photo credit: Vadique Yurkov

Plenty of non-Russians seem to know the Russian word “dacha”. Only, it evokes an image of a fancy house in the countryside for government elites. This notion is reinforced in the US by the fact that only the super-rich own more than one dwelling. One imagines summer houses in the Hamptons and the like.

Of course, there are fancy dachas for government elites, but lots of ordinary people have dachas too, and they’re usually quite simple and devoid of conveniences like indoor plumbing. A dacha provides apartment-dwellers the opportunity to get out of the city to relax, breathe fresh air, and commune with nature. People grow vegetables and gather berries and mushrooms at their dachas, sometimes out of financial necessity.

Spending a weekend or a week or a month or the whole summer at the dacha is an important part of Russian culture. I’ve read that more than 50% of Petersburgers leave the city for some part of the summer. Returning to work this week, my co-workers and I have been comparing notes on what we did this summer. A few people traveled, but most everyone is saying, “Oh, I went to the dacha”, with a satisfied, dreamy smile and a healthy glow.

In a very polluted city, I think dacha culture is one of the nicest and healthiest Russian traditions. And tomorrow, I’m off to the dacha for the weekend!