As we wait through days 3, 4, and 5 I've compiled a list of helpful tips if you are ever planning a trip to Russia:
No matter how temping it is to pack long underwear, wool socks, and compression gear due to the thought of sub-zero temperatures- do not give in to the temptation! In short sleeves, thin chinos and my regular winter jacket I almost have a heat stroke inside every time I walk into a building. Pack more gym shorts and t-shirts instead.
In “Elf” style, bring your own pancake syrup, in a flask if necessary. So many pancakes, but with no syrup. What a shame.
Before leaving America, go to an ice rink. Practice walking. You will stick out less if you are accustomed to walking on slippery, icy surfaces. No one here looks down or so much as looses their footing as they cross treacherous glacial terrain. Woman often wear 4 inch heels without a passing thought. If you fail to practice your ice walking people look at you as if you are drunk….or American…..or both. (Public fall count for those keeping score at home: Sarah: 0, Chad: 1)
Buy a Kindle and stock it up with things you’ve been meaning to read. Then you can read, read, read, to pass the time and even check your e-mails. It only weighs like 5 ounces, so you get a lot of bang for your packing buck.
Don’t let the thought of one week worth of clothes for a 25 day trip freak you out. Instead, embrace this new way of dressing. Make sure all your clothes are in the same color family (for instance I packed all grey and black (with splashes of pink of course), Chad mostly khaki and blue) then just rotate through your wardrobe, mixing and matching until your clothes can almost walk on their own. Then it’s time to wash. This new way of dressing is actually liberating! No fussing over clothes, laundry, or excessive personal hygiene! I think Russians feel this way about bathing and hair washing too, but I haven’t gotten to that place of “zen” yet…..but then again it’s only day 10.
Fall in love with Russia if only for this one concept: After every meal (yes, even Breakfast) stop for tea and at least one piece of delightful chocolate or yummy cookie from the candy dish. The same goes for welcoming someone into your home or place of business. It is a simple plan: Stop. Exchange pleasantries. Have tea. Eat Chocolate. I mean, why don’t we do this? Oh yeah….the rat race.
Stop fiddling. Russians walk with purpose and exchange business the same way. I have noticed now, just how much I fiddle. My money is never ready, my scarf is always knotted, I can never remember which pocket my gloves are in. I make multiple trips up the stairs to fetch something I have forgotten. Russians always give the illusion of “having it all together”. Have a plan and work the plan. I am working on being more efficient and organized in the way I carry out my business. Mostly, I feel like Mr. Bean every time I must carry out a task, and therefore, treated like a toddler.
Embrace the American concept of “rugged individualism”. It’s easy to stand silent in a place where the language you don’t understand swirls around you or your constant place of remaining on a “need to know” basis. Instead remember what you say has value and you are a unique creature just from being born in the place you were born: the land of the free and the home of the brave, the home of courage, capitalism, and democracy. Don’t get beaten down by your own fears or illusions of inadequacy.
However, along those lines, you can be proud without being boastful. Stand up straight but never above someone else. Be assertive, but never pushy. Know how many rubles are in a dollar and how many dollars are in a euro. Don’t be taken advantage of, but hang on to your beliefs that all people are basically good. Be savvy without being suspicious. Embrace new ideas and different ways of doing things. You will learn something new every day.
Swap stories. Just like a character in a good book, we are who we are because of our past. Listen to stories about communism, upbringing, and cooking tips. Learn from delightful phrases such as: “I will (fill in the blank) when the crab sings on top of the mountain” (as in "when pigs fly) or “Be careful: at age 45 a woman turns back into a bear”. You have found a friend when someone is as interested in your life as you are in theirs.
Don’t drink the water. Ever. Not even while brushing your teeth when you think to yourself “How much water do we really take in while brushing our teeth, I think it’ll be fine…..” JUST. DON’T. DO. IT. PERIOD.
Do not handle anything small over a sink. The drains have no covers and I think it does actually go all the way to China.
Bring one of those ridiculous looking inflatable neck pillow for sleeping in the car. One: it will protect your melon and help fight off the concussion you will get from all of the bouncing. Two: It really helps you sleep in the car. Not because you are tired, but some things are so scary, it’s best just not to look at what’s going on.
Along those lines, nap often. It helps make up for the lack of sleep you will be getting on the cement slab you will be sleeping on at night.