Monday, June 13, 2011

The first days with the host family

So, after I write this post, it will be the second full day of living with my host family and I have realized two things, which I feel the need to urgently tell you guys. For starters, if things continue like they have been, I am going to be SO busy for the next two months. That being said, I want to apologize to everyone already and in advance for not having written yall emails sooner and what not and, although everything I say on here is so general and impersonal, if I would try and sit down and write an email to all that I love, I think it would be such a time-consuming task that I would try and forgo it. I hope no one is too upset or mad or offended, I just really am hella busy and want to get out and speak and see things. That was a main reason I started a blog. I promise to tell every single one of you every story I have (already in the hundreds) when I get back.

The second thing is - Russian Home Life is... the greatest thing thats ever happened to mankind. My family is absolutely wonderful, they are all so nice and so helpful and so kind and I really think the russian culture has it right.  No one spends any time in their rooms. We all sit in the kitchen and talk, and talk, drink tea and talk. Yesterday, my first day, I ate probably around 7000 calories in one meal, and I say one meal because each "meal" lasted basically until the next one was done cooking. Constantly eating and talking and it feels so homely, so cozy, so nice and hospitable. Yeah, I cannot communicate particularly well or fluently but I can understand a lot of it so just sitting and listening to everyone and the various guests that come over like every 5 minutes is pretty cool.

My classes havent even started yet but I wanted to get a post in about the various things I have learned and thought about. There is no possible way and will never be any way for me to capture everything I think of and see and do so I am going to write as much as I can but so much of it will be inevitably lost. For starters, my main thesis about Russia thus far I think is it is different. Not better and not worse in any explicit way, but different. At the same time, it is different but not different. Lemme try and explain.

Before we can, of course, countless people spent countless time telling us about how dangerous it is here and how different it is here but, in so many respects, its really not that different.  Yeah, there are dangerous situations and dangerous people on the street, but there are in any big city in the united states. One thing I have realized, which now seems obvious to me but no one seemed to mention it to be before, is that it is simply a different culture and I am scared not because there is something concrete to be scared of but because I am not used to it.  I have never set foot in any of the places I go each day, I have never seen any of the people on the street, and I do not know how to behave in this culture.  Every man on the street does not want to kill me, I simply am not used to people looking and acting like they do here! A Russian in Los Angeles would feel the exact same way. I walk down the street here and if I am walking next to someone or I pass someone, I feel like they start following me, I can just feel it and I get a little scared. Most of the time, they arent following me. There are equally as dangerous and shady places in the u.s., its just, in america i know, by intrinsic knowledge as well as signs which I grew up reading, where to go and where not to go. Here, I have no idea. So, I think one thing I would tell someone when coming here is that is NOT a lawless chaotic hellhole that we are all just gonna make jokes about being so crappy but, rather, it is merely a different culture and you have to be careful here... just as careful as you have to be in any big city in any country around the world.

One of the biggest differences in culture is the prioritization, which is also just different. If shown a specific few pictures, you would get the impression that russia is all just incredibly poor and rundown and pathetic and barely functioning. For instance, when I got inside the elevator in our building (our apt is on the 9th floor), it was terrifying.  Me and my most mom barely fit with my 3 bags, the lights were all out except for one which was barely BARELY giving off light, you could hear the motor fighting for its life, and I really wasnt sure if the elevator was going to make it or if we were gonna fall down the shaft to our deaths. When we got to the 9th floor, the hallway was equally as depressing, looking all to much soviet-like, with the wall paper peeling off the way and water stains everywhere, with huge, tawdry, iron doors on each apartment. When my host mother opened the door to the apartment, I saw an impeccably clean, hardwood floor, well light, shiny, apartment. Honestly, it looked like an apartment that wasnt real and pictures would be taken of for an advertisement, and that is how it always it. It is SO SO nice. It is their priority to have the apartments nice and not the hallways and the elevators. Another example... the coffee houses... oh MAN are they nice. Every single "Coffee House" or "Coffeehouse Company" is like up up upper class, modern furnishing, glass floors, stainless steel everywhere, Beverly Hill, paris hilton looking, its crazy. All with inexpensive food too. Well... the coffee and the smoothies are really expensive but the "pourage," which is what I usually get there, is really cheap.

The people are different, of course, and all waiters in every restaurant everywhere are just ridiculously gorgeous women, and some stereotypes of russia are true but all in all it really doesnt feel that much different. Of course, it is impossible to forget i am not at home anymore when everyone and every sign is in russian but it was not as drastic as i was expecting from what everyone said. that being said, esp while observing my program-mates, if my comfort with the language was not was it is (not that its that high... at all) i would certainly be much less comfortable. granted, i cant understand basically a single syllable anyone says here so i dont know what comfort i am really talking about lol :P

there is so much i want to say and cant say to those around me because i cant explain most of it in russian but i am such an... active social observer and scientist, as you all know, and i love looking at how people move and talk and act and interact with each other that I am formulating so many good thesisisisisisisisi (whatever the plural is) about the russian culture in general as well as comparing it to american culture. although life here is insanely exhausting for me and i have already felt discouraged a few times, at the end of the day, I am here to learn russian and to better my understanding of russian. What that means, to me, is that - i dont care what level anyone else is in my program, i dont care how defeated or helpless i feel sometimes or whether or not i get on the metro (which is INSANELY efficient by the way) on time or not because I am only worried about my progress and growth as a human being, not anyone elses. Of course, I am still myself and do my absolutely best to please those around me and be nice and courteous and friendly to everyone but in terms of how much or small any of the students vocabs are, i dont care, i want to speak and to practice and to hear russian and thats exactly what i am going to do.

tomorrow our classes start and I have to get interviewed to determine my level, which should be fun. there are some heritage speakers in my program as well as two people, a guy and a girl, who have already been here for like 4 months and speak beautifully so I do have plenty of people to talk to and learn from. I got assigned my tutor today, who I spoke with for a long time and is really cool, she actually teaches english to russians here, which is pretty tight. 

im pretty tired and am not sure what else to say right now, i had such good stuff while walking along the gulf of finland today but now i cant remember anything, damnit


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  2. At least there was an elevator, and no one peed in it! :) Yeah, I agree, I think everyone scared you a little too much so that you'd be prepared, but in all honestly, it's really not THAT bad. Just always be careful, which you already are anyways.

  3. 2 questions. Does your host house have internet? By coffeehouse do you mean like Starbucks or more of a restaurant?

  4. Jose - I have no idea what that means sorry :( tina help me out!

    Tina - who said no one had peed in the elevator!? It's true though, I don't think anyone or anything had. Yeah there was some mental warfare going on for sure

    Torrey - my host family does have internet but the son is the only one who knows how to use it and he doesnt particularly like the internet very much. its so cheap here though, i bought a 3g modem with unlimited bandwith for about $25 and it will last until i leave. The reason i called it Coffeehouse is because thats the name of the establishment... it isnt a russian word but just sounds out "Kofe-Khaus." its more like a starbucks than a restaurant imo

  5. great blog syd. everything you're saying very true. this is exactly how i felt walking around france those first few days...the only difference is, the russians are probably actually nice. you're gonna speak so well when you leave that place...

    oh, and i think it's theses.