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Well, not quite the first full week of 2008, but almost.

We rang in the new year in Kostia’s hometown, Slantsy. Our friends Vadik, Elya, Eugene and Polina joined us. I’ve re-added the Flickr application so you can look at the photo album if you like. Check out the sidebar.

I mentioned that I wasn’t able to find a pumpkin to make a jack-o-lantern the weekend before Halloween, the last time I was in Slantsy. Kostia’s parents, not fully understanding that this is a seasonal thing, somehow found me a pumpkin before New Year. It was blue and very nicely shaped. So I carved some stars in it and we had a very lovely new year lantern.

new-year-pumpkin.jpg

We came back from Slantsy on the 2nd. On the 3rd I came down with a nasty cold, the second in 4 weeks. Ugh, I’ll be really happy to get back to Sweden, where I didn’t get sick for 10 whole months.

Yesterday I took the train to Helsinki and back. Twelve hours on the train, two hours in the city. Why, you ask? Foreigners in Russia have to register their residence, and my registration had lapsed. After some fussing and failing to get certain bureaucrats to do their job and extend the registration, Kostia and I decided that the easiest thing would be for me just to leave the country and come back and re-register. I gave some thought to doing something different, like visiting Tallinn or Kiev, but I wasn’t really in the mood for mid-winter tourism and visiting unfamiliar cities alone. I mean, sometimes I am in such a mood, but not right now. 

I decided the Helsinki train was the easiest and most comfortable way of getting out of Russia and back in, albeit not the cheapest. It was made less cheap by the fact that there were no second class seats available on the return train that I wanted to take and so I wound up getting a bed in a sleeping compartment. The price difference wasn’t that great, anyway – only 250 rubles, or $10. At first I thought this was such a waste and wondered why they even had sleeping cars on a day train. Well, let me tell you. After the six-hour ride sitting in a normal train seat in the morning, it was incredibly nice and luxurious to have a bed to stretch out in. I relaxed, read the paper, had the car’s service person bring me a cup of tea (in a glass with silver holder in the Russian style), napped and thoroughly enjoyed myself. Next time I go to Helsinki from St. Petersburg I will totally spend the extra ten bucks on the sleeping car.

During my two hours in Helsinki I visited the big department store, Stockmann, which was jam-packed with people, many of them Russian (Kostia reminded me of the joke that Helsinki is St. Petersburg’s biggest shopping mall, though now there may well be some malls in St. Petersburg which have more shops than downtown Helsinki), going crazy over the post-Christmas sales. I only bought some salty licorice flavored candy on request of one of Kostia’s friends, although I still can’t believe that anyone not raised in Scandinavia can actually stand that stuff. 

I also went to the post office to mail a few packages. After my last experience in a Russian post office (when I tried to send my Christmas packages to the U.S., failed miserably after 2.5 hours of waiting in line, broke down sobbing and wound up being rescued by Kostia, who made the one-hour trip from our apartment to central St. Petersburg just to get me out of there and very kindly sent the packages himself from a branch office the next day), I thought going to the post office in Helsinki would be a wise use of my time there. 

I wasn’t wrong. The main Helsinki post office, in contrast to the St. Petersburg one, is conveniently located, clean and well-lit; does not reek of cat pee; does not have different windows for each different function staffed by people capable of doing only one function, windows which are, furthermore, not even accurately labelled so you have to wait in line for hours only to find that you waited in the wrong one; has helpful, friendly, efficient, multilingual staff who do not just go on a 1-2 hour lunch break with no replacement, leaving everyone waiting in line until they come back; has a take-a-number system that works; did not require me to weigh and itemize every single item in every package and fill out a customs form in quadruplicate; and allowed me to actually pack my own packages. Furthermore, they had Moomin packing boxes for sale (which I purchased), as well as very stylish Marimekko ones (which I didn’t purchase, but thoroughly admired). Ah, western civilization.

I had been slightly concerned that I would have trouble re-entering Russia because they recently changed the business visa rules, and although visas issued before the change are supposed to go by the old rules, you never know when a Russian bureaucrat will just decide to be a sadist. I had brought with me my backpack and a small suitcase filled with all the things I can’t live without for more than a few days, in case they wouldn’t let me back in the country and I wound up having to go to Sweden early to wait for Kostia (although the Swedish Migration Service still hasn’t got round to processing our residence permit applications). But, there were no problems at the border, and after another trip to the post office of my nightmares this afternoon, I am now legally registered in Russia again.

And that is 2008 thus far.

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Today’s a holiday. In Soviet times it was Revolution Day, but in the fine new Russian tradition of going back to old Soviet traditions to make middle-aged and elderly sovoks happy (i.e. restoring the Soviet national anthem with new words) they just keep the holiday on the same day and rename it something meaningless. Meaningless, but not innocuous. Because all the People’s Unity Day banners remind me of the ads for United Russia that have been springing up everywhere.

Life has been kind of uneventful these past few weeks, hence the lack of blogging. I have been working a lot and shopping for boots in my spare time. The latter takes a lot more time than you would think. Finding tall black boots that don’t have stilletto heels, absurdly long pointed toes, ten million buckles, sequins, chains and god knows what else in St. Petersburg is pretty challenging. I need my footwear to be comfortable and tasteful, but I don’t want granny boots either. Then there are my chubby calves, which further limits the tall boot selection. I did see some promising boots last Friday… I just didn’t have enough money on me at the time.

Right, so you can see how exciting it’s been lately. But I’m not complaining.

At the moment Kostia is waiting most impatiently for a letter from our university in Sweden with his official job offer so he can go to the Swedish Consulate and get his work permit before next Monday, when the classes he’s supposed to teach are starting. He’s already been teaching two distance courses on the internet and they want him to teach several more in person in November and December. Since we don’t know whether there’s a longer-term job there for him in the future, I’m staying in St. Petersburg for now to keep working – I wouldn’t want to quit the language school and dump all my students only to find that we’re back here in January – and I’ll just visit for two weeks or so. Though I’m not looking forward to this six-week separation, I’m also not worrying too much about it yet, since bureaucracy and the Russian postal service may keep it from happening anyway.

So here’s a bit of a cultural-linguistic curiosity for you Russophiles. First, some background: Yevroset is one of several mobile phone retailers in Russia. As I think I’ve mentioned before, here subscription plans for mobile phones are rare; nearly everyone has pre-paid service. You can add money to your phone account at places like Yevroset and they get a commission for it. There are also automated machines where you can do this, which I think are becoming more popular than actually going into one of these outlets.

Anyway, Kostia wanted to buy Zemfira‘s new album, licensed copies of which are being sold only at Yevroset in what I think is some kind of crass marketing conspiracy, so we went to a Yevroset outlet, where I noticed they were offering some very amusing stickers as a gimmick for people adding money to their phones. My phone had plenty of money on it, but when I started fawning over the stickers, the guy behind the counter was kind enough to give them to me for free.

nakleyki.jpg

click to enlarge

The stickers say “I’m a hare”, “I’m a hedgehog”, I’m a snake”, etc, but here Yevroset is trying to be hip and cool by intentionally misspelling things in the manner of the internet writing style “Albanian” or “Preved“. Furthermore, the one on the bottom left is borderline vulgar – it says “I’m a fat arctic fox” but this phrase sounds like another common but very vulgar phrase that means something like “a FUBAR situation”. Kostia tells me it isn’t the first time that Yevroset has alluded to mat in its advertising – they once had a slogan which roughly translates to “Our prices will blow your f**king mind” (complete with asterisks – they couldn’t actually write out the equivalent in a public ad campaign). Apparently the company owner is a bit of a character.

A few weeks ago I dissed on the Swedish postal system for its expensive postage, but I feel a little bad about that now. I was a little stressed out at the time because money was tight and I had just spent a lot of it sending crap to the US. The truth is, high-quality services cost money, and this ought to be Sweden’s national motto.

Our mailman is sweet. Yesterday I came home and there was a slip in the mailbox indicating that there was a package too big for the box waiting for me at the post office. The mailman must have noticed that the package was from the US and I had a non-Swedish name, so he scribbled English translations of the relevant information on the slip, which was totally unnecessary (I mean, I did well in my first two Swedish courses, I can certainly decipher “Stort brev” and “Hämtas på posten”) but very considerate.

Today I happened to be home when the mailman came, and he delivered a second package to my door. “Megan Case? Here’s a package for you!” “Tack så mycket,” I replied.

Keeping with the post office theme, the Blog Supergroup is blogging about stamps this week. It’s kind of boring, to be honest, and they say so themselves, but I loved this bit from Jane:

I can, however, tell you about the last time I was in a Russian post office (last May or June). I was inside the Central Post Office of the city of Vladimir. Had I desired to do so, I could have purchased laundry detergent. I could have purchased cigarettes. I could have purchased a lot of random things of the sort which one would not expect to find in a Post Office. I could not, however, have purchased stamps. They were out.

Well, I wrote about the last time I was in a Russian post office here, but I didn’t mention that we could have purchased bedsheets and towels during our two-hour saga.

One weird feature of the Swedish post office is that many of their branches are in supermarkets, not always as a separate department, but rather one of the supermarket checkout lines functions as the post office as well. So maybe you just need to buy stamps or pick up a package, but you wait in line with people buying groceries. I suppose it’s efficient use of labor, the most expensive aspect of anything in Sweden, but it takes some getting used to.

And now I’m off to stand behind some old ladies buying cat food in order to pick up my other Christmas package!

Hooray! I’ve finally been allowed to move to Blogger in Beta, which should be more user-friendly for you and for me.

With today’s Swedish lesson/fika over, I’m officially on break til the second week of January. It’ll be a working break, though. Academically, I have to write my term paper for Comparative Social Policy and a thesis proposal. I also want to make sure I work on my Swedish every day – we won’t have lessons again for more than a month. The pace is slow enough as it is, and I really need to learn more Swedish to have any hope of finding a real job here. Which brings me to my next task – intensive job hunting. We’d like to stop living on cheap pasta and the beer (in unopened cans) we have a knack for finding in the woods (people stumbling around in the dark drop a lot of things I guess), and maybe even to stay in Sweden past May, but it will only be possible if we find work. We’ve been un-intensively job hunting all the while, but it’s time to give it a big push.

In addition to Swedish, I want to work on my Russian every day too. Although Kostia and I speak enough Russian to each other that I don’t think my Russian has deteriorated since we left St. Petersburg (well, except for all the Swedish words that have become mixed in*) , it needs improvement nonetheless. My vocabulary sucks, basically. (My grammar does too, but that’s not as much of a hindrance to expressing myself as vividly as I’d like). What I really need to make myself do is write. I have a LiveJournal sitting and waiting for my Russian posts — LJ is much more popular than other blogging formats on the Russian internets, so it seems only appropriate that I blog in Russian over there. I’ll let you know when I get some posts up.

I need to write a few long-overdue evaluations of my experiences teaching at several St. Petersburg language schools for VisaRus and some trial articles for a new site called TimesRussia. I also need to prepare a day-long English lesson for my banking students with whom I get to work face-to-face only once a month.

So, that’s the holiday plan. It’s a good thing I’m staying put in Falun, otherwise I’d never do it all.

*Yesterday without really thinking about it I managed to coin the trilingual phrase “Fucking Pochta Sverige” when complaining about how expensive postage is here. 25 kronor ($3.75) to mail a Christmas card to the US! Enjoy your Christmas packages, Case and Race families — in the future Swedish goodies will be delivered in person only.

About This Blog

I'm an American who started blogging when I moved to Russia in 2004. Eventually I moved to Sweden, where life is pleasant but uneventful, and stopped blogging for lack of interesting things to say. And then I joined Facebook, which further destroyed any motivation for blogging. Maybe someday I'll start blogging again, but for now, this blog is dormant, an archive of The Russia Years: 2004-2008.

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