Russians have a lot of superstitions, erm, ideas, about health. Most of them are like old wives’ tales or things your grandma might have told you. On the whole they can’t hurt, but I usually find them unnecessary, and find it really irritating when a Russian scolds me like a child for not observing them. I’m not the only one who feels this way — check out this episode of Everyone Drunk But Me.

Frozen Ovaries. Women are not supposed to sit on the bare ground or on concrete or a rock because it will freeze their ovaries. I think a variation of this belief concerns the kidneys.

Wet Feet. We had a major scandal at the kindergarten last spring when my English co-teacher and I took some of the kids out for a walk in a light rain. Some of the kids ran straight for the puddles and got their socks and trousers wet. The walk was about fifteen minutes long and we changed the kids’ clothes, as we always do, when we went inside. Well, one mother was so upset that we allowed her son’s ankles to get wet that she screamed at one of our Russian co-teachers for about fifteen minutes and threatened to destroy her if her son got sick. Her son did not get sick. Then we had to suffer a lecture from another co-worker about how we failed in our responsiblity as teachers. The way I see it, the bad judgment on our part was not that we let the kids get wet, but that we didn’t realize how serious this not-getting-wet thing is in Russian culture.

Plastic Booties. As I mentioned in this post, they make you put plastic booties on over your shoes in museums, health clinics, and even in our own kindergarten if you don’t have inside shoes with you. Now, in general I like the Russian practice of removing shoes and donning slippers in a house — it’s cozy and nice to be able to walk around on clean floors. Only, floors aren’t usually clean. Watch any cleaning lady and you’ll see she’s mopping with dirty water and a filthy mop. Plastic booties may cut down on the amount of grit, but c’mon, try some clean water and disinfectant cleanser, eh?

Milk. This one is courtesy of Aunt Kelly. Apparently it is written into Russian labor law that people who work with hazardous chemicals or fumes have to be offered milk to drink every day. Milk is supposed to have properties that leach the hazardous chemicals out of the body. Depending on how the cows are raised, though, the milk itself might contain hazardous chemicals.

Honey and Jam. Apparently these can cure the common cold. I don’t think it’s true, but they’re yummy anyway so I don’t mind too much.

Skvoznyak. When work started back up at the kindergarten in August, I was cleaning a classroom while a co-worker was revarnishing chairs. It was a nice warm day and I opened an additional window to let out the varnish fumes. My co-worker gave me a long lecture on the dangers of the cross-breeze, or skvoznyak. How a draft in a room, especially on a warm day, is more dangerous to your health than, say, a gust of wind outdoors, I don’t know. But even Kostia, a very rational-minded person, is convinced that the skvoznyak is the cause of runny noses.

I catch colds and feel physically crappy more frequently in Russia than I did in the US. Mostly I attribute this to being in constant contact with small kids, and not being accustomed to the viruses circulating on this side of the pond. But maybe I should take these health superstitions a little more seriously. Or maybe Russia just needs some disinfectant cleanser and a little elbow grease. Both are in short supply, from what I’ve seen.

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