I moved to St. Petersburg a year ago today. Of course, if you add in the time I spent here in 2002, I could have said I’d spent a year of my life here as of a few months ago, but that’s not how anniversaries work, is it.

November 17, 2004 was the date of the first snowfall last year, and today we had a bit of a surprise snowfall too. We’d had snow almost a month ago, but it warmed up after that and it’s been autumnal til now.

When a year feels like it went by fast, well, that means you’re getting old, right? I also find myself saying things to my students like, “When I was your age, I liked/didn’t like/whatever…” What a horror, as they say in Russian.

When I arrived last year I figured that a year was what I needed to become fully fluent in Russian. My Russian has improved tons and tons, but I still have a lot of difficulty expressing myself the way I’d like to. Furthermore, I’m not really sure what fluency is anymore. It’s not like there’s a line you cross. I know plenty of people who express themselves quite well in very imperfect English. Are they fluent? I don’t know.

Sometimes Petersburg life makes me feel weary — the dirt, the grim faces, the middle-aged women scolding one all the time, the darkness this time of year, not to mention the universal challenges of being a foreigner anyplace. But I was perpetually dissatisfied with my American life too, and on the whole I think I’m happier here than I ever was there. I’m more suited for teaching than for office work, and while it pains me to have to get up early every day rather than having a flex schedule, I really like working at the kindergarten.

These “challenges of being a foreigner” keep life interesting — how boring is it to be in your home country and be able to walk into a business establishment and communicate your needs without having to worry about how to say it or whether what you want is even possible? Furthermore, speaking a language imperfectly makes it much easier to tune out the banal conversations of the people next to you on the bus or the advertisements on the radio. You may think I’m joking, but this really does give you a lot more mental space, I swear.

I like it that you can go to certain parts of St. Petersburg and there’s nothing to interfere with you imagining that it’s a completely different period of time. There are intersections and alleys, still untouched by 24-hour minimarkets, casinos, and pricey boutiques, that could be from 1890, or 1925, or 1970. The ubiquitous young military officers in their shabby old-fashioned coats, while horrible in principle, enhance this image as well.

There are dozens of other observations that pass through my head each day. Maybe I’ll eventually write them all down. Probably not though.

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