Sunday, November 28, 2010

Guessing game / Post office / New Year's resolution

When people hear my accent in Russian, they often ask where I'm from. My favorite response is, "where would you guess I'm from?" I don't have an official tally, but the most frequent responses are Germany and Poland. Sometimes I get the Baltics. England has been the closest guess, since I don't think anyone's ever said the US. But last week I got the most interesting response so far: Iceland. I decided to make friends with the respondent ☺


Odd as it might seem, I was beginning to think that the post office in Russia was a lot friendlier than in the US. (US post offices are one of my least favorite places on earth. On many occasions I have been barked at, a couple times lectured, and once or twice screamed at, for... well, I don't know what for... I would stop doing whatever it is I'm doing if only I knew what it is I'm doing...) So, I went to pick up a package yesterday at my neighborhood Russian post office with a copy of my passport, but not the real passport, because the copy usually suffices. The post office employee wouldn't accept my copied passport and when I tried to urge her to rethink her decision, saying that the copy had been accepted in the past, she started screeching at me and told me it was toilet paper and she wouldn't accept toilet paper. A profanity may have slipped out as I backed away from the counter. Yep, post offices are the same everywhere.


My energy for blogging, along with my energy for just about everything, has vanished. As a result I've been writing a lot of unenthusiastic blogs. So, I've decided to take a break for the rest of the year, the month of December, and pick up blogging again in 2011 with newfound blog-writing energy, a more positive (or at least interested) outlook, and pictures. Surely I'll have my camera back by January.

That is my New Year's resolution. (At least it's one of them.)

Happy New Year! S novym godom! Feliz año nuevo! Šťastný nový rok! Ein glückliches neues Jahr! Etc.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Better Left Unblogged?

I hesitate as I write this blog. The idea came to me several weeks ago, but I've debated to myself whether or not it's really a bloggable topic. I've finally decided to just go ahead with it. This is partly because no other ideas have descended upon me. It's also because I'm still separated from my camera. We've been apart since Halloween. It's possible that all of November will pass un-photographed.

Now time for the disclaimer: this blog is about bathrooms, mainly public, in Russia.

A few differences in restroom culture are immediately apparent upon arriving in Russia from the US (many of these differences also apply to Europe more broadly and other areas of the world as well, but I'll only talk about Russia).

First off, most public bathrooms charge a fee. If you patronize a restaurant or cafe, you don't pay for the toilet, but otherwise, you'll probably have to shell out 15-30 rubles (50¢ - $1) to use rather uninspiring facilities. Here's the entrance to a public toilet in downtown Moscow:

But there's actually something unique about this public toilet. Zooming in on the sign, one can see that below the section reporting the hours of operation is a section announcing that it's a "free public restroom." I still almost can't believe what I read, and am tempted to go back to this bathroom to see if perhaps I had momentarily stepped into in a rip in the space-time continuum.

Of course there are ways around paying for public toilets, such as finding a nearby McDonalds or Starbucks.

The biggest bathroom shocker for me was the stand-up toilet. I've been told these are quite common in (parts of?) Asia, but I came across them for the first time in Russia.

Many of these are pay toilets. They're particularly expensive and unsavory at train stations.

However, when there is a toilet seat, standing is frowned upon:

Most toilets place the flusher on top of the water tank, not on the front side like we're used to in the US.

I took the last picture because of the mildly amusing pun in the brand name of the toilet paper. If you speak Russian you get the pun right away and if you don't speak Russian it would probably be the most unexciting thing you've ever heard, so I won't bother explaining it☺

Speaking of toilet paper, it is a big no-no to flush it in public restrooms. I can't remember the last time I was in a stall that didn't have a sign respectfully requesting that I not flush the toilet paper down the toilet. I find the practice rather foul and try not to think about it.

And with that I'll close my first and (so help me God) last blog on toilets.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Read no further

Seriously, read no further. Because there's no blog today. But I promise something magnificent and thought-provoking next week. Well, at least I can promise that there will be some pictures!

Sunday, November 7, 2010

November is the Cruelest Month

Over the last week I've lost my credit card, hat, gloves, a metro card, and my dignity (OK, that last one's a little harder to prove).

I've convinced myself that I hate Moscow, Russian food, and Russian people, including the ones I live with.

I've whined and complained to everyone who will listen (or feign to listen) to me. To my Russian tutor, to my expat friends, to friends back home over Skype, and to my mom, who I called in a frenzy at 9 AM on Wednesday (I usually wake up at 10... or later☺) because I was convinced that I needed to move out of my current apartment and into my own flat. Stat.

What has led me to these extremes of glass-half-emptiness? What is making November so cruel? It's not the weather, which has been hovering around a surprisingly pleasant and rain-free 40-45˚ F. No, it's not the weather -- it's the cruel academic job search.

I have written so many drafts of postdoc grant proposals and job cover letters (a genre I particularly loathe), that I'm beginning to feel like my own pen and keystrokes are turning against me, making me into a fool, exposing me as an imposter.

For "fun" and in my "free time" I've found myself obsessively reading about higher education in the news and following online gossip columns about job & postdoc searches. News stories, that is: horror stories, report on the Crisis of the Humanities - how the earth is about to open up and swallow humanities departments whole (which is not an exaggeration in some cases) - and the flooded job market, where there are 300, 400... 600 applicants for every postdoc job advertisement [postdocs are TEMPORARY (1-4 year) jobs!!!]. So much for academics in their ivory towers. The economic crisis affects the academic sector as well. (I don't mean to sound insensitive here, I'm just trying to say I empathize.)

This is why I have been a bad blogger lately. And this is also why my Halloween costume was a flop. I'm still without my camera, so I'll just tell you that I had some sort of hybrid costume that I think coincided most closely with a roller derby girl outfit. I had a green polyester dress, a pink glitter cowboy hat, and some shapes painted on my face... but no roller skates.

And so, with November and all its cruelness getting me down, I decided to take a trip back to October today, that is, to the Red October (Krasnyj Oktiabr' ) factory. It's where they used to make Red October brand chocolate, but it now houses galleries, clubs, restaurants, boutique stores, etc. I was especially in the mood for some photography (maybe due to separation anxiety from my camera?), and that's what I got. Here's a view of the cool factory complex:

photo courtesy of

I suppose I don't hate Moscow so much when I'm actually in it.