I went to a Russian middle school to help out a university student present about Halloween. The class was about 30 students with a couple of class clowns. The kids were shy about speaking English but some of them could speak pretty well. They asked me about my favorite holiday and what we do on American holidays. Then we played pictionary and a word puzzle and the winners got candy.
After the lesson and games ended the teacher took a picture with me and the class, then a bunch of students lined up to take pictures with me individually like how we do at the mall for santa claus or the easter bunny. I felt kinda uncomfortable about taking lots of pictures with strange children but they liked meeting me. After all the pictures a group of boys came up to me and asked if I wanted to play soccer. I said I couldn’t and one boy said with a thick Russian-British accent “What a pity.” and they all ran off.
The next day on Vk, I found some new friend request from a couple 13 year old girls with me in their profile picture. I didnt add them lol
A student explained this phenomena of the “famous American” by saying that Russians “see” Americans every day all the time yet most have never really met one in person. On television are American shows, American fast-food in the cities, in the news America is a perpetual topic, on the radio is American music (right now in the cafe “Englishman in New York”), in the stores are American style clothes with US flags even in toddler sizes, in my dorm I see students wearing University of Iowa and Southern California University T-shirts and to see and hear about this country from afar for so long and finally meet an American in person is exciting. I can also understand how some Russians can be unnerved by this constant flow of Americana in their homeland and be a little bitter like my babushka(grandma) who watches the dorm.
I just had the strangest interaction with the cranky anti-american babushka at the front desk. I walked in eating chips to see if they were the right kind for guacamole and she immediately said I was eating “american” trash and I should learn how to cook good Russia food. I explained I was checking to see if they were right for guacamole but she wasnt impressed. Today I bought the right chips and made guacamole and I wanted to snub her by having her try my delicious guacamole. She said it wasnt spicy enough and brought me to her little room and cut off a chili from her plant growing in the window. We added the it and it tasted amazing. We started complaining about fast food and how Russian girls dont learn how to cook and now she wants to teach me how to cook Russian food in the dorm. I just wanted to snub her and now we are friends lol
The same lady saw me trying to make boiled eggs in the community teapot close to midnight. Called me a полный идиот then made them for me and fed me a snack…
She judges my Russian as if it goes up and down like the stock-exchange. One wrong declination and I get “your Russian is getting worse” or “the Chinese students are so much better than you” and when everything goes smoothly I get “You’re a good boy- ты молодец” but she always reassures me that she’s there to help me with Russian or cooking. From another babushka I got Куда ты идёшь ты красивый американский мальчик? which I thought was rather strange.
A German Acapella group called j.e.s.! came to Smolensk on a sister city program. One of their silly songs was about the traditional life of a farmer in Hagen with one song about two farmers talking saying you dont need to kill a pig for some pork just chop off one leg and let it hop around.
Gypsy kidnapping dog- My friend told me that she used to let her dog run free around this park big park outside Smolensk but onetime the dog didnt come back. A gypsy family called her house and told her to bring a large sum of rubles to their house and she can get her dog back. Points out the house from the car.
Cockroaches in Russki dvor- My friend told me about her awful summer working at the popular restaurant in the middle of Lenin park. She said that during her time there it was going through a cockroach infestation. cockroaches were everywhere. Customers would come in and say creative things like “I want blini and that one”, pointing at the cockroach scurrying across the menu boards above the register. Sometimes they would come up with creative answers like “For here or to go”. She told me that the cockroaches were so bad that they were even jumping on the silverware and she had to shew them away before she could hand them over to the customer. The rule by the manager was to squish them without making a face so the customers dont notice. The girl then reenacted stealthily squashing cockroaches without making a face. I asked her why she didn’t try to change things and she said “What can you do against the system?” I laughed for about 30 minutes thinking about her squashing the cockroaches jumping on the silverware.
Driving through Smolensk (In the car she’s saying “where to???”):
WW2 Veteran- The car ride to Hitler’s bunker didnt go quiet as planned. We ended up making a wrong turn and taking a crosscountry trip through grass to this bog where we parked the car in high grass. The car’s tires were getting flat so we stopped to fill them up and ask for directions to Hitler’s bunker in this little village. From afar we saw an old Russian man outside his house. I told the girl next to me not to mention where I’m from so I wouldn’t have to get in a potentially long and possibly uncomfortable conversation. Immediately on reaching the grandpa the other girl mentioned where I’m from. The grandpa then got really riled up and told me some things about loosing his fingers, WW2, jews, communism, revolutions and asked me about democracy and privacy. He told me that the US and Russia must work together and to say hello to America from a Russian WW2 veteran. He told me to visit him.
In Minsk, there’s a taxi driver with a pet squirrel that jumps around the taxi.
I met the Chinese girl studying Russian literature in my dorm. It was interesting to learn about Chinese culture from someone who is directly from China. In Russian, we talked about university systems in different countries, Russian culture, and some world politics. We plan on cooking some Chinese-Russian-American food together.
The comedy team from Smolensk won the KVN (biggest comedy competition in the world) competition last year and Smolensk University staff won the KVN competition against the other universities in Smolensk so that means I live in the funniest city and work at the funniest university in all of Russia. Makes sense now)