Saturday, September 18, 2010

Differences: Russia - USA

I have been in Russia for almost a month now, and honestly I can’t decide if it’s gone by super fast or if it feels like I’ve been here for years. Some days I feel like I just arrived yesterday and some days I feel like I’ve already been here 10 months.

So for a quick update first. School is still pretty boring for me because I still don’t understand what is going on like 99% of the time. The only class that I can even begin to understand is Geography and that’s only because the names of the countries are pretty much the same in Russian and in English. Jenia and I have (or will have once we have a final schedule) 20 hours of Russian a week some of which we have started. We have private lessons with the English teacher and those are finally starting to help which is good I can say some basic stuff and I’m starting to understand more. We also are attending classes in… elementary school… yes I said it. We take classes with second, third, and fourth grade. Honestly those classes are some of our most fun because we understand a little and the little kids are in awe of us.

Everything with my host family is going really good. It looks like I’ve gotten lucky a second time, because my host sister and I are getting along really well and I’m slowly starting to understand my host mom more. I even helped her cook dinner last night. We still require a dictionary to talk and we only speak a little bit but still, its definitely progress from the first day.

Some random type stuff that has happened so far… lets see. Well when I told my mom and sister about these two “milestones” in my Russian life it prompted a “aww you’re a big girl now” from both of them. (not that they are alike or anything lol). Well I have officially managed to take the bus by myself and learn to walk to school and into town by myself! Yay! While walking to school doesn’t seem like a big deal, it was hard because in Russia they don’t walk on the street but footpaths that just cut through blocks so in a combination of them being hard to learn and me being scared to get lost on them by myself it was almost a full month before I attempted by myself. But now I can do it like a pro!

So the real reason I’ve decided to post this blog post is because I thought that all of you reading would find a post about differences between the USA and Russia amusing because well honestly, some of them are down right amusing.

School Related
• Russians have shoes that they walk to school in and then when they get to school they change their shoes because their walking to school shoes are usually covered in mud because here in Russia there are GIANT puddles.
• Normal Russian students stay with the same class all day (except for German/English) and they travel with those students from class to class. Teachers have their own classroom like in the USA
• All schools are K-11
• Little kids running through the hallway screaming is a completely normal thing that occurs EVERYday, Jenia and I have come to call it “the stampede,” the crazy thing is that no teachers stop it.
• They were never taught that you walk on the right side to make it easier for everyone.
• Saturday school
• No lockers – they carry their books to school every day
• The notebooks are like half the size of American notebook and they are gridded not lined. This makes my life difficult!!
• Different schedule every day and we have been in school for a full 2 ½ weeks now and we still don’t have a permanent schedule. We get told our schedule for the next day at the end of the day every day.
• Lunch only lasts 20 minutes.
• They get 10-minute breaks between every class.

Russian Life
• They actually have people that sweep the streets/sidewalks with brooms.
• Soviet style stores – By soviet style stores I mean that when you walk in everything is behind the counter and there is one of everything that they have out and you have to ask the lady behind the counter for what you want and she goes in to a back room and gets it for you. This particular thing makes my life difficult, but I have managed to find a few “normal” stores near my house.
• Brooms - they are like a bundle of straw held together with a rubber band at the top.
• They tend to have very small houses and apartments because most of the apartment buildings were built during the soviet era (and all look EXACTLY the same)
• They walk EVERYWHERE!! It is normal for Russians here not to own cars because there are buses and they walk. Its been almost a month since I’ve been in a car.
• no one smiles – They don’t smile/acknowledge strangers at all.
• you do NOT wave/smile to people on the street.. it is just NOT normal
• TEA – Russians have a serious tea addiction. I drink hot tea probably 5-8 times every day here, and its not even that cold yet!
• Eat A LOT – Like every 2 hours
• Their toilet and shower/sink are in two different rooms. I assume this is so two different people can use the “bathroom” at one time.
• Squat toilets in public – I avoid public bathrooms.
• Beds are hidden inside other furniture. My “bed” is inside a chair. You pull the chair out, move the cushion and it turns in to a bed. It is quite fascinating!
• Cheap food – expensive clothes. Everything but clothes and shoes are fairly cheap by my American standards. But clothes cost a lot more then they do in the USA
• They wear the same outfit for more then one day in a row before they wash it. This is one habit that I wont be picking up.
• They didn’t know what an “I-Pod” was but they know the “I-Phone”
• You pay for public bathrooms. Granted its only 10 rubles (or 30 cents)
- no toilette paper
• No dryers, I’m beginning to think that dryers really are an American thing. I miss them.
• Every phone is a pay as you go phone. Like “track phones” in the USA.

• The mullet is IN. I have seen more boys with mullets here then I ever have seen before in my life.
• High heels in general – They wear them EVERYWHERE, to school, to walk around town. I don’t understand because their roads/sidewalks are not flat!
• PETA would be furious with Russia. I’ve seen more leather and real fur here then ever before!

These are just a few of the differences that I have encountered in just a month here in Russia! I’m sure there will eventually be a lot more and that a few of these will just become every day “that’s the way it is” type things for me! I hope you all enjoyed some of the more amusing ones as much as I have had discovering them. I miss you all dearly and comments are always welcome ;)!!


  1. Dear Kendra, You have met me a couple of times and I must say that I thoroughly enjoy your observations. What I find fascinating is how easily you have accepted these differences and are willing to find positive things in them. You seem to be a very warm and caring person and definitely open to what world has to offer. By the way, I am a friend of Tracey and am originally from Iran which isn't far from where you are right now. I live in Dubuque now. You came visited us on a Thanksgiving day some years ago. Thanks for sharing your experiences. Hedi

  2. Kendra!
    This has been my first chance to read your blog and I'm loving your observations and insights, too! We are really focusing on "CULTURE" in all World Language classes at MHS. I hope to use your list of "differences" for class discussion. I hope you don't mind. The Seprember 20 post prior to my post nailed what I want to say: Differences are just differences. You have learned to accept that and not judge or call diferences right and wrong. For example, the graph paper is harder for YOU to write on because it is different for you.
    With the MHS Costa Rican Exchange, I always used to laugh about how crazy the country is and how incomprehensible some of the interactions were. I have come to understand and respect the differences without judging them. That takes time, insight and understanding of the nature of culture.
    I am so proud of your insights. It is awesome that you can take what you learned about living in Italy and apply those lessons to living in a country with even more marked language and cultural differences.
    I LOVE the fact that you are in class with primary schoolers. I know your Russian ability is growing by leaps and bounds.
    ENJOY! Thanks for sharing with us! Lisa Hendrickson (Spanish teacher and AFS Advisor)

  3. Hello! I just discovered your blog and I am having SO much fun reading it! I'm on exchange in Slovakia (yay for being a new flag on the flag counter!), and it's so fun for me to see all the similarities (and some very surprising differences!) between our countries! As far as your list there, I would say "likewise" to all of them except pay toilets and squat toilets. I miss dryers soooo much... laundry takes a very long time. :( Thanks for posting... I'll keep reading! :D

  4. Hi.
    I just discovered this blog and it´s really funny readinf for me. I´m from the Czech republic and I study Russian language at school so I understand you well what you write :) many things are similar in Czech.
    about language, if you know one of Slavic languages you will easier understand other. I´m czech and understand slovakia and russian too :D that´s good thing on these languages!

    Enjoy your exchange! Zuzka

  5. Good blog, name sounds like a porno though.