Continuing from my previous list, here are 10 more things I never did until I lived in Russia:
1) Didn’t sleep in a “real” bed. Due to the small size of many Russian flats, space is limited and furniture sometimes performs double functions. The most common is that of the sofa bed. I found that many people didn’t sleep in what I would call a “real” bed. Instead they slept on a sofa, futon, or other bed-like piece of furniture. This didn’t present any problems until I moved into a new flat, decided to buy a bed and was met with incredulity. Some people couldn’t understand why it was important for me to have a bed. But when given a choice between a bed and a sofa, I chose the bed.
2) Read cheesy books. The selection of books available in English in Russia is often quite limited, even in big bookstores like Dom Knigi and Biblio-Globus. This meant that sometimes when I was so desperate to read something in English, I ended up reading books that I can only describe as cheesy. Books that I would never read if I was in the United States and had more variety. But sometimes you just need to read a book in English!
3) Saw my coworkers and boss naked. See my previous post on nudity.
4) Ate at McDonald’s. I don’t if there are any significant differences between McDonald’s in the United States and the ones in Russia but, in my opinion, the food at the ones in Russia tastes better. It seems to have more flavor and is not as greasy or sickening. I don’t eat McDonald’s when I’m in the US but doing so didn’t seem quite so bad while living in Russia. Maybe it wasn’t even healthier, but it definitely tasted better and also gave a level of comfort and familiarity, despite the small differences in taste.
5) Knew Russian celebrities. When I was studying Russian as a university student, I was oblivious to a lot of Russian popular culture. My professor played several popular films and songs in class so I was aware of a few things. But while living in Russia, I quickly absorbed knowledge of popular films, who the actors, actresses and TV personalities were and other random knowledge. Knowing about these things was also helpful in order to feel a part of the conversation, to understand jokes and make cultural references.
6) Drank tea. Like most people, I’d always associated tea with England. I had no idea that Russians drank so much tea. While I rarely drank tea on my own, it was something of a social activity at work and I soon found myself mindlessly drinking cup after cup of tea throughout the work day. At home I never drank tea but always kept some on hand in case I had Russian friends visiting.
7) Drank sparkling water. Before I came to Russia I enjoyed drinking sparkling water but it wasn’t something I did that often. It’s not standard in the United States and can be difficult to find in shops and restaurants. But in Russia it’s almost the norm. When ordering water at a restaurant or from a street vendor, it’s important to verify whether you want it to be sparking (with gas: с газом) or still (without gas: без газа). Sparkling water is also the same price as still and is relatively cheap. Consequently I ended up drinking copious amounts of it and came to enjoy it even more than before.
8) Took a gypsy cab. In Russia there are official taxi cabs and then there are gypsy cabs: cars that ordinary people drive but are willing to offer you a lift for a price. I never took them alone but, when traveling with friends, sometimes found myself in some random person’s car. It was an interesting experience that while shocking at first, soon became the norm for transportation when taxis weren’t available.
9) Drank straight vodka shots. Many are aware of the connection between Russia and vodka. Before living in Russia, I rarely took a shot of straight vodka. If I did, it was at a party or club with the sole intent of becoming drunk. But in Russia I found myself taking shots at lunch or dinner and was told not to sip but to swallow the whole shot.
10) Had people be surprised I was skinny. In the United States most people expect you to be a certain size. Your body is only commented on when it is either too big or too small. Americans are known to be obese and Russians are aware of this. I’ve always been petite but no one said anything about it until I lived in Russia. One woman was surprised to find that I was American and said, “But you’re not fat!” She seemed genuinely shocked as if being fat were a requirement for being an American.