Thoughts

Things Siberians Say to Other People When They Don’t Live in Siberia

(We don’t have to say it in Siberia, because, attention, everyone knows their stuff.)

Let’s be fair, it goes both ways. Things are said to us as soon as we say where we’re from, we say something in return, but we also transfer our Siberian ways to our conversations without needing prompts from others after we reveal our roots.

Actually, the cold bothered and bothers me personally quite a bit, but that’s another story.

Things we might say to you

“I love summer! What heat wave?”

“It’s so nice to sit on the grass! No ticks!”

“I don’t need to go on a ski holiday, I’ve seen enough snow in my time.”

“Let’s just sit together for a little while.”

“No, I’m not cold” / “No, it’s not that cold”/ “Wow, snow, finally!” (I don’t say this, but it’s a matter of preference)

“My bike is locked up, there’s ice on the road. Yes, it can be dangerous to cycle on ice.”

“Well, it’s a good idea to wear a hat when it’s below zero outside.”

“I’m quite used to the forest, there was a lot of it where I grew up.”

“Yes, I have worn a fur coat before. Real fur.”

“Do you know pelmeni? No, they aren’t completely the same as pierogi.”

To guests: “Would you like some house slippers or warm socks?”

My personal favorite: “Actually, I don’t know anything about vodka.”

“I could see my breath this morning, it’s cold.”

“Don’t you have gloves with you?”

Almost said many times: “Is hunching into your scarf really all that helpful in staying warm?”

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Thoughts

If All the Clichés about Russia and Siberia Were True…

…then I guess this is what my memoir would read like.

It was dark most of the time growing up. Winters started in September and lasted well into May, though that’s actually just a lie we tell foreigners since they seem to think individual seasons have a beginning and an end. Weirdos. In reality, it’s winter all the time.

The snow just piles up year after year, but it’s good that there’s so much of it, because then we can go outside, fill up our buckets and basins with it, or, if you’re lucky, maybe a baby tub currently not in use. It’s a group job, as well as a nice occasion to bond with neighbors (if there are any around) and family members. Though I wish Uncle Vanya wouldn’t come with. One ear of his shapka is dangling by a thread and you can smell the Stolichnaya on his breath when he lets out that laugh of his. Only the best for Uncle Vanya. One time he fell into the tub of snow he’d just filled, face first. We got him out, but had to dump out all the snow and start afresh.

The snow is really clean, because we live in the forest. There’s just forest everywhere. I mean, just taiga, to be completely honest. So there’s plenty of space for everyone, but that’s why you might not have neighbors, at least not nearby. We found ours entirely by chance, and then marked the trees on the way with our pocket knives, so we would be able to navigate the path and visit each other. Walking is possible, but skiing is best.

I got sidetracked. We collect the snow for water. Depending on how warm it is in the house that my parents built before I was born, it’ll either melt quickly by itself or we dump it all in the enormous cauldron in the kitchen. We have running water, but it needs to be used sparingly. The pipes burst every now and again, but that’s OK, because there’s always enough snow.

The town isn’t far away and we can go there for supplies, but we really prefer the forest. The few hours of daylight are sufficient for jaunts into the outside world or errands, and the rest of the time we eat, read, stream stuff and sleep. Yes, we do have internet, who do you think we are, cavemen? How would we get stuff delivered, otherwise? As to how the postman finds us, his problem. Never asked.

In the evenings we often sit by candlelight at the table after dinner, singing Russian folk songs. Kalinka always gets me going and then everyone starts dancing (we have a big family), so we go to bed after 2 in the morning, though it doesn’t matter, because it’s already been dark for 12 hours before that. Thankfully, Uncle Vanya is forbidden from coming over to dinner and my parents still haven’t told me why.

I’ve yet to meet a polar bear. I thought I saw one once when Sasha and I, the neighbors’ son, wandered off somewhere, but it was hard to tell because of all the snow. We did hear some growling and ran off fast. Well, Sasha ran off, then he discovered I wasn’t running with him, because I was wearing my high-heeled boots and red miniskirt, so I was kind of prancing after him. He did come back to help me, tried to carry me on his back, even, but then he said I was too heavy and that I should lay off the potato pies. The next day I threw the matryoshka he gave me for my birthday out the window when he came by. It him him on the forehead. He kept bleating outside, “But come on, nuuuu, shto, davai, kotik…”

He can bleat all he wants, I’m already looking for a middle-aged American millionaire online. Sasha is shouting something about a (Siberian) tiger outside, but I’m too busy.

 

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Thoughts

Nice Things People Ask or Say to You When They Find Out You’re Russian

Because they do! And while I have previously truthfully listed the rather typical things they ask (which tickle all my sarcastic scribbling instincts and love of the ridiculous hidden between the lines), I do always veer towards being positive in the end.

So, that conversation happens where you reveal the R word when people ask you where you’re from (sometimes they insistently ask you where you’re from “originally”, because your name sounds different, regardless of how long you’ve been living in your current non-Russian city). And you might hear one of the following:

Wow! That is a big country! (Yes. Depending on my mood, I might respond with, “Indeed, we have a lot of room” or “Go big or go home!”)

I love that stew, what’s it called…borscht! (Actually it’s pronounced borSCH, without a “t”, but I appreciate the effort and I have to restrain myself from asking if you’ve seen Miss Congeniality and if you might remember that scene in the dingy Russian restaurant, with Gracie Hart complimenting the waitress on that very stew…I’m getting carried away.)

What are those pretty Russian wooden dolls called, the ones you can stack up in each other? (Matryoshka. NOT babushka.)

 

Do you know that animated film, Anastasia? (Yes, I do, and I love it, though before you can ask, I’ll say myself that it’s a rather liberal interpretation of the Russian Revolution and the following years!)

I think you’re the first Russian I’ve ever met. (Honoured! Prepare to be amazed…)

 

 

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Thoughts

Things People Ask You When You Say You Are Russian

A few years back I already partly touched on this subject, since some of the suggestions I made were based on my experiences at parties and any kind of social gatherings with people I didn’t know well. Time has passed and I have collected some more questions that I received as soon as I mentioned my Russian roots. And I’m including the answers to these questions here as well. All is about to be revealed…

Do your parents work in the oil industry?

I understand where this is coming from and if you’re trying to be funny, you might succeed if I like you, but no. The oil industry is not the only industry in the country with available jobs.

Does your dad work in the oil industry?

See above. I notice you’re not asking about my mom. Or my sisters, female cousins, aunts etc. Do you have a problem with women working in the oil industry? Do you feel like an intense discussion about issues with how women are still being viewed in the workplace? Are you trying to put some distance between us right now? Where are you going? Come back!Do you speak Russian?

Da.

Do you speak/ understand Polish/ Ukranian/ Czech?

I’m afraid the answer is no on all counts. They are different languages and you have to learn them to be able to understand and speak them.

Is it dark all the time in winter?

No.

But are your days shorter?

Only in winter. Like in Europe.When do you guys celebrate New Year’s Eve?

December 31.

When do you celebrate Christmas?

January 7.

But why?

Because we celebrate the Orthodox Christmas.

Does your name mean something?

Not as a word, but otherwise…how much time do you have?

Wow, how come you don’t have an accent?

Vot do you mean?

So, are you from Moscow?

No. There are many other cities in the country…

What’s a “babUshka”?

“BAbushka” is a lovely word that means “grandmother”. It is used to address your own grandmother or in general to talk about older ladies.

Do you always put jam in your tea?Why don’t you like whistling indoors?

Because we have a deeply-seated, old superstition about whistling your money away if you whistle inside. We might not all be religious, but in general we’re a superstitious nation.

Did you see Russia’s performance during the last FIFA World Cup?

No, I’m afraid not… I was too busy watching Manuel Neuer.

 

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Seen/Heard/Read

Explaining Russian Cartoons: The Bremen Town Musicians

It was 1969 and an animated musical Russian retelling of the popular tale by the Brothers Grimm burst on to national screens, successfully singing its way in to the hearts of generations to come.

As a child I discovered a still working record player in the back of a closet, along with a stack of records next to it. Sifting through the colourful cases, my eyes fell on The Bremen Town Musicians. I slid the record on the player, carefully placed the needle on the vinyl and that was it.

With the combination of my Russian roots and this being one of the most beloved animated films ever produced in Russia, I keep feeling like it’s important to try and explain its appeal, even if not everyone can understand the language. ” I love it, dorogaya, you should love it too! Listen to me!” But hopefully they can understand some other things: the brilliant rhyming of the lyrics by Yuri Entin and their seamless interaction with the music by Gennady Gladkov, the immediate appeal of the catchy songs and how easy it is to sing along. The tale of friendship and love, the idyllic concept of traveling around a fictional kingdom, singing for a living, or just singing 24/7, with influences from former fashion and music, rock and roll in particular, permeating the adventures of Troubadour, his animal mates and the Princess.

Oleg Anofriev voiced practically every character in the cartoon and his multi-voiced singing is one of the trademarks of The Bremen Town Musicians. Here’s a vivid example in the song of the bandits, where he’s also singing the part of the female leader.

It’s a happy tale and a cartoon bursting with youth, energy and optimism, as well as humour. In quintessentially Russian fashion, the enduring popularity of The Bremen Town Musicians is cemented by the fact that it became almost completely quotable. Start singing a line from any songs among a group of Russians and chances are they will join in or give you a happy smile in return. The dignified and defiant “Quite ruffled, but not beaten” is another classic quote.

“There is nothing better than traveling the world with your friends/ Tempting arches in castles will never replace our freedom.” Yes, it’s not the same as in Russian, but you get the picture.

Videos from the Classic Cartoon Media YouTube channel.

 

 

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