On Russia

VIGNETS

…of a mind bored to death at 85kph.

On Russians…

After just over two months it is hard to make anything more than a surficial value judgement. Russians are MY kind of people. Outside of the cities the Russians I see are the pot-bellied shirtless guys sporting running shorts and sandals. This is the kind of uniform that makes me feel ‘part of the crowd’; I am no longer alone as my fashion sense is at least appreciated in one place in the world. The comfie, almost pajama (could be, in fact) crowd. Who needs suits and ties? Even the working-man ambles off to work in his plaid shorts and his open-toed sandals (except this time maybe he is sporting a high-level of sock.

Speaking of shirtless; almost as much male shirtlessness as to be found in the Philippines. The truckers seems to spend their time shirtless. Tourists visiting Gulag Perm36 are shirtless. Shirtless seems to be ok, and so too, it seems, the protruding gut. I am reminded of Canada circa 1976 while the hippy scene was waning but still in fashion, there was an above normal shirtlessness. Russia, I suppose, is simply just a little bit delayed in the style department.

Except to say, there might just be slightly more ‘mil cammo’ fashion than shirtlessness. And not an insignificant shirtless, cammo-HAMMERTIME pant combo. Yikes.

To be fair, in the cities the folks are hyper fashion. Including the waitress who shows up to work in her, what we could call, graduation gown. What’s the deal with all the evening party dresses on plain daylight?

So then it is not surprising to see the majority of the women wearing high-heeled shoes, so high that the pain is visible on their face. Never have I seen so many heels so high.

Or restaurants with faux-windows adorned with back-lit sunny summer scenes.

Maybe it is all just a reaction to long cold dark winter and somber skies that the sunny daylight IS in fact the discotheque of the summer?

on the Typical Interaction…

On the whole, the Russians I have met seem to be engaging and welcoming folks. The glowering, knitted-brow scold we encountered in Poland seem to be rare – but not gone- now.

It starts like this: Chris approaches said target with a large (some would say inane) smile and a huge Hello. I do this on purpose, to show that I am not a vicious dog nor am I capable in Russian. Yes I can say hello in Russian, but this is a hindrance at this point. I then start with asking if they speak English or French. And then the watershed of emotions start tracing the face of the aforesaid victim. In half the instances there is actually a step backward while the victim struggles for comprehension that this is a FOREIGNER and CANNOT speak Russian. The fact that I mention English is just a formality, because the reaction might just as well be from Close Encounters of the Third Kind type of Foreigner.

If we can get past this hurdle, the FOREIGNER-WEIRDO- EXTRA TERRESTRIAL hurdle, then the next step is to pull out my smartphone and Google Translate (nice that Google lets us do this offline) my way forward. There are, however, a number of bad reactions to this approach too – which makes me think reading is a weird science here as well. Or Google is well and truly mixed-up.

Finally, just to put the bookends in place, there has been two (2) occasions where people in fact DO speak English.   Yet they refuse – either out of shyness to capacity or more likely (in my mind) that they do NOT WANT the people in the crowd knowing that they are speaking English. Remember English and the English are not really historic allies.

on External Relations and the Economy….

I mentioned that there is not much friendship between the West (English) and Russia. It starts with the exceedingly difficult, time consuming and uber-costly VISA for us English speaking folks. And it is further underrepresented in say consumer commodities – there are some Ford vans (Eurostyle) and Chevy Cruize floating around (and ONE Dodge Hemi ½ ton!). However the French are highly represented on the highways with all the major brands – Peugeot, Citroen, Renault all make and model of car and cross-over. The French are also represented in shopping centers as well – Auchon, Leroy Merlin, Castorama to name a few.

So it was that we decided to hit the Auchon on a drive-by – familiar with the store but also aware of the likelihood of procuring familiar items (namely Cheese for Fanny, I went lookout for hot sauce!) In France the Auchon is a large multi-department shopping center. Likewise it was uber-large here in Novosibersk.

Overwhelmed by the volume of people, the number of hit-and-run caddy strikes, the (reminiscent of the bread line-ups of the 80’s) gaggle of babushkas aiming to weigh their bagged carrots, the crowd. The horror, the horror, the horror. Forget looking for the hot sauce, grab a pack of pasta and let’s get outta here!

No more standing in breadlines in front of empty shelves around here!

on Driving…

I don’t get it. There is not a speed limit sign on the highway. People roll along at some random speed, often around 80kph-ish. EXCEPT all the wackos, meaning the majority of the drivers, and by informal poll, the ones in Audis and BMWs roll along at 120kph. Maybe it is the status of the German Uber-car that gives license to double on solid lines-up hill-on outside corner. To split lanes; to roll fast up behind, see that you have drifted slightly left of center IN YOUR LANE and force an inside pass (blaring horn like it is MY FAULT I AM IN MY LANE). Note that if you drift RIGHT it is understood that you are making space for a split-lane pass in full oncoming traffic. Except you were just trying to avoid that rim-bending pothole. No, really. Who can tell what the hell is going on?

I don’t get it. And so we roll along, the Grampas in the Ladas with their babushkas on tour, the Audis and BMWs and then we see the 70 sign. Brake lights illume the Siberian daylight like a glowing sunset should. Suddenly there are rules and respect. But why now? What’s the diff?

So we roll at 85kph. The map says out of city highways are between 80-90kph. How to tell the difference we haven’t a clue. I just wanna roll faster than the slowpokeLada and slower than the Formula1Trukkers. I prefer to be in my bubble of space. I need a Mary on the dashboard.

10,000km from St Petersburg to Irkutsk at 85 makes for a long fricking trip. Add to that the random scattered time changes we can make between 4-500km per day. Traffic, bad roads, endless construction and bad roads (did I say that already?) scattered villages popping up on the highway, police checkpoints tends to kill the daily average.

Oh and my new Road Classification scheme is this: Good; Bad80kph; Bad70kph; Frickin’ Hell 20kph.

on Cops…

We see the cops on just about every intersection. The DNC, we’ve heard of them. A bunch of cutthroat, corrupt cops like you’d never see, not even in Mexico. Except not. They are stopping everyone. Checking papers, slowing traffic, present at every accident scene (many each day???). We’ve been stopped now 3 times. Check papers, hello, good-bye, have a nice day. Das-vadanya.

Nyet Problem!

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