Journal Entry #2: Integrating Into My Local Community
St. Petersburg, Russia
I have learned so much during the past few months of living here in St. Petersburg, Russia! Some of our cultural differences have made certain things a little more difficult than others for me to adapt to or get used to. These differences haven’t stopped me from trying to integrate into my local community though! I want to learn about these differences and I hope to understand my Russian community better. Come find out some of the things I’ve discovered so far through my struggles!
It’s been another interesting week in St. Petersburg, Russia! I am slowly getting accustomed to this new world. It’s full of very different traditions and customs compared to what we know and are used to in the United States.
For one thing, I have lived in the college dormitory for about one month since my arrival. I have been living at a homestay since October of last Fall. I live with one older Russian lady who’s name is Ludmila. She’s probably around forty-five years old. She is shy but a very warm and kind woman. The apartment we live in together is very old and modest. There is nothing fancy about our home. We do not have a television but we do have an old radio set up in the kitchen. We do not have a dishwasher nor a washing machine or dryer here either. There is no microwave and the refrigerator is very small with an even tinier freezer inside of it. For many of us back in the United States this may sound terrible but as for me, I don’t mind.
I don’t mind so much because I haven’t owned or watched television in over six years! I couldn’t afford to buy a television when I first entered college. I never got around to buying one later because I realized I didn’t miss it that much. When it comes to washing my clothes, I have to do it all by hand in the bathtub. Laundromats are not very common here in St. Petersburg and the ones that exist tend to be a little expensive. So I wash them by hand at home and hang them up to dry over various places in our little apartment. Have you or your family ever had to do that before? I also don’t like to use the microwave because I’d rather cook my meals over the stove or in the oven. I also like to go grocery shopping for food once a week so I don’t have to buy a lot of products in bulk. It keeps me eating fresh foods like fruits and vegetables.
Speaking of food and grocery shopping, there are many kinds of stores here in St. Petersburg, Russia! There are big ones and small ones. Actually, there is one really popular store called “Okay.” This huge store reminds me a lot of Walmart. It’s like the Russian version of Walmart because it is a place where you can find and buy everything and anything you need! The small grocery stores are everywhere and usually have the word “products” written in Russian on their storefront. They are called “Products Stores” because they tend to focus on selling food products. Most of these little stores and businesses are unique because they are owned and run by different families and local people.
I almost forgot to mention that there are also open air markets! These markets are where people set up tables and kiosks outside in order to sell their goods and wares. They can be big or and set up almost anywhere. Even on sidewalks or under bridges! In these types of markets you can bargain with the salesperson on how much something should cost or how much you would be willing to pay for something. When people bargain and negotiate back and forth with each other over the price of a product, we call this haggling. When I first moved to Russia, haggling was very difficult for me to do. I did not understand how to do it because I’ve never had to bargain over how much the things I want or need should cost. When we go to a store to buy anything in the United States, usually the prices are already decided upon and made concrete. This means they are set in stone. There’s no changing allowed. You wouldn’t go up to the cashier person at the front of the store and haggle with them to make something cost less, right? It’s outright preposterous and silly to do something like that in the States! Well, here it is very common and normal to practice haggling. With all the grocery shopping I’ve done the past couple months, I’ve gotten much better at haggling since the first time!
Something else I’ve gotten better at is being able to tell the time here in Russia. They do not use terms like “am” and “pm” to describe what time of day it is. They use the 24-hour system instead. For example, instead of saying “10am” a Russian would tell you it’s “10.00 hours” or simply “10.” Continuing to count upwards from 0 to 24, what we call “2pm” is actually “14.00 hours” or simply “14” to Russians. It was very confusing for me to adapt to this new way of thinking at first. After a while though I grew accustomed to it. I actually grew to like it much more than our way of telling time because there is no way for someone to get confused with the 24-hour system. If someone told you to meet them somewhere at “8,” it could mean “8am” or “8pm” but because they didn’t clarify you’re unsure and confused! With the way Russians tell time there is no confusion between “08.00 hours” and “20.00 hours.” Do you think you could ever get used to telling time like this?
Although there some things that are a little bit more difficult for me to get accustomed to, I am still enjoying learning about all the differences between our cultures. If all of us explore new places with open minds and open hearts, we’re bound to learn something new and good from each other. We will be able to understand each other and make the world an even better place!