°F). Unfortunately, we do have shorter summers and longer winters than what most people are used to. When I left Vegas, I was sweating in 90°F weather. You can imagine my shock arriving in Moscow at 7°C (37.4°F) with snow on the ground. It later rained...needless to say, I got sick my 1st day in Russia.

Later, during Winter in Novosibirsk, I learned what "cold" was. The coldest day last winter was -40°C (-40°F interestingly enough). For those of you that don't know how ridiculously cold this was...imagine sitting in a freezer, then make it 35° COLDER!

"Maybe you should go to the toilet!"
Another thing that I quickly learned was that the words "restroom" and "bathroom" are not very common. If you even roughly know where Russia is, you know that the UK is a lot closer to Russia than the US. Therefore, there is more of a British influence in their English. When I arrived in Moscow I was greeted by a Russian friend of mine (who I had never before met in person). She looked at my clothes and suggested I change if we were to walk around the city for a while. I immediately reached in my bag to grab a sweater, a T-shirt and some things. She mistakenly thought that I was going to change right in the terminal and nervously said (words I'll never let her forget!), "Maybe you should go to the toilet!" I stopped. There was silence and a look of confusion on my face. I then said, "Excuse me?" She realized that I wasn't sure if she insulted me or gave me advice and explained that I should change clothes in the "water closet". After a short explanation, and seeing the letters "WC" on the wall, I realized that I would probably be using the words "restroom" and "bathroom" less and less.

When I got to the so called "water closet" I noticed yet another thing. The toilets don't have levers. This may not be too shocking for some of you that work in nice modernized buildings and such, except for that fact that there are NO LEVERS, whatsoever, anywhere. Even apartments have the nice, cool, stylish little buttons. And by "buttons" I mean plural, because half of the toilets with these "buttons" have a big one and a small one. After using one of these button toilets for the first time, I didn't know which button to press, so like any self-respecting curious man would do, I pressed one button, watched what it did and went to the next stall to press the other button. Americans can call these buttons "Number 1" and "Number 2". The few, rare toilets that haven't been modernized into the stylish button toilets, do have a kind of lever system, just not what we (by "we" I mean Americans) are used to. It's a stick that is located at the top of the of the tank, which you pull upwards to flush.

I forgot to mention, the other toilet. While I was at one of the universities, I needed to use the restroom. Of the many floors this building had, only 1 of them had actual toilets, the rest were filled with these bad boys. 

I thought that this was some kind of Russian floor urinal. I was so very wrong. Long story short, I found out people poop in these! I later learned that these are commonly referred to as "squat toilets" and are considered hygienic. They're not very popular, but the university I was at is old. Anyways, enough about pooping!

Russia's New York
Moscow is HUGE! Seriously, it's the largest city in Europe and houses the largest subway system in the world! The reason I compare it New York is because it's huge, busy, packed, expensive and tons of people want to live there (mostly looking for success). Another thing, is that people don't really think that Moscow is real Russia, similar to how people don't think New York is a real American experience. It's also one of the two tourist cities. When people come here, they go to Moscow or St. Petersburg; home of the "white nights". White nights is a term used to refer to the extremely long days during the summer in St. Pete, where there is sunlight until about 3am. I live in Novosibirsk, which is the third biggest city in Russia. Novosibirsk isn't considered a part of Europe, but a part of Asia.

"В России две беды, дураки и дороги"   -Гоголь
(Translation: In Russia, there are two problems; fools and roads) I'll talk more about fools in another post.

The next thing I noticed was, in Novosibirsk, on the way back from the airport. The roads! Anyone who lives in Russia can tell you that the roads are bad. Maybe less so in other cities, but they're pretty bad in mine. I haven't been all across the United States, but where I have been, had pretty decent roads and I'm convinced the rest can't be too different. The main roads and roads towards the center of the city are nice, but some roads feel like your off-roading! And they got some of the worst potholes I've ever seen!

"Does this bus ever stop?"
The next thing that deserves to be mentioned is public transport. I love it! It's great. You never have to wait too long for a bus or tram or trolley bus and it's cheap. In Vegas, a single bus ticket is 2$ and if it's downtown it's 5$, plus it takes forever. Here, a bus ticket is 14 rubles (trolleybus 13 and subway 15), which is less than 50¢ and you never have to wait too long for it. While we're on the topic of public transport...

Пазики! (Paziki) Pronounced: Pa-zee-kee

The buses. Russia still has a few older buses running around and they look quite interesting. Being rather small they fill pretty quickly, which makes it a bit uncomfortable when traveling. Paziki earned their nickname from their modelname. "Paz" is the model of these buses and the diminutive (cute shortening: dog - doggy) name of "Paz" is Pazik (Paziki is plural).

Another very interesting thing about transportation is how people act towards each other when using public transportation. People in Russia look very serious at first glance. I'll go into more detail about it in another post, but for now I'll mention you'll rarely meet a smile. It's not because they're angry, or want to look menacing, but because they don't fake smiles. More importantly, and one of the most surprising things for me was that people give up their seats for other people very often. For the elderly, for a pregnant woman, for a tired child, for a pretty girl, many different reasons. You could give your seat to a girl, who then gives it to a child, who then gives it to an old woman. Also, an elderly woman might offer her lap to a complete stranger's child! I saw this and was amazed! Speechless! The mother let her child sit on a stranger's lap for a good 10 minutes. I asked around and learned that this is completely normal. Another kind gesture that people do is, if you have a lot of things with you and there are no seats, a seated person might offer to hold some of your things. Strangers also help load and unload the occasional baby stroller. It's awesome!

The Marshrutka!!!      
Russian: Маршрутка (pronounced "mar-shroot-ka") the diminutive form of  "route" which means something along the lines of "that which goes on the route"

If you've been in Russia, you MUST know what this thing is, but for those who haven't, it's basically a tiny bus. If "paziki" are mini buses, this thing is a micro bus. Filled with many different types of people and a very talented driver who is capable of doing a million things at once. One thing that shocked me more than the actual vehicle was that, not only does everyone pass their money to the front, but the passenger who receives all the money (usually the unlucky person sitting closest to the driver) makes change for everyone else!  That's right, change along with 50 ruble bills, 100 ruble bills and even 500 ruble bills all get passed up to the front and one person counts out and gives everyone else their change by passing it down. Sometimes, neighboring passengers help out a bit by making small change for each other, but others still pass it up to one person. I was amazed at the trust among the passengers. I remember when I was the money receiver, without knowing, and in about five seconds had two handfuls of change and bills and such. Luckily, the passengers next to me caught on and helped give the change to everyone, but I had no clue what the hell was going on at first.

A very important thing for every Marshrutka passenger to know is...The Marshrutka does NOT stop, unless you tell it to or someone flags it down for a ride! I, unfortunately, didn't know this and was taken way out of my way waiting for a stop that never came.

I mentioned the talented drivers...Here is a picture of a bus driver, but it still illustrates the multitasking skills of a Marshrutka driver. This man here is: driving, drinking tea, smoking, talking on the phone and giving change all at the same time. In addition to this, Marshrutka drivers have to drive a manual transmission, listen to passengers who ask them to stop and occasionally name the stops coming up. And you thought your job was rough...

I have many things that surprised and amazed me, I could go on forever. I also have many topics that I want to talk about in other posts and I don't want to mention them all here. So, I'll finish this post, but stay tuned for the next ones.

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  1. That's really good. I catch myself that I've never asked your opinion or about your feelings about Russia. It was very intresting to read this post.

    P.S. By the way, Moscow tube isn't the largest one in the world) But I guess it was a joke)

    P.P.S. Please, duplicate your acc on Livejournal. Most Russians use Livejournal I guess.

    1. London's is the largest by length, but Moscow's is the largest in terms of riders per year. I was thinking about making a LiveJournal, but I wasn't sure. I guess I'll have to make one)

  2. Very good post! I too was curious about your experience in Russia and this is definitely a great blog, keep it up!

  3. There is rather popular joke on marshrutka drivers that they will have an additional hand grown during their further evolution :)

  4. This video to illustrate the part of your post about frost in Novosibirsk.

    1. I actually wanted to do this myself, but my balcony is closed for the winter, so I needed to find a different one)) If it gets -40 again I'm definitely doing it!

  5. Interesting post and cool blog!

    Before I've read your post, I thought that squat toilets are vanished in Russia. The last time when I saw it in Russia was my soviet childhood. But nowadays they are commonly used in India. For example, in Indian train coach were 3 squat and 1 sitting toilets. Indians also use it for another hygienic treatments. And they think that this type of toilet is healthier.

    And marshrutkas (my English teacher call it 'root taxi')! Oh! It's a thrilled trip each time.

  6. In our country (I mean Post Soviet Union countries like Ukraine, Russia, and other)you can find a lot of interesting, strange and awesome things. Sorry for the mistake, my English not so good.