Our 'Only in Russia' section is normally devoted to an individual incident relatively unique to the Russian way of life. However, with the arrival of a foolhardy young Canadian on an internship here at Gazeta.Ru we have decided to let him convey his own personal insight into life in the Russian capital. After a two-month stint here in Russia, he came to the following conclusion:
'A CANADIAN CALL FOR RUSSIAN AID'
I have always been proud of how frequently the U.N. has ranked Canada as the best place to live in the world. This title signifies that we, as Canadians, enjoy the highest quality of life there is.
However, after having lived the past few months in Moscow, I feel it is my patriotic duty to report that we have been gravely deceived. I now understand that our high ranking and other international honors have all been part of a Kremlin-led conspiracy to keep us ignorant of our own suffering while its people secretly indulge in their many excesses.
The illusions end here! The following report will highlight just a few of the disparities I have uncovered, between Russia and Canada, while living here in the Russian capital.
FOOD and DRINK:
Muscovites have better access to healthy food. Farmers’ markets abound and, in them, produce is sold at a competitive or negotiable price and without the added expense of colouring or preservatives.
Their fast food selection is also superior. A Canuck stuck for time will likely grab a burger or nuke something in the microwave. A Muscovite cooks up some wholesome Pelmini (the little dumplings that began Russia’s fast food tradition) or visits one of the million kiosks that sell either stuffed potatoes, pitas filled with every food group (Sharma), or anything one could hope for in fried pie form (Piroshki).
The latter may back up one’s internal plumbing, but never fear they have Kefir, which works like ‘Drano’. In Canada there is a myth that milk eventually goes ‘bad’. In Moscow they know that milk ages like fine wine and that when it tastes sour, smells strange or curdles it is only ‘maturing’ into Kefir.
Of course, ‘sour milk’ isn’t the only beverage Russians enjoy in greater quantities than Canadians. In Canada (excluding Quebec) you can only purchase alcohol at licensed bars/restaurants or directly from the government and you can be arrested or fined for drinking on the street. As if these restrictions weren’t enough, the taxation is ridiculous.
When their government tried to restrict drinking rights in the late eighties, Russians had the good sense not to stand for it. Nowadays, it would be remarkable to walk 10 minutes in Moscow without noticing someone exercising his or her drinking freedom. Drinkers can be found on the street, the metro, at the office or on their way to school. Beer is a common choice for public drinkers. Cocktails are also becoming popular and are sold, pre-mixed in 1 liter bottles or cans, at thousands of kiosks throughout Moscow. They are advertised in the way that energy drinks are in Canada.
On a metro ride home from work, the only thing Russians consume more than drinks are books. Russians are always reading, and when they’re not, they’re talking. Their 33-letter alphabet has born billions of words. In English Canada we try hard not to choke on our tough, dry little words, as we mutter them bitterly in monotone accents. Russians relish the taste of their big, soft and succulent words, savoring them on their palates as they would the finest caviar and, when released, their voices bubble from their mouths like Russian champagne.
As if their own was not enough, many Muscovites elect to study foreign languages. Not only the so-called ‘new’ Russians strive to be linguists; the poorest of the poor have asked me for change in English, German, French and Spanish. One time a small boy appealed to me in all five languages, rendering my claim of not understanding him utterly implausible. At which point he reverted back to his mother tongue, which I then learned has more swear words than the other four combined.
Language is but one of the many colossal items to be found in Russia. Culturally, they boast an immense history filled with huge revolutions. Russia is also the largest country in the world and its streets, buildings and monuments are all gigantic. Within the great walls of the Kremlin, Russia proudly displays the world’s largest canon and one of the world’s largest bells.
One might add that the Russian love for language, with all its words and structures, leaves little time in the day for much else, that their history of revolutions has kept the people in a constant scramble to re-organize, that 75% of Russians live within the one quarter of their vast land known as the fertile triangle (in contrast to the infertility of the rest), that the world’s largest canon cannot be fired or that their great bell cannot be rung.
However, one must not dwell on such trifles and miss the crux of the matter, which is that bigger is better. Besides, Russians have never been burdened by our Western obsession with efficiency, which brings us to my next point:
Of course, I am not speaking of freedom as the U.N. defines it (having already explained their part in our deception). Russians have the freedom to be politically incorrect, brazen in every way, discourteous and, at times, completely inept. Most of all they are free from order.
In particular I have observed the following acts of liberty: Apparently, a man can sneak up on a group of schoolgirls and successfully grasp not one, not two, but three breasts (and be reprimanded only by soft giggles). Children can dive from high café terraces into one-meter deep fountains, while amused adults applaud their most daring leaps. A slightly disturbing freedom I myself have experienced is the Russian Banya. In which heterosexual naked men can feel comfortable getting sweaty together, swatting each other with twigs and cooling off with a romp in the snow or by sharing a pool or shower.
As well, Russian strangers need not feel awkward in staring menacingly at each other; in fact, I think they enjoy these staring contests quite a bit. Whereas we strive to avoid eye contact with strangers and nervously smile at one another when we fail.
Clearly our tendency to smile, in particular, at times when we are not in ecstasy, is a sign of insecurity. Any Russian will tell you, as they have me, that this is the case. Our anxiety is also evident to Russians in our inclinations to apologize to one another over minor transgressions, to thank each other for things already paid for and all the other frailties we unconsciously suffer while thinking we’re acting ‘civil’.
Unlike us, Muscovites are strong and fearless, primarily because the population is toughened by rigorous daily exercise. The Metro serves as their main training ground. First one must overcome the entrance doors that swing wildly in both directions knocking any unworthy would-be passenger unconscious. That first hurdle overcome, one is faced with the crowds. During my sojourn in Moscow, I have not stood in a single line. At times, I was naive enough to think that I was in one but soon realized, while airborne, that I had simply chosen a random spot to stand.
The Metro mob spares no one, doors are rarely opened for the old or invalid, seats are not sacrificed and I’m certain if I ever collapsed indifferent feet would trample me. Back home in the land of lines, order and apologies, the weak stand with the strong and our whole population grows soft. In Moscow, aside from family and friends, with whom Russians share everything, the socialist concept ''one for all and all for one'' never stuck. A much more appropriate adage would be ''one for one and all get out of one’s way''. Thus, the weak are weeded out of the populace and only the strong remain.
We also lack formal security precautions such as conscription, police checking passports at random 24/7 and a Metro deep enough to double as a bomb shelter. So, of course we are insecure. The States backs us at the moment, but deep down we know that if they ever decide to march north in search of fresh water, timber or beaver hats we would not be able to fight like ‘Hero-city’ Moscow. Likely we would smile at them like idiots, thank them for their visit and then ask them to please go home.
I should note the strength of Russian women. While young, they are beautiful. They flaunt this fact with all the clothes, perfumes and mannerisms that are known to excite male senses. They are not shy about their beauty and thoroughly enjoy all the attention it attracts, in part, because it is a great source of power in Russian society. They use this authority fully while it lasts and, when it fades, they undergo an immense transmutation. They shrink several inches, loose their silky curves in favor of solid muscle, dispense with their pointy high heels, buy a pair of work boots, fill some plastic bags with whatever can knock a man senseless, wrap their hair in a bun or hanky and become, the virtually indestructible, ''BABUSHKA''.
These terminator-like grannies put ours to shame. While most cultures are respectful of their frail matriarchs, only in Russia is there reason to both respect and fear them. If you open a door for one, she will thank you whole heartedly and your safety will be ensured but, if you dare to stand in one’s way, be prepared to have your legs knocked out from under you, your bag torn from your hand and aimed squarely at your crotch. These tough old broads are street fighters.
I was once tag teamed by two. I hesitated for a brief moment while considering how to escape their path at an upcoming metro stop. When the train doors opened, they bowed their heads forward and I knew all hope was lost, they charged at me, hoisted me up off the ground like linebackers and carried me out into the station. Russian women were built to last. In point of fact, the oldest woman in the world has lived her 124 years in Chechnya (a region in which this young Canadian male would be proud to have lasted a weekend).
So, there it is Canada.
Having considered the evidence, I think all will agree that we are in a desperate state and that Russia owes us for its deceptive behavior. In closing, I propose Canada submit a call for Russian aid demanding the bare essentials: Pelmini, Kefir, canned cocktails, seven extra letters, and the world’s biggest anything. As well as teams of scholars to complicate our language, police to complicate our days, architects to make our subway trips a violent journey to the center of the earth, some straight men armed with twigs and vodka, a beauty school for our young women and a boot camp for our grannies.
Herb G. Terry