Tuesday, July 03, 2007

One Year Later: A Retrospective

It's really hard to believe that in just a matter of weeks, we'll be packing up our apartment and boarding a plane back to the United States. I still remember like it was yesterday the feeling I had sitting in the car on the way from the Pulkovo Airport to our apartment for the very first time: I strained to read the Cyrillic signs before we passed them; I was elated to find a sign I understood and I was relieved when we hit traffic, meaning that I had more time to decipher all of the letters and make sense of them. I remember the butterflies that fluttered around in my stomach and the questions that danced in my head.

Looking back over the last year, many of those anxieties have been brushed aside and relegated to the "naive American" category. Our greatest fears have been trumped. We survived our first Russian winter without too much discomfort and only a few pairs of torn long-johns. As the Russians love to say, "there is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing." We tested our marriage by living and working side-by-side in a place we knew we would feel isolated. We knew our work-styles were polar opposites and while the first few months were sticky, we overcame the obstacles and learned to communicate better, work together more efficiently, and leverage each other's strengths. In the end, our marriage is stronger for it.

Over a candlelit dinner tonight in honor of our 2nd wedding anniversary, we compiled a joint list of 30 lessons we've learned over the last year:
  1. Russians don't know what water fountains are (since they can't drink the tap water anyway). Only the ones who have traveled abroad understand the concept of free water.
  2. Rolling suitcases don't roll in the snow.
  3. Sometimes, all you need is a pink parka and matching pink boots to help you overcome your greatest fears.
  4. Shredded cheese and tofu are integral to our happiness.
  5. Being able to adjust the heat is a luxury.
  6. Yelling at people on the street through a megaphone is a legitimate marketing tactic.
  7. Those fancy shops on Nevsky Prospekt, like Prada, Gucci, and Versace? They're just for show. No one buys anything there.
  8. Watching the sun dim over the Neva from a boat at midnight is truly spectacular.
  9. St. Petersburg -- in general, summer months excluded -- is NOT a beautiful city.
  10. There is no ceiling for weirdness in this part of the world. Every time you think you've reached the limit (say, you attend a Christian hip-hop concert in downtown Helsinki or you celebrate graduation with 500,000 of your closest friends), you will be surprised again very quickly.
  11. An umbrella is always necessary, even when it's sunny out. Likewise, a sweater is always necessary, even during the summer.
  12. There is a machine (a "babushkifier") in which Russian women enter around age 35 that transforms them from sexy, thin model-types into frumpy babushkas. There is simply no other explanation.
  13. The theater, ballet, opera and symphonies in this city beat the pants off of most other cities in the world, and for a heck of a lot less money, too!
  14. Wearing jeans and a t-shirt to the most prestigious theater in the world is totally acceptable, because all the Russians do it.
  15. No matter how short the skirt, Matt is still not allowed to look.
  16. It's ok to drink beer on the street at 9 am.
  17. Time management is a skill that does not exist in Russia.
  18. Fieldman's law dictates that regardless of where you are, someone will come sit/stand next to you and start smoking in such a way that the wind will blow the smoke right into your face.
  19. Russian is a near-impossible language to master.
  20. The metro in Washington is put to shame by the metro of St. Petersburg.
  21. Alyson can whip up any kind of food you want, given 30 minutes and basic kitchen utensils. Standard ingredients are not necessary.
  22. Matt is a whiz at figuring out how to play video games, even when they are not in English!
  23. Searching for a job from far away is very difficult. We've gotten to the point in our careers where only face-to-face interviews will do.
  24. The middle of the street is a suitable place for car maintenance, peeing, passing out in a drunken stupor, or any other activity you can get away with.
  25. You can find podcasts for anything--Jewish learning, breaking news, financial advice, military history, classical musics, even tips on good manners. Podcasts make for great escapist behavior.
  26. There's no concept of "service with a smile." You're lucky if you even get "service."
  27. Alyson's mother makes the best personal assistant you could imagine.
  28. You must provide exact change at all stores. Otherwise, you are likely to get verbally abused by the woman at the counter.
  29. It is imperative to stay alert on the metro escalator to avoid having drunk men fall down backwards into you.
  30. If you have the right partner, you can do anything.


Anonymous Nicky said...

Having just discovered your blog I am finding it very interesting. Matt and I have had a giggle over the 30 lessons..... All very true. I particularly like the last one. I believe that too.

Another lesson. Not being surprised by anything - it's Russia. Also - patience.

We'll buy some of your stuff of you too!!!

7/10/2007 07:53:00 PM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home