Tag Archives: jet lag

Smiling

Russians don’t smile. Not the ones that work in the service industry, anyhow. The uniquely American, “Thanks, and have a great day” doesn’t seem to have hopped on the boat to St. Petersburg with McDonalds and Pizza Hut.

At the metro, after you pass your 20 rubles through the window, they don’t even look at you before shoving a gold metro token at you. If, god forbid, you fumble for the correct bills or coins, several Russians are liable to push by you to purchase their entrance fares.

I’ll admit, it’s not like the Metro employees in D.C. are known for their friendliness either, and I’m sure they’ve put off more than one foreign tourist. But subway workers aren’t the only unsmiling ones.

I’ve already written some about the difficult cashiers at the Paterson supermarket, or универсам. From our travel guide, we recently learned that they’re colloquially referred to as гром баба, or thunder women. Makes me feel a bit better to know that Russians also incur their wrath.

Now, the woman I bought tea (another weapon in the continuing war against jet lag) and some food from today seemed nicer, or at least more low key. But she, too, hassled me as I tried to count out correct change (when the smallest common coin is 50 kopecks, that can be particularly tough). And I also learned that she spoke English—when she told me “You too slow” as I tried to put my change away while simultaneously juggling my purchases, because I had decided against purchasing another 6 ruble plastic bag.

We managed to steal a smile from a waitress today, however.

Restaurants and cafes in Russia are notorious for lacking many of the items listed on the menu. _____ нет, there isn’t any _____, is a common phrase for waiters and waitresses. Typically, food is ordered and delivered with as few words exchanged as possible, with the obvious exception of multiple “нет”s. There’s no friendly banter nor facial expressions, perhaps because tipping expectations are minimal, except in the fanciest establishments (apparently, in smaller cities, tipping means that you want to sleep with the waitress. Here, they’re more used to it.).

This means that the waiters won’t constantly bug you, asking you how your food is, or trying to move you along to make room for another table. It also means that they won’t ask you if you want something else, or offer you another bottle of water or soda—the savvy Russian restaurant-goer orders his whole meal, including dessert, upon sitting down.

There were six of us at the restuarant today, ordering Пироги, or Russian pastries, filled with anything from apple or orange to meat and fish. I actually went for a strange fried egg, cheese, and tomato dish, but only because the pastry I wanted – нет. So much of what we ordered was out that after asking for the umpteenth item and hearing the umpteenth нет, we finally earned a smile, and perhaps even a little laugh, from the waitress. Either that, or she was laughing at our mangled pronunciations of Russian food items.

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Black Coffee

5/10/09 – 14:30

I’ve figured out the coffee situation here. Seems that no one really drinks black coffee, the kind I like. In Coffee House, when I asked for black coffee, the waitress looked surprised. She asked «без молоко,» without milk?, several times, but I thought she got what I wanted.

What she brought out, however, was nothing like the coffee I drink in the U.S. I got a mug about a quarter full of dark black coffee, or perhaps espresso, a small cup of milk, and instructions, mimed by the waitress, to add sugar from the jar at the table. So I did as she said and enjoyed my milky-sweet-definitely-not-black coffee, still determined to figure out how to get a full cup of dark full-bodied joe.

Later, we found ourselves at Coffee Club near our apartment, in need of caffeine to stay awake for a few more hours and deal jet lag another blow. There, I ordered some sort of mocha, which came piled with whipped cream. Nice, but not a daily drink.

Tom, however, ordered an Americano. Turns out, that’s the closest thing to black coffee you can get here. And even then, they’ll bring you enough sugar with it to bake a cake. So from now on, it’s—perhaps all too appropriately—Americanos for me.

With my Americano this morning, I had, for my first time here, something distinctly Russian: бутербродь c kрасное uкрой-an open sandwich with red caviar.

At Café Bar, which, with its wooden walls, wooden floor, and wooden chairs, resembles a hunting lodge, I tackled a menu entirely in Russian. So, that I had a caviar sandwich stems, at least partly, from the fact that caviar and sandwich are two of the few food-related Russian words I know. But that vocabulary is growing quickly out of necessity. Can’t wait til I can order a whole meal (one that’s без мясо-without meat)!

Stopping in Finland, briefly

The Helsinki airport has free WiFi. Finland – 1 America – 0.

Everything in this airport is made out of wood. The walls. The stall doors in the bathroom. The floor tiles. It gives off a nice vibe, sort of like walking into a mountain lodge. 

But more to the point, I’ve been realizing how many “firsts” today has brought:

  1. First time flying over a big body of water.
  2. First time on FinnAir (and on an Airbus A330)
  3. First time in Europe (and Finland, and soon to be – Russia).
  4. First time being anywhere where the native language isn’t English.
  5. And soon, it’ll be my first time going through customs. Russian customs, at that.

I’m sure I’m missing a few, but needless to say, I’m excited, and the adventure has only just begun. I’m hoping that the adrenaline from said adventurous feelings will carry me through the day. I’ve been up since 6:45 a.m., East Coast time on Thursday and it’s now about 9 a.m. here. I’m feeling it a bit. The plan is to run through to St. Petersburg, crash tonight, and instantly adjust to the time change. I’ll let you know how that goes.

The journey begins

 

My Day

I’m now in the killing time at JFK airport part. I’ve already eaten my $5 slice of pizza, so now I’m consuming $5 internet. 

There’s an 8 hour time difference between the East Coast and St. Petersburg, and a 7 hour difference between here and Helsinki. I’ll be entertaining myself on the 8+ hour flight with The Economist, Outside magazine, and Junot Diaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. And sleeping, hopefully.