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Cristina’s travels TAC 2015 Team Pushkin

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Senior Member
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 Message 225 of 297
14 March 2015 at 8:53pm | IP Logged 
Some of you might find the following link interesting: Премия "Сексист года" ("Sexist of the Year" Award)

Hm, my spellchecker refuses to recognize "сексист" as a valid word. :/

edit: I just remembered this offensive, cringeworthy scene from a prime time TV show: Вечерний Ургант - Пирс Броснан и Иван Ургант играют в "Оливковый баскетбол"

Edited by espejismo on 14 March 2015 at 9:04pm

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 Message 226 of 297
15 March 2015 at 5:18am | IP Logged 
Always great to see a man who takes sexism more seriously than many women do. B)
At Urgant's show they also once referred to the Williams sisters as brothers, yikes.
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Solfrid Cristin
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 Message 227 of 297
18 March 2015 at 5:42pm | IP Logged 
Dear all,

I will answer to all of your interesting comments later, in a revised post, but for the moment I just post the last entry :-)



Tuesday I expected to be really boring, and then it turned out to be one of the most interesting days in Moscow, and a day in which I learned a ton about Russian culture. I spent the day at a railway conference, and the topic was training simulators for locomotive drivers. Not really my field of expertise, but I really need to get more technical knowledge, and this is one of the few areas which actually interests me a little bit. It was mostly intended for the the Asian region, but there were also some Europeans. I was seated on the second row right in the middle, with a good view to everything, and between a Korean and a Mongolian who tripled over themselves to be kind and make me comfortable, so I was very pleased. I did not need to pull out my own chair a single time. I decided to listen to all the presentations in Russian. Not that I understood all that much, but it was not really essential that I did anyway, and I figured that a whole day in a Russian language bath would do me the world of good. And I actually got to speak a bit of Russian as well. In the elevator I met a colleague who is a few levels above me, and since we had already spoken a little bit when we had first met in Paris, I reminded him that we had met before, but that I at that point had not dared to speak Russian with him. His aid assured me that my Russian was fine (which it is not) but I do not think my colleague actually remembered me. We had only spoken for a minute or so, so I am not really surprised. He probably will next time, though. There can't be that many people in the railway world from Western Europe who make an effort to learn Russian. I also talked a bit with one of my female colleagues, who I suspect does not really like to speak English, and we talked a few minutes until I realised that my regular colleague was standing right behind me and was hearing me speak Russian, and I could feel that I actually blushed. Which I do not really do that often at my age. It's just that since we always speak English, which he is so incredibly good at, I feel bad speaking Russian like a two-year-old in his presence. He was very kind and helped me translate some of the words that I had picked out from the flow of Russian about the locomotive simulators though. Later on I met a new Russian who normally worked in Asia, and since I did not know him from before, I chatted happily along in Russian with him for a few minutes.

After the conference we had a one hour break, before dinner, where my Mongolian colleague came over to talk to me. It turned out that he spoke only Mongolian and Russian, which of course did not leave me with a lot of choices as to language. Unfortunately, he spoke Russian with an accent, which made it a bit hard to understand what he said sometimes, but I imagine that as a non-native speaker he probably spoke slower and easier than a bona fide Russian would have, so all in all it was fairly good practice. Fortunately we both had our iPads with us, and he was really pleased to see my pictures from Mongolia. I was not quite as pleased to be given a comprehensive analyses of every single railway station in Mongolia, but after a while I managed to steer him over on the topic of his wife and kids, and enjoyed seeing pictures of them. I also showed him pictures from my rose garden and from Icelandic water falls and geysers which I imagined must be quite exotic for him, and towards the end my Korean colleague came over to talk to me as well. That made it a bit awkward linguistically, as he spoke only Korean and English, and although I am pretty good at small talk, even I struggle when I am in a conversation where the two other conversation partners do not share any language. I have done that before, but it is usually with languages I speak well, and where I can interpret between them, but my Russian is not good enough for that, so although both guys were the sweetest ever, I was very happy when it was time to go to dinner. I ended up at the table with a lot of the speakers at the conference, and got to speak quite a lot of French with the female representative from the international railway organisation which I work with. It was nice speaking French, since although I do notice that it has deteriorated, I still get lots of positive feed back.

I had hesitated before deciding to attend the dinner, because often official railway dinners means dreary affairs with old men speaking about railways the entire evening. I should of course have known that the Russians had a few aces up their sleeves which made it a truly memorable evening. First I should mention that the conference itself was held in hotel Hilton, which is one of the famous 'Seven Sisters' in Moscow, so the building was stunning.
And the food. Oh, boy, I could have lived on that forever. They had so many starters, which both looked and tasted like heaven, that I did not even get through them all, but made sure that I at least got a taste of the blinis with caviar and the Cesar's salad. I was a little sad that I did not have room for them all, when the waitress came to take our order. 'I am sorry, there is even more?' There was no way on earth that I could eat more than I already had, but the dishes which she brought for the others looked absolutely delicious. The desert was also extremely tasty, so from a culinary point of view the dinner was a 10. And that was not even the best part.

The best part were the toasts. Now in Norway we have two things at a dinner. Toasts and speeches. A speech is usually a fairly formal thing. There is the "Welcome to the table speech", the 'hostess's speech', and the 'Thank you for the food speech". The latter is always given by the man seated to the right of the hostess. If it is a more formal occasion you can also have the 'Ladies's speech'' and the "Gentlemen's speech' which both tend to be a tad awkward, the 'Ladies's speech" usually being the most awkward and also quite sexist. Quote from an actual "Ladies's speech my boss once gave: 'Do you know the three most efficient ways of spreading information ?" 'Telephone, telegraph and tell a woman'. Funny, yes. But not really something which makes you feel good about yourself. Particularly not when you are in a room with 85% men who laugh and hit themselves on their thighs in their appreciation of the joke.

If it is a really formal event, like a wedding, there are strict rules to be followed for the speeches. I do not remember the exact order, but it is roughly along the lines of: The groom, the father of the bride, the father of the groom, the groom's best man, the bride's bridesmaid (we have only one in Norway) and then whoever wants to. The bride has a choice whether she wants to or not, and at my wedding I had actually not planned to, since people usually prepare those speeches weeks ahead, and I was way too busy planning the actual wedding, but when the day came I just stood up and gave the speech. In Spanish and English :-) I have actually become more comfortable giving speeches over the years. Three months after I left my husband, his parents celebrated their gold wedding, and for some inexplicable reason my mother in law insisted that I came. The thought of spending an entire weekend with 20 ex-in laws felt about as comfortable as having breakfast in the tiger area at a zoo, but my children begged me to go, so I did. During dinner several speeches were given, and one was worse than the other, even my ex-husband who usually gives excellent speeches was stilted and unimaginative. Deciding that they deserved better than that, and that I might as well go out in style, I got up and taking their names as a starting point, I spoke about one positive quality they had starting on each letter of their name. Really easy with my father in law who has a short name and is one of the kindest human beings to walk the face of the earth, a bit more challenging with my mother in law who has a long name and is more - shall we say controversial :-) She occasionally calls me and complains about her other daughters in law. I cannot even begin to tell you how ironic I find that. Anyway, after I gave the speech, her best friend came over and assured me my speech was the best, so I can't have done too badly considering it was totally unprepared and that it was given under extremely demanding circumstances.

Anyhow the other thing we have are the toasts which are very basic, and which usually just consist of raising your glass saying 'Skål' before you drink. A classic (but hopefully untrue!) example of a 'Thank you for the food' speech, from a guy who was not good at giving speeches goes like this: ' If the goose had been as fat as the hostess, and the white wine as cold as the soup, this would have been an excellent dinner. Thank you for the food'.

The Russian toasts were closer to a Norwegian speech, as some of them were quite long and elaborate, but I absolutely loved them. The Russian hosts started welcoming us all with a toast, and then the guests and the hosts alternated between toasts. A very nice custom was that they took the round to actually toast individually with each guest (I think we were about 30-40 people). It made it a lot more personal and fun. They also had ' a toast for the beautiful women' which was a lot better than our 'ladies's speech' since it contained no awkward, sexist jokes. All the women were named individually, and then the one who made the toast also toasted with each one individually and kissed almost all of the women on the cheek. I am seriously considering suggesting that we introduce that here too :-) My daughter's reaction when she heard about it was that this was so unfair! What about the ugly ladies? I assured her that when the Russians made a toast for the beautiful ladies, they meant to include everyone. Most Russian woman are truly beautiful anyway. My Korean neighbour came over and tried to make my French colleague do a 'bottoms up' but she refused. He had a small glass of vodka, she had a full glass of red wine, and that is not really suited for a 'bottoms up'. The dinner ended fairly early - around 9 o'clock one of my Russian colleagues said that she had to go back to the office to do some work, and then she made a final toast - and we all went home. At this point I had actually decided to give a 'thank you for the food speech" merged with a Russian toast as soon as we had finished our coffees, but as I was getting ready to do that I realised that one of my colleagues was out, and by the time he came back my other colleague had already left. Oh well, I will presumably get the chance some other time. I am hoping that we will have one of the meetings I regularly go to in Moscow at some point in time, and I already in Slovenia promised one of my Russian colleagues that if they ever did that, I would give a speech in Russian. And I always keep my word.

At the very end of the meal my Korean colleague, who had just discovered that I was not going to attend the second day of the conference, came over to me and said: "I do not even know your name! And I have been sitting next to you all day. And now I will never see you again!" He was a bit drunk at this point, so I recognised the pattern from Norwegian men, where your attractiveness rises proportionally with the alcohol percent in their blood, so I knew not to put too much weight on that statement. I just smiled and gave him my card, and assured him that of course I would contact him whenever I came to Korea, which most likely is absolutely never, and decided that this would be an incredibly good moment to avoid telling him that I have 4 meetings in Paris, where he is based until Christmas, over the next year. I could not think of any scenario in which meeting up would be anything but incredibly awkward.

Nevertheless the incident gave me a light case of the blues, so I had a little private conversation with God walking home from the conference: "Dear God. I appreciate you sending people my way who give me compliments and say nice things, I really do. It really boosts my self confidence, which is great. I also appreciate that you know that I am not ready yet, so you only send unsuitable or impractical candidates my way. I am fine with that. Though you may want to keep in mind that when you do send candidates with actual potential into my life, if you at any point want me to act on it, you may want them to live closer than a 10 hour bus ride away. Long distance relationships have their advantages, but they are a tad impractical for a single mom. And I appreciate you having a sense of humour.Night."

How do I know that God has a sense of humour? Well because among all the Norwegian men who have said nice things to me lately, only two were so heavy handed as to make it inappropriate. And those two were my ex-husband's best friend, and my best friend's ex-husband. The symmetrical irony is almost too much. So I know God has a sense of humour. And a twisted one, at that.   


"Please take off your clothes and lie down on the bench", he said. I looked at him in disbelief. Admittedly I was quite tired from the day before, but when one of the three sexiest Russians you have ever met asks you to take your clothes off, that definitely wakes you up. "You may leave your clothes on the chair, I'll come back when you are ready", he said. I figured I must be misunderstanding him, after all my Russian is fairly wobbly . "But I am only having a facial", I protested. "Why should I take my clothes off"? "Oh, you only need to strip down to your waist. I will be giving your neck and chest a massage. You don't want your clothes to get in the way. Here is a towel for you". And then he left the room. Grumbling but obedient I stripped down to the waist, put on the towel, and laid down on the bench. And I must admit, I have never had such a pleasant facial in my life. He was really, really good. Not that I have much to compare it with, I think I have only had a facial once or twice before, but with my new 'I deserve to be pampered',-policy, I had decided to have one here. "I have magical hands", he said. And he most certainly did. My brain was telling me that between him being not only one of the hottest Russians I have ever seen, he was actually one of the hottest men I have ever seen, regardless of nationality, having worked as a cosmetologist for over 20 years and wearing an ear ring, women were probably not his top interest, but my skin told me otherwise. Before I saw him I had planned to have a full body massage, but I dropped it. I generally have a steel control over myself, but I was not sure even I could keep my cool with those magical hands wandering all over my body. I was making little happy sounds just from him giving my neck a massage. And he was neither young enough, old enough or unattractive enough to keep out any thoughts. We had a great conversation, though. He had lived in Murmansk and loved Northern culture, and was very much into ecology and natural living, and was a bit frustrated that recycling and caring for nature was not as advanced in Russian daily life as it is in Northern Europe. At one point, trying to convince me that I should start using daily facial products on my poor weather beaten old face, which so far has only been treated with cold water, he was trying to explain an expression in Russian, and went to great lengths to make me understand. He started pretending that he was sweeping the floor, and then breaking the broom. No comprehension from my part. Then he took a bunch of Q-tips in his hand, showed me how hard it was to break them, and then he took just one, and broke it. Still no clue. After another lengthy explanation it dawned on me that what he was trying to tell me, was that if I found using 5-6 products too cumbersome, then using just one would be a great start. And he assured me that if I did that, I would get a lot less wrinkles. I am actually not that bothered by my wrinkles. Most of my wrinkles come from laughing and smiling, and others from pain I have had, giving birth to my daughters, crying with them when they were ill, grief over loosing my parents, and - other things. And from going out into the harsh Norwegian winters. Life lived, experiences had. I don't expect to look like a 15 year old. I have earned my wrinkles. But I understand that for someone who is as focused on beauty as he was, that must be a very strange thought, and he was so genuinely concerned, that I melted and bought the cleansing milk he recommended. I guess it can't hurt.

Espejismo had suggested I go to the Museum of Moscow, and since I was meeting my friend Tania, who is always up for anything, she agreed to go with me. They had an exhibition on 'Soviet childhood' and we both found things we recognised from our childhood. She because she was Russian, I because I was the right age. I saw several objects that I played with when I was a child, as well as some things which were totally new to me. We also went through the regular exhibition, in which I found out that the Kremlin, which I thought had always been red, had actually for a long period been white.

But the very best part, was a film called 'Welcome, or No Trespassing'
"Dobro pozhalovat, ili Postoronnim vkhod vospreshchen" from 1964. We watched almost all of it, I could not tear myself away from it, and Tania was enthusiastically explaining all the things I did not understand. And the lack of understanding was not just for linguistic reasons either, the cultural differences played a role as well. One of the first scenes I saw consisted of a man watching a few boys in bathing suits, then he ordered them to take off their bathing suits, looked some more through his binoculars, specifically at the place were they had worn their bathing suits, before yelling to one of the boys that he should come to him immediately. I must admit to being a bit shocked, as including a dirty old man and voyeur in a film for children did not strike me as entirely appropriate, but the explanation turned out to be a totally different one. One of the boys was from a summer camp for children from the city, but he had run away and joined a group of local boys. Since they had been bathing without bathing suits most of the time, while the city boy had been bathing with a bathing suit, all they had to do was to look for the white tush, and they knew who the city boy was. Really smart, if you think about it :-) Just very unexpected. The other scene which really caught my attention was one where a few boys wanted to help a friend by faking being seriously ill. And in order to get a convincing rash they took a dive into a sea of nettles. Now I consider myself a really, really good friend. I will stop at almost nothing to help a friend in need. But bathe in nettles? No can do. Just touching one briefly with my hand makes me bend over in pain, and it can literally hurt for hours. I would have gone into shock and died if I had dived into a few square meters of them and rolled around. I absolutely loved the film, though, and will have to try to find a copy the next time I go to Russia.

I still struggle to understand dialogues, though, so I was glad Tania was with me to translate and explain. I deeply appreciate everything my friends and colleagues in Moscow do for me to help me in my discovery of Russian culture. I could not have done it without them, and they are all really extraordinary when it comes to helping me and finding interesting things for me to do. After the museum we went to an Italian -Lebanese restaurant across the street. I know it sounds crazy, but it was lovely. The only bad thing was that I was starving, so I ordered all the food I would have had for a meal a year ago, but since then my stomach has shrunk, so I struggled to finish even a third of it. Oh well, there are worse problems :-)

To jump out of my Moscow stay for a short while, I have to tell you about how I celebrated the 8th of March last week end. We just have boring demonstrations here, and all the Internet trolls trip over themselves in spitting out all their venom. In Russia however the 8th of March is much like Mother's Day here, only for all women. You get presents and flowers from your dear ones, and greetings from your friends. I had been invited to join a group of Russian women for a late lunch/ early dinner to celebrate the day, and I had assumed there would be several other Norwegian women there, but it turned out that I was the only one. I had a great time and got to practise my Russian a lot, and after a while we were told that one woman from each table would have to stand up and present herself and the three other women at her table. And guess who was chosen to present our table? Right. Me. So suddenly I was standing in front of 30 Russian native speakers and had to present three other women, two of which I had only known for 20 minutes, and about who I only knew the little information I had managed to extract from our wobbly conversation in Russian. I was told I only needed to say three things about each person, so I decided to try. I was so scared I thought I would faint, though, I could literally hear singing in my ears (you know that humming sound which comes in cartoons when the character is so scared he freezes) but I did the smart thing, starting out saying that I was Norwegian, and that my Russian is really bad, and they were so caught by surprise that there was a Norwegian among them, and a Russian speaking one at that, that they applauded and gave me lots of compliments. I have only met one other Norwegian who speaks some Russian, and she has a Norwegian accent which was beyond atrocious, so I was actually quite pleased when I was told that I speak Russian with a French accent. Everyone seems to find a French accent cute. I was told last week that I also have a French accent when I speak German. I must admit that this makes absolutely no sense to me, but in the video with Richard one of those who left a comment claimed I had a French accent when I spoke Italian, so I guess it is possible. I absolutely cannot hear that myself, but as long as I do not have a strong Norwegian accent, I am happy. I have no idea why French of all things should seep through. I hardly ever use it.

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 Message 228 of 297
19 March 2015 at 8:14pm | IP Logged 
I love 'Welcome, or No Trespassing'! It works very well both as a comedy about children and as an allegorical satire of the Khrushchev era Soviet state. According to Elem Klimov, the director, the censors refused to give it permission for public screening until Khrushchev himself watched it, found it hilarious and told them to allow it. I personally think of Klimov as the most sadly underappreciated Soviet director and highly recommend his other films. His most internationally acclaimed work is the war film 'Come and See', but that one might be a bit too demanding language-wise, since much of its dialogue is in a Russian-Belarusian hybrid. The historical drama 'Agony' and the tragicomedy 'Adventures of a Dentist' should be fine though, although the latter is kinda hard to find.
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Solfrid Cristin
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 Message 229 of 297
21 March 2015 at 9:42am | IP Logged 
@serpent: LOL - Benevolent sexism, now that is a first :-) I love the Motherland statue, a strong symbol
indeed. And I did not mean to imply that Russian compliments were insincere, just that they were non-
threatening. That is a good thing :-)

And of course even in the USSR there were good things. :-)

@Ogrim: I guess the French way of giving compliments just make me uncomfortable (Eller egentlig mest
utrygg). My stay in France when I was 14 scarred me for life, so trust and French do not easily combine into
one sentence for me. I should probably go back sometime and get some new experiences.

@ Mark: Thank you for the statistics. Like everywhere else, in Russia they start out having more men (I
remember reading somewhere that 106 males are born for every 100 females, I do not remember if the was
in Norway or worldwide. But in all countries men die before women, and in Russia it is more extreme than
most other countries in that respect.

@Espejismo: I am so glad you posted that. And I am so glad that is one area in which Norway and Russia
differs dramatically. For a moment I thought of what a gender reversal of that olive throwing session would
be like, but decided that I did not even want to go there. My brain would get fried.

@ VonPeterhof: It was a lovely film, I'll have to compile a 'must see list' of Russian films soon.

So - here comes, for the first time ever, warts and all, a Russian text I have written in the raw, with no other
corrections than what lies in the spell check thingimijiggy on my iPad. I looked up the spelling of numbers,
which I am really horrible at, but otherwise this is my real level in Russian without the use of dictionaries or
grammar books. And feel free to evaluate or correct at will. (Mark, if you do it, remember to be very gentle, I
have a fragile ego :-) Not so fragile that I cannot take an honest appraisal though. I imagine my level tol be
somewhere between a low A2 -possibly a high A1, but please give your input.

Меня зовут Кристина, мне пятьдесят два года и живу в малинкой пригороде около Осло который
называется Стабекк. У меня есть две дочери, их зовут Катарина и Мартина и им восемнадцать и
пятнадцать лет. Я работаю в железные дорогие, на компании инфраструктуры, руководителем
международная отдела, и мои дочери учится в школе. У меня также есть два кота, Ангел и Лекси.
Ангел белый и Лекси почти чёрный.       

Мне очень нравится иностранные языков, и когда я била молодая я жила год во Франции и три года
в Испании. Поэтому говорю достаточно хорошо по-французски и по-испански, и я очень люблю
Испанию и испанский народ. В школе я учила английский и немецкий язык, но не говорю хорошо по
немецки, потому что в телевизор есть очень мала немецких фильмов, и мы почти некогда слушаем
песне по-немецки. Все понимают когда говорю по-немецки, но у меня ест много ошибок.    
Английски это другая история. 95 из фильмов в телевизор в Норвегии по английски, мы каждый
день слушаем музыку по английски и когда мы говорим с иностранцами мы также используем
английский язык. Поэтому почти все норвежцы говорят отлично по-английски, и я даже изучала
английски язык в университете в Осло.

Когда мне била двадцать семь лет я хотела вы выучить итальянский язык, и читала много по-
итальянски и потом поехала в Италию. Через три неделя уже говорила по-итальянски, потому что я
уже говорила по-испански и по-французски, у тогда итальянски легко.

Несколько лет назад я решила изучать русский язык. Это била очень трудно. Раньше когда я
изучала иностранные языки это било легко. Сейчас нет. Русская грамматика так сложно что иногда
не знаю что делать. Я люблю русский язык, и я люблю русскую и украинскую культуру. Я чувствую
себя как дома. Я так хочу что один прекрасный день я могу говорить свободно по-русски, без
ошибок и без думать. Это мой сон.

Мне также нравится работать в саду. У меня есть малинки сад со много роз и тюльпанов. Мой сад,
это мои Раи. Розы хорошо пахнут и там я счастлива.

Edited by Solfrid Cristin on 21 March 2015 at 10:03am

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 Message 230 of 297
21 March 2015 at 10:40am | IP Logged 
(Yeah, that's a thing. And it shouldn't be ignored.)

And ouch, glad about the difference?.. (I definitely think there are tons of Russians who don't approve, but somehow the focus is generally on how a joke is stupid rather than specifically sexist. As if there aren't enough jokes that are both)

You write like a 10 year-old native speaker with non-native parents :) In a few cases the spellchecker is to blame, like for inserting малинка (raspberry) twice. I have no idea how to classify that in terms of CEFR because the main problem is grammatical accuracy, and in some cases it appears to be a pronunciation issue, as I said before. Be especially careful with быть vs бить, since that's to be vs to beat :)

Edited by Serpent on 21 March 2015 at 10:56am

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Solfrid Cristin
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 Message 231 of 297
21 March 2015 at 11:52am | IP Logged 
Serpent wrote:

(Yeah, that's a thing.
men-are-strong-how-benevolent-sexism-hurts-us-all/">And it shouldn't be ignored.)

And ouch, glad about the difference?.. (I definitely think there are tons of Russians who don't approve,
but somehow the focus is generally on how a joke is stupid rather than specifically sexist. As if there aren't
enough jokes that are both)

You write like a 10 year-old native speaker with non-native parents :) In a few cases the spellchecker is to
blame, like for inserting малинка (raspberry) twice. I have no idea how to classify that in terms of CEFR
because the main problem is grammatical accuracy, and in some cases it appears to be a pronunciation
issue, as I said before. Be especially careful with быть vs бить, since that's to be vs to beat :)

Those are two really interesting articles. They have given me much food for thought. Particularly since I am
becoming more 'Russian' lately by dressing up for work, and expecting the guys around me to become more
gentleman like. After reading an article about how people listen more to the arguments of women in high
heels I have even started wearing those :-)

And I meant glad that it is not like that here. I know lots of Russians disapprove, but the thing is that here this
behavior would be literally impossible. I cannot even imagine how many heads would roll after that olive-
throwing session had been aired.

When I told my daughter about your evaluation, she got offended on my behalf, but I am actually quite
pleased. 'A 10 year-old native speaker with non-native parents' is a huge step up from ' Can't write what my
name is and how old I am'. It is admittedly not the 'educated adult' that I am aiming for, but I am not
delusional enough to think that I could pull that one off anyhow. It's a start. And 3 years ago I hardly even
thought that I would ever get this far:-)

Edited by Solfrid Cristin on 21 March 2015 at 11:55am

1 person has voted this message useful

Solfrid Cristin
Winner TAC 2011 & 2012
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4143 posts - 8863 votes 
Speaks: Norwegian*, Spanish, Swedish, French, English, German, Italian
Studies: Russian

 Message 232 of 297
02 April 2015 at 8:06am | IP Logged 

On Thursday I went to meet Serpent and her mum, something which was a lovely experience. Serpent's mum
is adorable. She is impulsive, smiling, easily distracted, creative and an absolutely wonderful person. My only
regret regarding the time we had together was that it was way too short. They took me to see an exposition of
her paintings, and I really look forward to meeting her again at my next visit to Moscow, whenever that will be.

She pointed out to me signs about the "Butter week", or Maslenitsa, which was celebrated the week I was in
Moscow. I had already read a piece in Moskauer Deutsche Zeitung about it. They eat huge amounts of blinis,
which in their shape and color reminds of the sun, so it is a kind of celebration of spring coming back. There
were booths in the streets right around the corner from where I lived, which sold every possible kind of blini. I
tried out one which was blue (I am not kidding) and that was very tasty. I absolutely love blinis:-) Every day
of the week has its own name and traditions. On Wednesday for instance, it is the "Son-in-law evening"
where the mother-in-laws traditionally invite their sons-in-law over for blinis, and on Friday it is the "Mother-
in-law evening" where the son-in-law invites his parents-in-law back for blinis. Absolutely lovely tradition. I'll
have to think about introducing that here in a slightly adapted version. Mother-in-laws generally get too little
attention, so next year I think I'll invite my mother-in-law over for blinis. As a mother of four sons she does not
have any sons-in-law, so an ex-daughter-in-law will have to do. :-)   During the Soviet time the celebration of
Maslenitsa was apparently forbidden, just as Christmas and Easter, but of course they could not forbid
people to make blinis, so it was mostly celebrated privately. Today, however, the celebrations have a
renaissance, and there were concerts right outside TSUM, which was a three minute walk from my hotel and
the whole Kutznetsky Most street was filled with booths with hand made artwork. There were also lots of
activities in the parks, and a lot of restaurants had special dishes added to their regular menus. The week
ends with "The Sunday of Forgiveness' where the Maslenitsa puppet of straw is burned on a ritual bonfire.

I discovered in the Moscow Times that the one place on earth I would be guaranteed nice weather on my
birthday this year would be Moscow. And how do I know this? Simple. My birthday, May 24th coincides with
the Day of Slavic Writing and Culture. And in Moscow, on particular days of importance, like Victory Day on
May 9th and Russia Day on June 12, the Moscow authorities have the clouds dispersed by the release of
granular carbon dioxide and liquid nitrogen, from airplanes. Apparently they have done it for years, but the
spending is considerably higher this year than in previous years, 430 million rubles, or $6.5 million. Good to
know that there is somewhere on the planet that my birthday is considered important, even if I, sadly, will not
be there :-)

Another tidbit which caught my attention was that in order for the Ministry of Labor and Social Protection to
save money, people in wheelchairs or who use other medical equipment such as hearing aids have been told
they will have to wait a lot longer before they can get new equipment. I guess there is one thing common to
all cultures, and that is that cuts tend to affect most those who have the least. My grandfather used to say
that when cuts needed to be made, they would always cut in the salaries of the maids. Who earned the least
to begin with.

I also read that Russian police officers are banned from traveling outside the former Soviet Union, allegedly
over concern that Russian officials could be detained by a foreign government. Similar bans were reportedly
imposed on staff in the Defense Ministry, Emergency Situations Ministry and Prosecutor General's Office. I
do not know wether it applies to officials employed in eg. critical infrastructure as well, but it certainly is telling
about the current political climate. And really, really sad.

Like I wrote in one of my previous entries, I have been trying to understand the thing about the extreme short
life expectancy of Russian men, and I had two different explanations, and I think both of them are right. The
first explanation I was given, was that men outside the main cities often struggled with alcohol abuse,
unemployment and few possibilities, and the men in the main cities are exposed to stress and pollution.

The second explanation I got was that after the 90ies, where so many people saw their safety net disappear,
people got scared, and confused and traumatized, which again led to alcoholism. I pointed out that according
to official explanations drugs, smoking and poor eating and work out routines also played a role. My
conversation partner angrily retorted that there were no Russians who used drugs. In my ears this sounded
very close to Soviet time rhetoric, but not wanting to quarrel I gently pointed out that the statistics suggested
otherwise. He answered that statistics lie, and that if there were any drug users they were from the
Caucasian republics. Any claim that Russians used drugs was just malicious propaganda.

However, according to Kommersant Daily, the drugs policy director, Viktor Ivanov, said last October, that
drugs are to blame for 80% of all deaths of Russians aged 18-34 during the past five years, and that
according to a Russian government report which came in 2013 there are 8.5 million drug addicts in Russia,
almost 6% of the population. Many of them are heroin users, supplied by the steady flow of the opiate into
Russia from Afghanistan. The Russian Federation has the highest prevalence of opiate use in eastern and
southeastern Europe according to the UN 2014 World Drug Report, and I assume they have received the
data regarding Russia from the Russian authorities, who are unlikely to have wanted to inflate the numbers.

Another element is of course the high divorce rate in Russia. Statistically, after a divorce women's physical
and mental health go up, and men's health go down, which would in part explain the huge gender gap in life

The numbers may lie somewhat though. Compared to Norway for instance, Russia has a higher divorce rate,
but Russians marry more and earlier than Norwegians, who generally just live together, and when they do
marry, they are older. This means that if you had made a category called 'couples who live together like
married or are married' and had looked at their 'couple life expectancy', Norway would probably have a
divorce rate/ breaking up rate twice the Russian one, since couples who are not married split up a lot more
often. Nevertheless, it has to play a big factor. I also suspect that the larger responsibility for being the
provider of the house would be an extra burden. In Norway we have an equal responsibility for that, so if a
guy loses his job, it is of course a nuisance because it reduces the family income, and with the huge
mortgages most of us have, we depend on every family having two incomes, but it would not normally drive
anyone to alcoholism. The social net is good, so if you lose your job you'll be in a pinch for a while and have a
reduced income, but you know that you will eventually find a job. It is just a matter of time. And a man would
not lose any respect over it.

Next stop on my agenda on Thursday was the hairdresser. The first time I was in Russia at the age of 24 I
decided to go to the hairdresser to find out what I would have looked like if I had been Russian. The guide
came with me to the hairdresser, as I did not speak a word of Russian at the time, to explain that I wanted no
dying, no haircut and no perm, because I figured that whatever they did except for that would go away as
soon as I washed my hair, so if I hated it it would not be a problem. I decided to try again now, and even
having them do my make up for full effect. That was something I did not use at all at the age of 24, but times
change. And yes. I looked distinctly Russian when they had finished with me. I usually wear my hair lose, but
they curled it and made a fancy, short hairdo with lots of hairspray. I posted the picture on Facebook and all
my Latino friends felt I should go like that always, reinforcing my belief that Latinos and Russians have a lot in
common. I'll try to enclose the picture:-)

In the evening my colleagues had invited me out to dinner, and being as thorough as I am, I had read
everything I could find on Russian etiquette to make sure I did not make any faux-pas. My colleagues are
men of the world, so unless I had done something really horrible, I imagine that they would have taken it with
a smile, but I figured it was a good idea to be prepared. As it turned out, Russian etiquette is very similar to
the one my mother taught me (which was rather strict) and which I have long since abandoned, since my stay
in a small village in rural Spain as a young adult killed all my table manners, but I can still use them when I
need to. From what I read I saw only two major differences: apparently you should not rest your hands in your
lap, but keep them in sight (but of course no elbows on the table) and you should let any men present serve
you wine and make sure you have everything you need. I had read several accounts of how Western
emancipated women had reacted negatively to that particular Russian custom, and in beforehand I was
mildly curious as to how I would react myself, given that as a Norwegian woman you are used to doing
absolutely everything yourself, but as it turned out I absolutely loved it. If anything, it made me feel safe,
protected, taken care of, and if I could, I would have imported the custom to Norway. Russian manners are
balm to my soul. I had tried to learn the words for the major food groups, so that I could order my own food in
Russian, but as I had asked if we could go to a Georgian restaurant, I not only did not know how to
pronounce most of the food, I did not even know what the food was, so I was more than happy to let my
colleague advise me on what to eat and to have him doing the actual ordering. As an entree we had
something called pkhali, which was many small, really tasty dishes, and a really weird but also very tasty
drink called tarkhun (kh stands for the sound of a Spanish j) and then some great shashlik and a baklava for
desert. A fantastic dinner in every possible way.

I was supposed to have seen both my colleagues, but one of them unfortunately got ill, so he could not come,
and although I was really, really sorry that I did not get to see him, because he is an amazing person, my
other colleague made sure I had a lovely time. I told him afterwards that in beforehand I had thought that on a
scale from one to ten, going out to dinner with the two of them would be a ten, but I love both of them so
much, that even just meeting one of them was already a ten, and I hope I'll get another chance to meet my
other colleague at some later point.


Friday was another great day. I got to go to my favorite museum in the whole wide world The Tretjakovskaja
Gallery. I found my favorite picture, which espejismo had helped me identify,' Monlit night', by Kramskoy, and
actually I would not have found it again had it not been for espejismo, because I had forgotten where it was,
and I only had about an hour at the museum, but thanks to the picture I had in my phone of it I got help to find
it. Next time I go to Moscow I really must start with a whole day there, whatever else I have on the agenda.
This time again, the visit was too short. In the afternoon I went to a very special treat. The Cat theatre. I so
much wanted to see that for such a long time, but it had been sold out on both my two previous visits. This
time, with the help of my super helpful colleague, I had a ticket to the middle of the second row. Perfect. I
absolutely adore cats, so going there was heaven. Some of the cats looked a bit offended at times,
particularly the grumpy one which was taken into the room to be caressed by everyone, but cats usually run
off if they are uncomfortable, so it might have been just my imagination. They did more tricks than I thought it
was possible to get cats to do though, and I loved being the only foreigner there. I also found another thing
Russians and Norwegians have in common. We are possibly the only two peoples who love to eat ice cream
in winter :-)

After the cat circus I had an encounter I will not forget in a hurry, as I got to do a very special selfie with
someone. Now most women who go to Moscow would prefer a hot Russian if they took a selfie. I came home
with one with a homeless lady. She still touched me more than anything else that happened while I was
there, though. I was on my way to meet Serpent in the metro, when I saw this hapless little lady who was
standing so far into a badly lit corner with her hand stretched out that I could not imagine that she would be
very successful as a beggar. Which of course meant that the moment I passed her, I knew that I would never
forgive myself if I did not go back and give her something. And since I had hardly had a lunch since I got
there, and hoped that it would be enough for her to be able to go home that evening, I gave her 1000 rubles,
which apparently was a lot more than she was used to, because she looked up at me almost horrified, and
then looked down at the money again, before she thanked me profusely. I stretched out my arms to hug her,
which I usually do in Oslo if I give anyone money, as the kindness and respect is often more important to
them than the actual money, but she stepped back and said 'No, I am not clean'. 'That is not important', I
answered, and gave her the traditional three kisses, and she just teared up. 'You are not Russian', she said,
confused, and I answered that no, I was Norwegian, but I was studying Russian. 'But you are a Christian?,
she asked, and deeming it to be a very bad time to go into details about my faith and my doubts, I just
nodded. And she then asked God to bless me, and to give me happiness and health, and prosperity and love
and a long life. I thanked her, and then she started telling me that she was an educated woman who had
studied biology and physics and chemistry and had worked her entire life, and then she said something about
losing her apartment to someone who bought it from her cheaply, but between the tears and the rapid speech
I was lost on the details. I had to go, and wished her well, but then she said that we should take a picture
together. Thinking that this was probably the weirdest setting in which I had ever taken a selfie, I took out my
cell phone, she managed to smile for the camera, and then we kissed again before I left.

Then I met Serpent who against all odds was actually right on time :-) She had been an absolute angel, and
had helped me locate and order two books about Russian art - so all I need now is actual time to read them.
:-) We also tried to get the Russian keyboard for my iPad that I had been looking for, but were unsuccessful.
They only had that for te newest model, and my iPad is already three years old. We therefore headed for a
Uzbek restaurant where I got to taste some of the dished specific to the region which were very tasty.
Moscow really has a huge variety of restaurants.

Two things regarding Russia turned up in the news this week. One sad, and one sad but still with a happy
ending. The first one was that our prime minister has decided that the Norwegian government will decline the
invitation to be represented in Moscow for the commemoration of the 70 years since the war ended.
Rationally, I understand her reasons. It would have been uncomfortable for her to be there among
representatives from North Korea and Cuba and China while our closest allies are not there. I am sorry that
that is the way it has to be though. Many countries have mixed feelings - to put it delicately - when it comes to
the liberation by the Soviet forces. That is however not the case for Norway. The Soviet forces came as
friends and left as friends, and we have had good relations ever since, in spite of the Cold War making
people suspicious on both sides - and I am sad that the current situation gets in the way of remembering that.
In Northern Norway the cooperation has been and is excellent, and lots and lots of Russians, particularly
women, have moved to Norway and married here. The street names are in both Norwegian and Russian in
the Norwegian town Kirkenes. You may have strong opinions on the fate of Eastern Europe after the war, and
the current political situation. And I do have quite strong opinions on both those topics. However, there have
never been any bad feeling from our side, and Norwegians are a lot of things, but ungrateful is usually not
one of them.

The other matter is also tinged with sadness, but at least it has a happy ending. In Northern Norway there is a
graveyard for Russian prisoners from the war. For several reasons, a large number of the remains have been
moved here from other locations and have been kept in a barn, and many have not received a proper
reburial. After some locals have fought for ten years to get the authorities to give everyone a respectful burial
with an individual name plate for each person, it is now finally happening, and 5000 graves are being
prepared. I think it is terrible that it has taken so long, but I am happy that at least it is happening now, and
that the plans for doing that at this particular time are not affected in the very least by anything that goes on in
the world around us. Anything else would have broken my heart.

fbid=10205815555738395&set=pb.1542327050.-2207520000.1428004 279.&type=3&theater">

Ok. Am officially giving up gluing in the picture of the Russian me. Have tried and failed seven times.

Edited by Solfrid Cristin on 02 April 2015 at 10:01pm

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