Irritating Russian Habits

Daniel Brooks

Russians answer questions or statements by saying “no” and then agreeing with you. This habit drives me up the wall. I had a Russian customer once who answered whatever I said by saying nyet. He would then either repeat what I just said, agree with me or add random thoughts. He’d draw it out…nyyyet! He was agreeable while insisting on saying no all the time. This speech oddity is often used when talking about irritating things such as garbage. Recently, garbage collection was taken over in Russia by the state. Apparently, now that the Russian government effectively controls much of the country’s oil, gas and other industries, it’s time to move up in the world and enter into the garbage business. Anyone who wants garbage removed needs to sign an agreement with a government sanctioned body to get the job done. A site has been set up explaining how such arrangements are made. You might say, this garbage collection idea is frightening, what if they do a bad job or jack up the rates? The answer I’ve recently heard is nyet and after that, the person repeats what I’ve just said; garbage collection might well be going to the dogs. I find this way of speaking to be maddening.

Many Russians believe that their health, well-being and energy levels are affected by barometric pressure. It drives me nuts. As the air pressure drops, Russians across the land become groggy, yawn and slow down. It happens when the weather suddenly changes, clouds appear or disappear, and the sky becomes cloudy. Some people get headaches. Others go into a deep funk. Several remedies are used such as drinking tea and doing very little. Laying on the couch is a way to relieve the loss of energy caused by air pressure fluctuations. This phenomenon can affect a number of internal organs; these shall remain nameless. When someone stays up late and feels groggy the next morning, the cause can be attributed to the falling or rising barometric pressure. It’s not caused by the bottle of wine consumed the night before or lack of sleep since drinking it. The advantages of such a belief are self-evident. When it pours down rain, Russians tap an invisible barometer in their heads and say, the pressure is changing saying, I feel terrible, don’t you? People are always finding others who suffer from the same affliction. It’s a common bond. I’ve given up commenting on this phenomenon. Complaining ruins everyone’s fun. 

A similar phenomenon exists in Munich, Germany known as the Föhn, a word that cannot be pronounced by English speakers. The Föhn is a wind that blows up from the Mediterranean Sea, over the Alps and causes temperatures to change suddenly and the air pressure to go wild. I lived in Munich at one point in my life and when the Föhnblew into town, many Germans would experience stuffy noses, headaches and fatigue. I named such Germans Föhnometers. I couldn’t feel a thing and always wondered what the fuss was about. German scientists have studied the matter and found the effect of the Föhn on people in places like Munich to be anecdotal. In other words, it’s in their minds. 

Turning off the lights is a national Russian compulsion. God help any member of the family that forgets to turn off a light when going from one room to another one. It’s considered acceptable to go around the house, pestering one another to switch the lights off. Before leaving the house or apartment on a trip, the thing to do is to go back inside several times to make sure that every light bulb has been extinguished. While sitting at home, Russians often leave the entire house as dark as night with one light bulb on in a single room, doing little to fight back the gloom. Perhaps this tradition dates back to Soviet times, when electricity was in short supply and light bulbs was a precious commodity, not to be wasted. Perhaps it is a good thing. It gets on my nerves. Nevertheless, I find myself in the dark most of the time, in more ways than one.  

Another habit I can’t stand is to find a culprit for illnesses, usually being the person who is sick. Whenever anyone gets a slight cold or worse, the cause needs to be determined. Inevitably, the person who caught the cold is to blame. A specific incident is discovered, and a verdict is rendered. A child on the subway who sneezed is remembered. The person who has a cold should not have sat next to that little brat. Simply being in cold temperatures or exposed to wind can be the cause, difficult to avoid. Whenever I don’t feel well, I brace myself for a discussion about why I am at fault. My strategy is to be healthy as a horse. In this way I avoid being accused of making myself sick.

I’m bothered by beige. It is taking over the country. It wasn’t as pervasive in Soviet times, when apartments were reddish due to the practice of hanging carpets on the walls. I first noticed Russia going terribly beige when I rented several apartments on Airbnb in Russia while travelling. Each one was beige, with perhaps a bit of insipid, lime green thrown in to put the finishing touches on what might have otherwise caused the room to fold in on itself in a sea of beige-ness. Recently, a café opened in our apartment building in Moscow. We went to it on opening day and had fun watching the staff bump into each other. The restaurant was a cacophony of beige. The walls were of course beige, as were the floors, ceilings, table, table clothes, chairs and dishes. The waitress was beige and so was the restaurant manager. The only thing that prevented the manager from disappearing completely into of a sea of beige was her high level of movement as she ran from one end of the restaurant to the other, the picture of confusion. I ordered chicken wings with lemon sauce. I don’t have to tell you what color they were. 

I’m a guest here in this country. Being one, I shouldn’t bitch and moan. Being irritated about such things is an exercise in futility. Nevertheless, I persist. Complaining has its merits, especially about things that are of no importance, whatsoever.  

Daniel Brooks, copyright, April 29, 2019

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