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

When You’re Siberian

For the most part, you…

Wear a hat when it’s colder, especially in winter, because, at least for me, piling up a scarf or a snood up to my ears, shoulders hunched, stepping in place at a bus stop is just not my look.

Don’t ride a bike after it snowed. Since I can’t get used to the sight of this after 11 years in Europe, I probably never will. A colleague of mine broke her leg cycling on icy pavement and once again I asked myself, why do this after Elsa clearly had her way with Let It Go on your street?

Have a built-in winter radar. You know when to layer up and when to pack it all away (only not too far, Hamburg is a city where you may need these layers any day).

Divide the year in two seasons: with snow and without (homegrown wisdom).

Barely use heating once you discover you’re in total control of turning it on, unlike back in the homeland.

Conscious of slippery surfaces underfoot in ANY season due to annual prolonged winter ice exposure. The careful step is an inner setting, ready to be switched on at a moment’s notice.

Aren’t immune to cold, but you’ll still meet plenty of people who will ask you if it’s “like summer” for you on a colder day.

Enjoy saying “I don’t find it that cold, just the wind has changed,” and mean it, too.

Know that not all your countrymen and women are obsessed with winter sports and activities.

Consider 1,5-hour flights similar to taking the bus, since flying from one city to another within Russia may take as long as 4 hours, maybe more.

Get used to the following questions once you say you’re from Siberia specifically:

But it’s in Russia, right?

Do you speak a different language there?

Is it that place where it’s really cold?

Is it dark all the time?

Is it close to Vladivostok?

Where exactly does the Transsiberian railroad run through?

But it’s really far away, right?

Where is it?

How come you speak such good (insert language here)?

Why don’t you have a Russian accent? / I can’t place your accent.

Can you go outside in winter?

Are you from a village?

Sometimes I relax my rules of polite conversation and remembering that it’s not a given person’s fault they are asking me something I’ve already been asked by other people they don’t know an x number of times, and tell the obvious truth…that I grew up in a forest. But that’s a story for another blog post.

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