Monday, December 29, 2008

You live, you learn

On the one hand my weekend was successful. I ordered food, tea, and a hookah in Russian, I added more days to my metro pass in Russian, I haggled (in English and Russian), and I am continuing to become more familiar with the layout of Moscow. On the other hand . . .

I did not know enough Russian to make sure I ordered more hot water instead of more tea, so I was overcharged. I wish I would have communicated better -- next time I will try harder and just tell him isho voda (more water). I got a little frustrated because I’m pretty sure the waiter wasn’t using simple language, so I just got overwhelmed because I couldn’t understand. Some people are great – when they realize you don’t speak much, if any Russian, they start using simpler sentences and words and involve gestures to ask you the same question (like the metro pass lady who wanted to know if I wanted to put the money on the card I handed her – of course!) – but others don’t even try and walk off as frustrated as you are because of the language barrier.

Today at the souvenir market, I was too wrapped up with buying things, so I really didn’t think about what I was buying until I got home. Now I am suffering incredible buyer’s remorse, feeling like I got ripped off, and wishing that I could return things. Hopefully the feeling passes, and I become even more motivated to find proper Russian lessons! Each day is a lesson in things I need to be aware of and words/phrases I should know. Yesterday I learned the different words for strawberry and plum, but unfortunately, not until I ordered a strawberry mint hookah (not the greatest combination).

Anyway, you live you learn.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Snow and Christmas

It has been exceptionally cold the last couple days with the humidity rising and the temperature dropping. Today we finally got a second decent snowfall! I will have to take more pictures just in case it doesn't last.

Snow falling outside my apartment before I darted inside

Ah, ah, but you want to know about (western) Christmas in Moscow ...
Even though I had to work, Christmas quite nice. I had an excellent day and felt great. It turns out that as long as I get a nice, relaxing, holiday filled morning with a generous breakfast and a present or two - the rest of the Christmas will be great! After Christmas morning at home with pancakes and stockings, Rachel and I went to the Christmas lunch and gift exchange with the other native English speakers. Then back to work!

Fortunately, my students were more than generous for Christmas and didn't mind that the lessons took a less serious, more holiday spirited tone (the teenagers were probably glad of it even though on Christmas proper I only had 3 of the 9 show up!). Many of them were aware that Western Europe and America celebrate Christmas on the 25th of December (rather than the 7th of January), so I heard "Merry Christmas" many times and received way too much candy, which I promptly handed out to anyone and everyone! I have a feeling there is more candy on the way as it is not yet new year and this is the big, commercial holiday in Russia.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Wishing for snow and trying to tune into the holiday spirit in Moscow

Though I am homesick, and missing the American version of holiday spirit (especially went it comes to songs in public places), I am finding there is a bit of holiday cheer around Moscow. Unfortunately, there is still no snow on the ground and everyone is wishing for it! Need someone to come and do a snow dance.

The yolka (Christmas/New Years tree) at Mayakovskaya Ploshad near work in downtown Moscow.

Rachel and I being tourists and posing in a fairy tale (I still need to find out exactly which fairy tale this is). Unfortunately the man taking the photo only got one photo even though we switched places and he thought he took more than one picture.

Our little yolka (Christmas Tree) at Kon'kovo.

This morning the sun was shining, and we had a skiff of snow!

Our snow hill at Kon'kovo - they have snow making machines going.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Peanut Butter Cookies

I received the first package my parents sent near the middle of last week. They sent it off on the 30th of October, and according to the United States Postal Service (USPS), the package arrived in "Russia" near the beginning of November. After that point, the tracking number no longer worked (for obvious reasons), but it took 4-5 weeks to get from where ever it was dropped off in Russia to a post office no where near the address it was sent to. Luckily my flatmate, Rachel, had a package she needed to pick up as well, so we went to this out of the way post office together.

Both our packages contained peanut butter and peanut butter candies - very American things that are hard to find here. Because of this and my interest in sharing different things, I told everyone I would bring in peanut butter cookies Tuesday, since I have Mondays off. And like the banana bread, the peanut butter cookies were a hit. I'm glad I made two batches because the cookies disappeared rapidly (this might have been because those who knew what peanut butter cookies were, Americans, took a few instead of just one!) Never-the-less, once again, I handed out the recipe. It seems that many people did not realize there was peanut butter in the cookies until they looked at the recipe - I guess this makes sense considering that many of them might not have ever had peanut butter before, or at least real, American peanut butter. :)

Anyway, for those of you who are interested, here's the recipe. I have marked vanilla as optional because I haven't been able to find real vanilla here and they turned out fine without (though they probably are even better with!)

1 c. butter 1 tsp. vanilla (optional)
1 c. peanut butter 2 ½ c. flour
1 c. granulated sugar 1 ½ tsp. baking soda
1 c. brown sugar ½ tsp. salt
2 eggs

• Thoroughly cream buter, peanut butter, sugars, eggs, & vanilla.
• Sift together dry ingredients & blend into creamed mixture.
• Roll into 1” balls & roll.
• Put on cookie sheet and use a damp fork to make a criss-cross design on top.

Bake in 375° oven for 8-10 minutes (or until golden brown). Cookies will be soft inside and a little crispy outside.


Sunday, December 14, 2008

Flashbacks of a Fool

Oi, learning a new language is tough, frustrating, tiring, and a lot of work. I am slowly, slowly understanding more bits and pieces of Russian, and today I subjected myself to a movie dubbed in Russian. I thought I was being invited to see an actual Russian film, but it turns out it was an American independent film (Flashbacks of a Fool) that had been dubbed in Russian and was shown in the back room of a movie theater with a DVD player and projector. We sat on very uncomfortable chairs - they weren't fold-up, but they might as well have been. The people I was with told me that this is not typical of Moscow cinemas, but maybe it is for independent films -- maybe we should have gotten the hint when the movie wasn't even posted inside the theater! After mostly understanding a film through pictures and picking up a word hear and there, I continued to try and understand conversation, though I don't have the structures or vocabulary to really join in. I can ask - What does that mean? How do you say ...? I learned how to say I like something ... Ya lublu sneg (I like snow). Ah, the joys and frustrations associated with language learning!

Monday, December 8, 2008

Trip to Sergiev Posad (сергиев посад)

Had to go outside of Moscow to find snow again ... gorgeous monastery - Trinity St. Sergius Monastery in Sergiev Posad (about an hour outside of Moscow).

Ryan, my tour guide and co-worker, trying to lure a bird. These birds were very used to people and must have been fed quite often, but they soon figured out Ryan had no food to offer them.

Saturday, December 6, 2008


I have noticed that a major cultural difference between my Russian students and myself is the general attitude toward cheating. Because of my culture, personality, and the way I was raised, I have a gut feeling that tells me cheating is fundamentally wrong, and I don't cheat because of it. My students don't understand this feeling and were genuinely shocked when I mentioned it. I haven't yet met a Russian student who understands why cheating is such a big deal for me. They understand that there are certain situations where you need to be more careful about cheating because of the consequence that you might get expelled from the school or university, but it's the fundamental "gut" issue that my students and I don't see eye-to-eye on.

In my struggle to understand their point of view, I have asked many questions and been exposed to a variety of "techniques" for cheating. Students have learned how to cheat intelligently -- They have to know enough to know if what they are copying is worthwhile. And I have learned that unless it's ridiculously obvious, cheating is not even worth mentioning. The students don't seem to feel guilty about cheating - it's just everyday life. They know what I want to hear and will tell me, but they don't understand my association of cheating and guilt/shame. For example, I had three (adult) students who were making up a test they missed. I did not have time to be in the same room as them but would walk by every once in a while. I knew that they were working together rather than alone and thought about not saying anything because I understand that Russian culture doesn't have an issue with cheating, but I finally decided to let my students know that I wanted them to try and work alone. One of the students looked at me, and said, "Yes, of course. We know that this is a test of our own knowledge." Yet, even after this response, all three students missed the same questions and got the same grades on the exam. Obvious cheating. There was at least some creativity in that not all of the written answers were copied word for word. Of course, these were overall good students, and I didn't want to fail them, so I let it slide. What do you do? When in Rome, do as the Romans ... right? This is what the English text books keep telling the students, and I am trying to adapt and do the same myself without sacrificing who I am as an individual and a person.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

No more snow

Unfortunately the snow has all melted and lately we have had nothing but rain, clouds, and fog. The temperature is back to where it is too warm for a winter coat in the morning (10 AMish) but is cold enough that a winter coat is wanted in the evening (10 PMish). It's obnoxious and a toss up, but I have decided, at least for now, that I like the warmth of my winter coat in the evening when I am heading home from work. I hope it gets cold again soon. I didn't get any pictures in the snow with all my winter gear on!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Thanksgiving notes and Happy December!

Pancakes with Cranberry Sauce from the morning after "Thanksgiving"

Sunday Rachel and I hosted our Thanksgiving party. It was great to have people over - makes the place feel more like home. In some ways it was like Thanksgiving, we had the stuffing, potatoes, cranberry sauce and lots of desserts, but in other ways it was just a great get-together with friends. We almost didn't have enough food for everyone (which certainly isn't quite Thanksgiving)! But those who were vocal about the food sounded like they got more than enough to eat (so that's a good sign). I discovered it is quite a lot of work to host a party like this, especially when we almost didn't have enough dishes! I had to keep collecting and washing glasses, plates, and silverware to make sure everyone had something to eat on and with, but it was a blast! Unfortunately with all my running around, I really didn't get many pictures, except of the food -- but I know others were taking pictures, so I will try to get some of them and post them.

Collecting ingredients for the dishes I made was nearly painless, but I did have an adventure at the producty (продукты) beforehand. Usually I go to a very western style grocery that is very impersonal and removed - you pick out your own things, and then take them up to a cashier who rings everything up and you can see the price on the register. Because I needed things like ginger and garlic that are harder to find at my regular grocery, I decided to venture out of my comfort zone (and hopefully save some money) by picking up some of my fresh ingredients from the producty (basically an indoor food market). I walked into the market, not really knowing what to expect and began wandering around looking at the different stands and sizing up what was available and what the procedure was. As I was nearing the back of the building, one of the clerks came up and asked me what I was looking for or if she could help me. Of course, this was in Russian so I only had an idea of what she said. I told her in Russian that I didn't understand Russian, but she helped me out anyway. When the people at the stand realized I spoke English and was American they began asking me all sorts of questions -- finally, I understood, the owner of the stand, Marina, wanted me to tell her the English words for the fruits she had at her stand. As we went through, I told her I wanted a few of the things, and also asked her the words in Russian. She was extremely helpful, we laughed a lot, and when it came time to pay she started counting out the price in French! I laughed and said frantsuzky?! (французски?!) and later reflected on how great it is that we ended up communicating in a language we both knew a little of. I got out of there with almost everything I needed, except cranberries. I wanted to be careful, the fruit Marina had given me to taste that looked like a cranberry didn't taste quite like a cranberry, so I decided to them up another day, after finding out the Russian word for cranberry, klukva (клюква).