Tuesday, 15 March 2011

“In Russian, chocolate is abstract”

Or at least it is according to our teacher Irina Alexandrovna. I pondered this notion at length during the remaining minutes of the class. Perhaps this is the reason that Russian girls are so skinny? Because they are eating some kind of mysterious, abstract chocolate rather than the literal, concrete kind of chocolate consumed by their western counterparts…

The online dictionary defines abstract as follows: Thought of apart from concrete realities, specific objects, or actual instances: an abstract idea.

I have discovered that a number of things fit this description in Russia, such as takeaway coffee and smiles, or indeed any decent coffee or any form of facial expression.

Well, this is not entirely true. Although on a daily basis it is normal to see every second girl carrying some form of flower yet still looking miserable, (a fact pointed out to me by an indignant Mike, just before he lost faith in flower shops altogether) sometimes Russians do smile. And not in that cheesy American soulless robot-waiter kind of way, but as an actual expression of emotion. I feel that this is preferable. Notable smiles include creepy smile of internet café customer, possibly friendly grin of dormitory guard and hysterical laughter of crazy dormitory lady when we can’t speak Russian or after having asked us if we all love Sam because he is so tall that he has to duck under the door.

Other abstract concepts in my daily life here include privacy, personal space and toilets that have been built since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

At the risk of sounding positive, I must admit I had a rather enjoyable Saturday night with some Russian friends at one of their flats and even dared to defy the 11pm curfew by staying over. We all sat in the living room with two giant bowls of Pelmeni as the centre piece, drank some beer, I was introduced to the Russian cocktail masterpiece that is the Highway (Cognac and Pepsi with lemon juice). I think we even created a communal joke, whereby every time I receive a phone call from Germany they shout “Angela Merkel позвонит!” At first they were slightly concerned when my phone rang at 3.30am, assuming that I hadn’t informed the other Bristol students of my whereabouts and that they were in mass panic mode and in the process of destroying Russo British relations by accusing the guards of eating me. However, when they discovered that it was just Angela Merkel checking up on me, all was well once again.

A recurring theme of my experiences so far which I wasn’t prepared for is all the singing. We sing with Irina Alexandrovna during lessons, but I didn’t expect the Russians to whip out the guitar and have a Saturday night sing along. It was a pleasant surprise though. Unlike the surprise of how much excrement was ingrained into the carpet at the Dog Show the next day, which I attended with a mild hangover. I did unintentionally manage to take a photo of one dog in the act, but I am undecided as to whether it fits with the sophisticated tone of my blog.

Another surprise which I have yet to decide whether is pleasant or unpleasant is today’s evacuation of the University due to some kind of terrorist bomb threat (or possibly a terrorist bomb threat drill designed to practise the evacuation procedure). Positive results include going home early. Negative results include the fact that we live 3 seconds walk from the university anyway. So if the university were to explode, we would probably also explode.

Anyway, I have been promised that next weekend I will take part in the most important experience of all: the ‘Russian National Hangover.’

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