OK, it was partly my fault, as I deviated from my one-errand-a-day policy and tried to do too much today. You see, in Russia, everything is more complicated and takes more time than it needs to. So, one errand a day is reasonable. It irritates you, but then you go for a coffee or something and forget about it.

I tried to do five errands today.

1. Payday. In the US, there are lots of different paydays — you might get paid every Friday, you might get paid biweekly, you might get paid semi-monthly, you might get paid monthly. Here, it seems like there’s only the monthly option, and the usual way of receiving your pay for the month is to go to your employer on the 10th of the following month and get an envelope of cash. The people I know who work for western companies actually get direct deposit into a bank account (oooh), but it seems like most people get the envelope.

So. I go to the kindergarten, you know, the one that screwed me out of two weeks of work and vacation pay? Yeah, that one. I have to hunt all over the building for the woman who hands out the pay, who tells me that so-and-so is at the bank right now and it will be two hours. Fortunately, Elena, the very nice woman who handles the English curriculum and is kind of the go-between for all the foreign teachers, calls so-and-so who’s at the bank and finds out she’ll be back in 20 minutes. So I go and hang out with my co-teachers Heidi and Lutsia for a little while. Lena brings me my envelope, and all is good.

2. The Hermitage. I take the No. 7 bus to the Hermitage, where I am to hand in Aunt Kelly’s application and payment for the Friends of the Hermitage Club. I meant to do this earlier in the week, and it’s too bad I didn’t. So I go there, ask a few people where the office is, knock on the door, no answer. There’s a little lounge area with a “Friends of the Hermitage” sign above it, so I ask the women selling postcards next to this lounge where I can find someone who has something to do with this club. They go and knock on the same door I just knocked on. “They’re probably at lunch”, they say. It’s 2:30 p.m. “Have a seat in that chair.” So I sit.

After awhile, the postcard women tell me that there is someone in the office. So I go in there, explain my intentions, and the very nice woman tells me that the people who do the “Friends of the Hermitage” memberships are on a business trip in Finland and did I have an appointment with them? No, I didn’t have an appointment, but I had this e-mail that they sent Aunt Kelly saying that we could stop by any time Tuesday-Friday between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m. So I say I’ll call for an appointment next week.

3. Train Tickets. I go to the Central Ticket Office to get train tickets to go to Helsinki next week. They have moved the international ticket office. I find it. The line is long. Not only long, but slow-moving. One of the two windows was being monopolized by a travel agent or tour guide who was buying tickets for 32 people, and in addition to the ticket agent working on the issue, there were three other employees standing around her, offering her advice and further complications. Then there was the other line, which I got on. Look. I’m a freaking foreigner who speaks Russian badly, but after my first attempt at buying train tickets here, I learned that what you have to do is study the schedule carefully, know which train you want, and have an alternate in mind if the train is sold out. Well, everyone in front of me had some kind of freaking complication that required them to spend 20 minutes getting their tickets. Forty minutes later, it’s my turn. It takes me less than five minutes to get my tickets.

4. Payday again. I go to the language school where I teach my other lessons. I say I’m there to pick up my pay. The woman in the office says that they don’t hand out pay after 4:00. I look at the clock. It’s 4:10. The man who hands out the pay is standing right there. I look at him, I look at the woman, they look at me. I roll my eyes and storm out. Then I storm back. “You know, last month I waited an hour an a half to get my pay”, I say. They grumble back and forth. Julia, the one employee at the school who speaks English and is the go-between for all the foreign teachers, overhears this and goes into the man’s office and says something on my behalf. I am summoned. I am given my pay.

5. Mobile phone. Aunt Kelly gave me my mobile phone for Christmas and she and her assistant had set up my subscription for me. My current subscription does not enable me to make calls outside of the Russian Federation. I want to be able to send texts while I’m in Helsinki next week. I go to my mobile provider’s office to change my subscription type, a process which I imagine requires them making a change in their computer and me forking over some money.

No. It requires my aunt to come in with her passport, a credit card, and something about our Russian residency registration forms. I stare at the woman incredulously, then I walk out of the office.

I go home and pour myself a drink. No wonder Russians drink and smoke so much.

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