Today I am in São Paulo, getting ready to go to Russia, hopefully to begin an amazing new job in a cool Russian company.
I had planned on talking about something completely unrelated to today’s topic. Then I figured “Hey, it’s my blog, I can do whatever I want!”, so I changed my mind and decided to speak about some of the things I noticed in my first weeks in Belgorod. These are not the commonly spoken things about Russia, because there is enough of all of them on the internet anyway, and jokes about vodka, bears, and balalaikas are below me.
Kebab Shaverma Shawarma Shaurma
Shaurma is the name used in Moscow for this food, so that’s the one I am sticking with, pretty much the same way the right Russian is the Russian spoken in Moscow. Hopefully, none of my future colleagues in Saint Petersburg will read this.
This delicious street food was not very popular in Brazil when I lived there, but is quite literally in every corner in Russia. The first time I ate it was at a small café near my dormitory in Belgorod, which was run by foreign students of the university.
It is very common to find these small shaurma shops near bus stops, so sometimes they do have a reputation for not being very hygienically prepared, which can lead to dangerous situations. However, there are, of course, gourmet versions of these venues where you can have some gourmet shaurma for three times the price of a regular one.
Since I was a poor student and had an iron stomach, I simply went with the regular street food.
Smiles (or the lack thereof)
I think no one would be impressed to find out that Russians really do not often smile, and Brazilians smile very often. Or so says the legend.
The thing about smiling that normally they don’t tell you about is that Russians like to smile like anyone else, and it’s very easy to notice that once you are acquainted with any person. They just don’t think it’s appropriate to do that in public spaces, or with strangers. This is simply part of their culture, and there isn’t much we can do about that other than understand it. Not smiling at someone in public really does not mean that a person does not like you or is not friendly.
This is a bit hard to describe, especially since in both Portuguese and English, the formal and informal “you” is the same thing. Russians, on the other hand, have very strict rules on how you should talk to teachers, older persons or authorities.
This means that in these cases, you must always use the formal “you”. Even if you are friends with your teacher, you should keep using the formal “you”, at least in public.
Also, it’s not acceptable to address someone by their profession, as we normally do in most western countries. I still don’t understand why, but it’s not acceptable to call your professor “professor” or the director “director”. Instead, when addressing someone older, you must say his name and patronymic.
A patronymic is the name of the person’s father, quite common in Slavic countries. Let’s say I am Andrey, and my father is Yuri, my patronymic will be “Yuryevich” and if someone is going to address me formally, they have to say “Hello, Andrey Yuryevich”.
So, yep, lots of rules. Nothing impressive, given that the Russian language is so frigging complicated. But I will write more about that personally in the future.
Plastic bags (and packers)
This is a thing in Europe as well, as far as I am concerned. In Russia, you have to pay for plastic bags in shops. Yes, I know, how dare they charge for a plastic bag? Well, actually it makes sense, since it stops people from wasting plastic bags (Do you really need more than one bag anyway?), although I suspect they don’t do this because of their love for the environment.
In Brazil there are packers at the check-out counter. Maybe you have never lived in Brazil and right now you are asking yourself “Why is there such a job? Can’t you just pack your own stuff?”. Yes, there is a person, and often one person per cashier, by the way, whose function is to specifically put your goods in plastic bags. Probably because of low wages and high unemployment. In Russia, you are supposed to pack your own things like a savage, using the bags you paid for. Why, Russia? Why?
By the way, I would not be impressed if there is some stupid law in Brazil demanding that supermarkets hire one bag packer per cashier in order to generate more jobs. I know for a fact that we have a law that prohibits self-service fuel dispensers in gas stations.
I did not notice this in my first days in Belgorod, but I found out eventually that anti-cafes are a popular thing in Russia. “What is an anti-cafe?”, you might ask. Well, it’s basically a café where you pay for the time you stay. Why would I pay for the time I stay? Well, because normally this includes foods and drinks, such as cookies, muffins, coffee and tea, and lots of board games.
At first, I thought that this would be a good business idea for Brazil, since I think it doesn’t exist here. Then I realized in Brazil, people would just eat all the food in one minute and leave. If you have ever been in Brazil, you know this is exactly what would happen. Why don’t they do this in Russia, anyway? I would do it. But not really. I’m too shy for that.
Anyone who has traveled to Europe has noticed that any kind of civic space gets way better attention than in Brazil. By civic spaces, I mean squares, parks, memorials, etc. It’s one of the first things you notice in Russia and in other European countries as well. People actually refrain from vandalizing civic spaces in other countries, can you believe it?
I know in this blog I have been particularly acid towards some aspects of Brazilian culture. It’s my culture as well, and I love many aspects of it, but I have to criticize it when it needs to be criticized, so moving on to my next offense: I think the main reason about this is that Brazilians on average do not read much, and are likely not to be aware of historic events and personalities, and therefore, don’t care about monuments, statues and parks. It’s sad really, but maybe in a few hundred years we will value history more.
Sorry for ending this article on a sad note. I brought up these topics, mostly because all of them, except for the smile part, are normally ignored in other blogs about Russia and Russian culture. Shaurma (Kebab) is not even a Russian dish, but it’s so popular in Russia that I had to mention it.
Next week I will definitely write about Belgorod. Promise.