Steve Caron opened the first youth hostel in Russia in the early 1990s. I visited him back then and it was fun to visit again. Today, St. Petersburg has countless informal hostels and little backpacker guesthouses. That, along with couch-surfing, has opened up the budget-accommodations scene in St. Petersburg. Steve recently shut down his venerable hostel and now runs a very popular online travel agency for Russian travelers (www.sindbad.ru). We enjoyed Steve’s generous hospitality for four nights. Thanks, Steve, for a great time in a wonderful city.
An entertaining thing about hanging out with people in Russia is that you pick up quirks about Russian society. For instance, Natasha is such a common name that some ex-pats throw a “Natasha party,” where each guy must bring a girl named Natasha. Girls generally figure it out. (But in earlier times they might not, as it was customary at a party in Russia not to introduce the women.)
Steve has lived as an ex-pat in Russia since the very difficult first years after the collapse of the USSR in the early 1990s. To make light of all the hardships of living in St. Petersburg back then, he shared this entertaining list of indications that you’ve been in Russia too long. While most of the points no longer make sense today as Russia has become a much more comfortable, safer, and better-organized place to live, these still resonate for ex-pats in 2013:
You know you’ve been in Russia too long when…
- In winter, you choose your route first by determining which icicles are least likely to impale you on the head. (Many people still die each winter from falling icicles.)
- You win a shoving match with an old babushka for a place in line, and you are proud of it.
- You drink the brine from empty pickle jars.
- Your coffee cups routinely smell like vodka.
- You know more than 60 Olgas.
- You wear a wool hat in the sauna.
- You no longer see any significant difference between America’s Republican and Democratic parties.
- Babushkas turn to you on the street inquiring about former and current street names.
- Doors are not supposed to be pretty, they are supposed to be metal with triple bolts.
- You are envious that your ex-pat friend has smaller door keys than you.
- You don’t throw away any bags, jars, cans, wrapping paper, string, rubber bands, broken shoe laces, boxes — because you never know when you might use them.
- You’re excited when you accomplish 3 things out of a list of 10 to do that day, and consider it a very effective day!
- You think that rotten milk and sour cabbage are “nice” stairway smells.
- You see every vehicle as a potential taxi.
- You can successfully negotiate the metro at rush hour with no broken eggs.