The Day my Leather Jacket Broke and General Tips on Surviving the Russian Winter

This is another post of my Life in Russia, and I will talk a bit more about living abroad and dealing with the winter and the snow around this part of the Soviet Union  Russian Federation.

It’s winter again in Saint Petersburg, and that means that no one will see the sun until May. Only a few weeks ago, right before the actual start of winter in Russia, we got a temperature of -25 °C (-13° F) with heavy snowfall. 

By the way, a bit of Trivia: whereas in other parts of the world the seasons officially start on the 22nd day of a certain month, in Russia, they officially start at the 1st day of the month. For example, whereas winter starts December 21 in the Northern Hemisphere, in Russia, the first day of winter is actually the 1st of December.

Winter in Russia: Expectation

Back to the main topic, though. Most foreigners who leave their home country are not prepared to deal with this kind of cold, and you will have to if you want to survive the winter in Russia. If you come from a warm country, you might marvel at the snow for the first two weeks, but thereafter, the cold somewhat loses its magic. That’s why I decided to share a few tips with you on coping with, and surviving, the Russian winter. I might also have one or two funny stories, though. 

How to Break a Leather Jacket

This happened when I was still living in Belgorod, a small town near the Ukrainian border, during my first winter in Russia. One beautiful wintry morning, when the temperature was around -32 °C (-25.6° F), I decided it was a great idea to walk to the university wearing a leather jacket. Of course, I wasn’t wearing only a leather jacket. I am not that crazy to venture outside with a leather jacket and nothing else. I am just a bit mentally challenged, which is why I was wearing a sweater under it too. And my jeans, of course.

It was only a 5 mins walk, anyway. What is the worst that could happen?

Well, it turns out that at a temperature of -30 °C, leather can actually freeze. Would you have imagined that? I certainly wouldn’t. I am, after all, only a Brazilian which had never seen snow before moving overseas that same year. Maybe if I had paid more attention to my history classes on the Napoleonic wars, I would have known that leather is not the best choice for the Russian winter.


So, I walked up to the door and took my university pass out of my pocket, only to feel the leather jacket breaking down around my arm. I looked at it in disbelief, not understanding what was going on with my clothes. I quickly realized the obvious: the jacket was ruined, and I had to wait inside the building to show my pass to avoid breaking any other parts. 

Yes, I am dumb. Thanks for noticing. At the same time, if you were considering doing the same thing, take my story as a cautionary tale. Even though a 5-minute walk finished out as a simple awkward experience, it is definitely a dreadful reminder of how quick cold temperatures can kill someone without proper clothing on the streets. And it happens more often than you think.

Dressing for winter

If you can’t count on jackets for the winter, what should you wear, then?

Thermal wear. They sell it in every SportsMaster (A sportswear store chain) around Russia, and you should totally get at least one set of thermal pants if you intend to walk around in negative temperatures. 

Me, enjoying the winter

Of course, there’s no need to mention that you also should have a proper winter coat and a few thick sweaters. The more layers, the better. Have a look around clothing stores and get the biggest scarf you can find as well. Keeping your neck region properly insulated is critical. This way, your body heat stays inside your clothes.

You also won’t regret having shoes lined with fur. If any vegans are reading this, synthetic fur is a good option, and it’s normally cheaper than real fur. An extra measure of caution is to get tall boots. You might be stepping into 20 or 40 cm of snow on the first few days or weeks of winter, and you really don’t want that snow to get inside your shoes. Really.

Overall, even if you are well-dressed for a severe and cold winter, you might want to stay inside more often. And don’t use a leather jacket.

That’s it for today, I guess. If you want me to write about anything in particular in Russia, let me know!

The Roommate from Hell – Part 3: “The Fridge Saga”

    It took me more than 6 months to actually write this. Wow. Much article. So discipline. Anyway, this time I will write about how the crazy roommate saga ends! 

    You might be thinking “But, Leandro, I thought you already had finished this story after he got kicked out of the apartment in Part 2!” Well, no. There is still one great final act in the mad theater of a mentally ill roommate’s mind. Not as great as being hunted by gopniki in a park, of course, but still worth telling. 

    So here we go. Part III. The comeback. The end of the saga! 

You will never look at a fridge the same way after this article

Why are you talking about a fridge?

    Let’s recap the last part of my post about this guy. He had been kicked out of the dormitory apartment, and we were living our happy lives in the freak-free world. Yay! There was just one teeny tiny detail. Remember what I wrote on Part 1? Probably not, but anyway, we had to invite him to a rehab-fashioned meeting, with the whole purpose of convincing him to pay for part of the fridge we had bought for the apartment. This was, of course, so he could keep his food from rotting and all that.

    Nonetheless, he did pay for part of the fridge in the end. And we didn’t give his money back when he was kicked out, of course. I guess when there’s a police officer threatening to arrest your roommate you don’t just go like “Oh, dear, the fridge! We must return the fridge money!”. 

  Just out of curiosity, tell me in the comments, what does a normal, sane, reasonable person does when someone owes them money? Maybe you can knock at their door and give a friendly reminder that you spent some money on a fridge that you are not using, right? Or, in case you are not really talking to the person because you tried to beat them up, and they didn’t really like it, maybe ask a mutual friend to talk with them about it?

How does an insane person say you owe them money?

    Of course, only a sane person would try to talk to you, or let a mutual friend know that they want their money back, since the paid for a fridge they are no longer using. Although, if he were a normal person, he wouldn’t try to get some random people to beat you up in a park.

You know what is a much better option when there are no limits to your sense of bizarre? You can accuse other people of stealing money from you. But since the police officer that had threatened to arrest him some 2 weeks earlier, he decided instead that it would be a great idea to spread accusations among my other students and teachers in the university. Isn’t that awesome?

This couldn’t go wrong, of course.

    On a beautiful morning after my Russian class, as I was trying to get myself a snack, my Russian teacher found me in the university cafeteria. She asked me, with a very dire expression, to come with her to the dean’s office. On the way, I asked what was going on, and she told me that one of my colleagues had accused me of stealing money from him. You can probably imagine my reaction: I was quite surprised at first, that I thought it had to be some kind of misunderstanding. I didn’t speak Russian very well back then, after all. The teacher’s face, though, showed that I was in trouble. Maybe she had already decided that I am guilty. I tried to explain that I have no idea what she was talking about, but she replied that I would have the chance to explain myself to the university dean.  

    Indeed, he didn’t try talking to me, or to my roommates, or even to the dorm director. Nope, he made these accusations to my colleagues, and everything went straight to university administration. Because, of course, the dean has nothing else to do or worry about, like managing a department of over 200 students.

Trying to reason with unreasonable people

    There I was, in the dean’s office, attempting to clarify the situation, with the crazy guy and the university administration in front of me. It seems he was not expecting that course of events, because when he was asked to explain himself in front of me, he couldn’t say anything at first. Then he started talking. Guess what? It was about the damn fridge money we had to convince him to pay in the beginning. Of course, I promptly explained that he didn’t simply lend me money. Instead, he had paid me for part of the fridge that I bought with my own money for the apartment. He was not able to use it anymore because he was kicked out of the apartment for trying to punch me and then trying to get some gopniki to hunt me in the city park. 

    So the dean understood that the whole story where I stole money from him was just a lie and let me go. Of course not. Why would things ever be so simple? It’s never that simple. Never. He insisted he wanted his money back. All of it, right away.

    We stayed in that room for more than 3 hours. The dean was determined to find a solution that would be good for both parties. So, the three of us started discussing exactly how much I should pay back, since he did use the fridge he had paid for. Technically he couldn’t use it now because he didn’t have the keys to our apartment. Not that I would agree of continuing letting him use it. I didn’t want that crazy guy to have access to my apartment. Defintely not. No, sir.

We had tried to calculate in a thousand ways how much I was supposed to return him. By the end of these 3 hours, both the dean and I were just imploring him to accept my offer of returning 5/6 of the price he paid. But all he could do was cross his arms and said blatantly that he deserved to receive all the money back for his share of the fridge. That is, even though he bought his share with a huge discount. Why he had a discount in the first place? It was the only way we could convince him to buy a share of the fridge. As in, he would rather not use a fridge and let food rot instead of buying a share of one, unless it had a huge discount.

Yes, that makes no sense, I agree. It didn’t stop him from calling his girlfriend on his phone to explain the situation to the dean. You might be asking yourself, “What did his girlfriend have to do with that? HE HAD A GIRLFRIEND?”, which is exactly what I asked myself back then. In that exact order.

“Why did I buy that fridge? Why, Lord?”

    At this point, the dean threatened to call the police to sort this out, saying we would both have to write reports about what happened. But, if you might remember from Part 2, the police officer responsible for the dormitory already knew him from that other day when he called the gopniki to beat me up in the park. He not only refused to listen to dean about having the police officer handle the situation, he accused me of bribing the police to threaten him.

This was getting so ridiculous that I could not even be angry about it anymore. I started laughing, but maybe this was a kind of despair laugh, because this guy’s mind was wandering far from reality. The dean’s patience, though, was already over a long time ago. She decided to call a fridge rental company to find out daily fridge rental costs. I kid you not, she actually found a company and called them to find out. Base on their answer, she calculated how much I should pay back. In case you are wondering, it was ₽375.00, or a bit less than $5.00.

    Ever thought sharing a fridge could be this complicated? I certainly hadn’t. From then on, I don’t share fridges with anyone, not even loved ones. They can buy their own fridges if they want to, or leave their food in the balcony, it’s as good as a fridge for half of the year in these parts.

Could it be? It finally ends? 

    I wish I could say he just took these $5.00 and disappeared, but not really, though thank God, he didn’t try to harass me or accuse me of anything else. After all, his reputation with both the dormitory administration and the faculty administration was finished after that. Eventually, our community of Brazilian students that lived in the dorm found out about everything that had happened, and he basically got banned, so he had no support from anyone, at all.

    He kind of laid low, I guess, and then moved to Crimea at some point. I don’t know where he is now, I’m just happy it’s likely far, far away from me. Look! Behind you! AH!

    That’s all for today! I am sure you had plenty of stories from your university time too. Anything as crazy as this?